Vobile’s new TVSync tech uses your phone’s camera to track your TV

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Now this is cool: Content identification specialist Vobile launched a new platform for second screen app developers dubbed TVSync Wednesday that uses your phone’s camera to figure out what you’re watching. Vobile CEO Yangbin Wang told me during a phone call Tuesday that this novel approach is faster and less error-prone than traditional audio-based content recognition. “Most people think audio is easier — actually, audio has less information,” he explained.

Vobile is best known in the online video business for its content protection work; the site provides several mainstream and adult video and file hosting sites with video recognition and filtering solutions that are supposed to prevent the upload of unlicensed content. It also works with major broadcasters to fingerprint content. Now, it is taking this kind of technology to a new area: The tablets and phones that consumers use while watching TV.

Vobile’s TVSync relies on a combination of audio and video content recognition.

Content recognition for these kinds of second screens has been a growing business as broadcasters are trying to keep distracted viewers glued to the screen through companion apps. Social TV apps like IntoNow also use content recognition to figure out what viewers are watching and provide check-in services, and audio recognition specialist Shazam is making inroads with broadcasters as well.

IntoNow and Shazam use your iPad’s (s AAPL) microphone to listen to the audio track of a show and identify it through so-called audio fingerprinting, but Wang told me that this doesn’t always work. Imagine you’re in a bar or at an airport, for example, where TVs are either muted or drowned by other noise.

And audio technology can be slow even if it works. Wang said that audio recognition can take anywhere from five to ten seconds to identify a TV program. TVSync on the other hand captures video and audio, which can bring that time down to two seconds, according to Wang. “No one can match that speed,” he told me.

But, don’t start to scour the Apple (s AAPL) app store for a TVSync app just yet. Vobile is providing this technology exclusively to outside developers, and Wang told me that his company is targeting both big broadcasters and pay TV operators as well as smaller app developers that want to provide social TV apps without complicated check-ins. “We are an open platform,” he said, adding that he’d love to see some college students tinker with TVSync’s capabilities.

So don’t be surprised to see some kids taking pictures of the TV screen the next time you’re at a bar: they might simply testing the latest second screen app.

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Sven Koerbitz

TVTak has an app that uses the same approach. Doesn’t feel much faster nor more reliable than audio fingerprinting though.

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