The cartoon-style weather forecaster was developed in collaboration with the UK's top speech scientists at the company's Media Lab and its entire performance is generated automatically from a few lines of text-based data which is issued as a meteorological summary.
Facts and figures are fed into the system via a PC, which automatically extracts the relevant phrases. The text is then fed into METvoice, a specially developed text-to-speech engine, to be custom-built to broadcast standards. METvoice features a mark-up language which tells the character what to do and say simultaneously. This triggers lip-synch animations and controls METman's expressions and screen positions.
The innovation is part of Norwich-based Televirtual's£3m development project - which is in part funded by Televirtual's founder and chief executive, Tim Childs, as well as through EC project funds, the lottery and the Film Council. Child said it would cost less than a 10th of the cost of maintaining a conventional weather presentation system. "It combines proper production values and visual impact - this could pave the way for this technology in lots of other areas."
Child stressed that the product is not intended to be the next John Kettley or Michael Fish as it was aimed at niche broadcasters running off video servers that have a public service remit to deliver weather and news services but have limited budgets.
The company is currently in discussion with betting channels on the Sky platform to use the same application for presenting gambling formats.