Standards, new technologies converge for better set-top viewing
Today’s consumers demand a much more compelling and personalized video user experience than ever before, based on their daily interaction with tablets, smartphones, and an ever-growing number of other sophisticated connected devices. Yet, until recently, delivering this experience on the TV screen was no simple task.
Pay-TV operators were challenged by a number of set-top box (STB) limitations. STBs were lacking the CPU speed, RAM, and hardware acceleration features necessary to render rich graphics, leading to unimaginative user interfaces.
Application innovation was slow due to a lack of standards and third-party integration. And porting was time-consuming and expensive due to divergence between chipset vendors and an absence of standard approaches to common functions such as streaming.
The landscape is changing, though. Technology advancements and new standards, such as HTML5, RDK, and HbbTV, are dramatically altering the STB user experience, enabling a richer, personalized television experience that includes 3D graphics, real-time connectivity to the Web, social media, targeted advertising, and more. This article describes the latest standards and technologies that are contributing to a revitalized STB user experience, including the need for an intelligent back-office solution.
HTML5 cuts through clutter
One standard that is driving the new STB user experience is HTML5. HTML5 provides developers with a common markup language, ensuring a consistent Web experience on every consumer device. Prior to HTML5, developers were required to author and support separate native applications for every operating system, screen size, device, and environment. This was extremely expensive and time-consuming.
Currently supported by all of the popular Web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Firefox, HTML5 is being adopted as the standard for video user interfaces on STBs thanks to its ability to simplify content delivery, provide a single authoring language across multiple devices, and transform what was once a static television user experience into one that is interactive and rich with 3D graphics and targeted advertising.
Through an HTML5-based STB client, broadcasters and pay- TV operators can push interactive content to viewers as well as other IP-connected devices like tablets or smartphones. The key features and benefits of HTML5 include: • Localized storage: With HTML5, content can be stored locally, enabling applications to remain functional even when they’re not connected to the Web. This is advantageous for caching frequently used images or data, as it minimizes the number of times an application needs to send requests to the server, increasing the launch and runtime performance of applications.
• WebSockets: Another HTML5 technology called WebSockets streamlines content delivery by enabling a real-time connection between the TV and video server. This dramatically reduces the complexity of delivering real-time, event-driven Web applications like electronic programming guides, stock tickers, and weather updates.
• Standardized audio and video coding: Another benefit of an HTML5- based STB client is its ability to handle multimedia and graphical content in the browser without relying on proprietary plug-ins and APIs.
• HTML5 standardizes how audio and video files are embedded and played on Web pages, enabling memory that was previously dedicated to plug-ins to be better utilized.
• Advanced multimedia and graphics: By supporting technologies like CSS and WebGL, HTML5 brings engaging graphics, including 3D animation, to the STB.
RDK accelerates innovation
RDK, or Reference Design Kit, is a standardized, pre-integrated software bundle that provides operators with a common framework for powering STBs. The fully tested and integrated system runs on QAM, IP, and hybrid devices and has received substantial support from Tier 1 MSOs based on its ability to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced video services. Since its introduction in early 2012, more than 100 licensees, including OEMs, systems integrators, SOCs, software vendors, and MVPDs have joined the RDK community, which is focused on bringing rich, multi-screen TV home entertainment experiences to consumers faster.
Leveraging RDK and the advanced 3D UI effects enabled by HTML5, operators can quickly develop and deliver innovative Web-based applications to optimize the STB user experience for IP video services.
These applications include: • HTML5 electronic program guides with compelling graphics
• Captivating user interfaces with HTML5 and 3D animations
• Blended interaction with popular Web apps like Facebook and Twitter
• Advanced 3D animation effects such as rubber banding built into the navigation • Personalization of services for each STB user in the household.
To achieve the full promise of RDK, MSOs should look to take advantage of an advanced application framework to optimize performance and rapid app development with RDK. An application framework should provide:
• Industry leading application performance based on video acceleration, graphics acceleration, and applications performance acceleration
• A full lineup of standard video applications including: EPG, VoD, PVR/DVR, Parental controls, Settings, Catch-up TV, PPV
• Seamless integration and certification with leading HTML5 web apps such as YouTube on TV.
• Rapid application development and creation environment to allow MSOs to achieve user experience and service innovation at Web speed by adding their own or select third-party applications.
Unity with HbbTV
The delivery of hybrid television services via open broadcast standards. such as HbbTV, are also having a significant impact on the STB user experience. HbbTV is an open and business-neutral technology platform that unifies the delivery of broadcast and broadband services on STBs, enabling consumers to access a variety of services, including catch-up TV, video on demand (VoD), interactive advertising, personalization, voting, games and social networking as well as program-related services such as digital text and EPGs.
While HbbTV started out as a pan-European standard — having already been deployed in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Turkey — it’s starting to gain global acceptance. At IBC2013 in Amsterdam, U.S. broadcasters met to discuss HbbTV and whether certain capabilities of the standard could be adapted to complement the U.S. interactive broadcasting standard ATSC 2.0.
Back-Office Intelligence and Integration Services
Deploying anSTB client that supports the latest hardware and software innovations as well as open technology standards is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to delivering a compelling user experience on STBs. In addition, an intelligent back-office solution, along with rich integration services, is needed.
The back-office platform is the engine responsible for powering a personalized STB user experience with social media, Web video, and recommendations and multi-screen services such as place-shifting. It should be based on a modular design that supports Web and video ecosystem integration, merchandizing, multi-screen control, cloud UX delivery, and TV service management.
When looking to deploy an STB client and back-office solution, it’s also important that operators partner with a vendor that provides an end-to-end set of RDK integration services including: • Architecture and planning: Recommend an optimized STB and back-office architecture based on RDK roadmap capabilities.
• RDK-based STB porting: Leverage deep experience in optimizing RDK solutions based on Broadcom, Entropic, Intel, and other chipsets.
• Proof of concept development: Quickly evaluate RDK-based services with rapid porting and prototyping services.
• Back-office integration: Integrate advanced RDK-based STBs with back-office systems.
• HTML5 and RDK app development: Design and develop a cloud-based HTML5 UX around essential video applications such as EPG and VOD. Build a blended user experience with popular Web apps such as YouTube on TV and operator apps such as video security.
The next-generation STB experience has arrived. Harnessing the latest technology developments and open Web standards, combined with an intelligent back-office solution, today’s operators can replace tired, old user interfaces with an innovative STB experience that offers personalization, targeted advertising, real-time connectivity to Web apps, compelling graphics and user interfaces, social networking, and much more.
Supporting a STB software approach that is vendor independent, open, flexible, and capable of providing a dramatically improved user experience, operators can dramatically increase subscriber satisfaction as well as their revenue streams. ■