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CableLabs: At long last, OCAP

Thu, 01/03/2002 - 7:00pm
Anne Kerven

It'll never hit best-seller lists in the traditional sense, but CableLabs published its long-awaited OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware specifications. Informal interoperability tests will start in March.

The published version was dubbed OCAP 1.0, with OCAP 2.0 due to be finalized shortly, CableLabs says. OCAP 1.0 supports an execution engine environment based on Java technology, and will serve as a core for future OCAP products. Version 2.0 adds a presentation engine (PE) and bridge for the two to work together.

"CableLabs has accomplished an unprecedented milestone," says CableLabs Chair Joseph Collins, also chair and CEO of AOL Time Warner Interactive Video.

Collins and top MSOs vowed to support OCAP -enabled, CableLabs-certified products, once they become commercially available.

"The PE, similar to a Web browser, will provide support for creating and using the Web's standardized markup and scripting languages (HTML and ECMAScrip)," CableLabs says in a statement. The two versions allow manufacturers to use either, and CableLabs adds that 2.0 is fully backward compatible with 1.0. Both are designed to work with previously deployed iTV applications that are upgraded to OCAP.

OCAP is the middleware portion of OpenCable, a CableLabs initiative that seeks to standardize and add portability to set-tops tagged for retail distribution. It consists of a hardware and software specification. While the hardware portion is complete, and covers the point-of-deployment (POD)-host interface for set-tops sold at retail, the middleware portion has taken long enough to whet that cable curiosity.

Sun Microsystems has handled OCAP's executable engine, and Microsoft and Liberate have been the leading authors of the middleware's presentation engine. Others, such as PowerTV and Canal+, have also contributed.

In November, CableLabs announced OCAP would include the Multimedia Home Platform middleware specs developed by Digital Video Broadcasting.

DVB is a 300-member industry consortium that aims to design global standards for delivering digital TV and data services. The group ratified the MHP standard last year, and it was adopted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

According to MHP documents, the spec covers both executable and presentation components of OCAP. A point in Sun's favor: MHP includes a Java Virtual Machine component.

MHP's main components include its architecture, a virtual machine, hooks for HTML content formats and more.

The agreement in November was intended to coordinate MHP use in North America and let CableLabs complete and publish an OCAP specification within 75 days, CableLabs President and CEO Dr. Richard Green said then.

CableLabs says it already has starting defining an OCAP test plan and is coordinating a developer support program. It has also scheduled a full-day developer conference in February to let manufacturers and developers mingle with vendors whose products support OCAP.

The specs are available to manufacturers, content developers and the public via the OpenCable Web site.

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