CableLabs said yesterday that it has launched an alpha version of its Enhanced TV (ETV) Test Suite to support user agent development.

Based on the CableLabs Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) specification, the test suite features a set of test EBIF applications, a test plan and test controller software, including source code for the latter.

ETV user agents are the software components that process an ETV application on a set-top box. While cable operators will eventually have enough tru2way set-top boxes and TVs deployed to offer advanced interactive services, EBIF was designed to work with the millions of legacy set-top boxes that are already in subscribers’ homes.

The game plan is to get ETV applications, such as voting, polling, sports updates, weather and stock information, out on EBIF before porting those applications into the tru2way environment.

The test suite provides preliminary test coverage for developers of ETV user agents. CableLabs said it would continue to expand test coverage and provide updates to the suite in the coming months.

Cable operators’ interest in ETV applications must be reaching the boiling point after the number of demonstrations at The Cable Show earlier this month, including live demonstrations by the Comcast Media Center.

Because an ETV application is bound to a specific channel, ETV applications can also be integrated into advertisements where the consumer can complete a purchase or request additional information via remote control commands.

“ETV is going to play an important role in the interactive digital video services MSOs will be introducing, as indicated by the large volume of EBIF and ETV applications on display at the recent Cable Show,” said Steve Reynolds, Comcast’s senior vice president of premise technology. “This new ETV initiative from CableLabs is another example of the cross-industry collaboration that will lead to new ways for consumers to interact with content on their TVs.”

In conjunction with the availability of the ETV test suite, CableLabs also announced additions to its laboratory facilities that include support for the ETV platform. The ETV Lab includes a collection of ETV user agents for both legacy set-top boxes and tru2way devices from the major cable operators, as well as test applications, example commercial applications and various test tools. The ETV Lab is open to application developers, programmers, cable operators and device manufacturers.

“Our test program and our interoperability process will continue to advance quickly and stands ready to serve suppliers when they are ready to participate,” said So Vang, vice president of advanced media platforms in the CableLabs OpenCable initiative.

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