Enabling connected TV interoperability

Monday, March 25, 2013

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Stingray’s Karaoke application…was shown working on a North American Sharp TV, a European (HbbTV) Philips device from TP Vision, a UK specification Humax set-top box (like the latest Freesat STB for the UK market), a Sony Google TV STB and a UK Bravia TV. All devices ran the same application, written once rather than in a proprietary manner for each individual model.
Continued OIPF progress towards a global ecosystem for IPTV apps and services 

Since 2007, Open IPTV Forum members have been working together to deliver commonly agreed global specifications as a foundation for interoperable IPTV. Darren Vogel, marketing director for OIPF outlines the strides the organisation has taken in the past year and where the forum will be directing its energies over during 2013.
Five years since the foundation of the OIPF, with more than 50 participating members and two specification releases complete, connected TV devices incorporating various aspects of the OIPF specifications from numerous vendors now retail across the EU, USA and Asia.

Specifically these devices feature the DAE (Declarative Application Environment) often referred to as the “OIPF browser”. Critically, this OIPF browser is now crucial to a viable, scalable and manageable apps and services ecosystem for the whole connected TV industry.

Over the past year, OIPF work has brought long-term benefits and opportunity across the whole industry, as reflected in increased collaboration between the OIPF and the HbbTV Consortium and other regional consortia, and the diversity of 18 new members from the leading edge of the IPTV business who joined the Forum in 2012. However, it will take a number of years for the full industry-wide benefit and opportunities of these initial achievements - the first use of OIPF specifications in connected TV devices - to be fully realised and more recognisable. 

Defining and publishing free-of-charge, standards-based specifications for end-to-end IPTV of the future is still what the Forum believes is the first, and fundamental, step to enable and accelerate the creation of a mass market for IPTV. It was until recently the Forum’s main activity, addressing concerns expressed by service providers finding limitations in deployed proprietary solutions.  However, the Forum is now equally focused on enabling the broader ecosystem of interoperability through testing and certification.

Enabling a broad ecosystem of interoperability
In September 2012, OIPF and the HbbTV Consortium announced collaboration on testing technologies. These include testing the ‘Declarative Application Environment’ and ‘Media Formats’ specifications currently being implemented in retail connected TVs and STBs in regions deploying the HbbTV based solution.

As Dr. Nilo Mitra, president of the Open IPTV Forum says, “These test suites are essential for improving interoperability between connected TV applications, services and receivers, and reduce the cost of resolving interoperability problems. Referencing of the OIPF browser by various regional standards throughout the world will increase the number of compliant and interoperable devices worldwide.”

A Horizontal Market 
From the outset the OIPF has emphasised the need for a retail (horizontal) market for consumer equipment conforming to its specifications. Board member for Sony Corporation, Paul Szucs, explains: “The ultimate goal is that consumers can go out to a retail store and purchase their preferred device to receive whatever IPTV and online media services are available to them, whether it be a TV, PVR, games console - any device that has the functionality integrated. The key is freedom of choice.”

With realisation of the OIPF certification programme expected in 2013, the OIPF’s goal for this horizontal market should soon be a reality, helping the whole IPTV market develop faster and more effectively, whilst also making the benefits of the OIPF vision of global interoperability more readily visible.

Industry influence
HbbTV was the first example of OIPF specifications being used at the leading edge of hybrid broadcast-broadband TV. Being part of the OIPF ensures that leading players can best influence and address the needs of all regional standards leveraging the OIPF’s open specifications, including HbbTV. 

Humax and Opera Software are two OIPF members which teamed up to launch HD set-top boxes with ready-made web apps designed for the OIPF browser in 2012. The latest generation of Freesat’s STBs from Humax, which are on sale in the UK, also reference aspects of OIPF specifications.

Commercial director of Opera Software, Tony Wade says: “We want to bring browsers to all TVs and STBS around the world...and we support both W3C and OIPF standards.”
On joining the OIPF last year Bob Hannent, senior technology manager at Humax, says: “Humax has a strategy towards the use of open standards as much as possible with its next generation products and, as such, it wishes to engage with the industry in order to facilitate the growth and adoption of these standards.”
OIPF has also previously helped develop the standardisation efforts of others – contributing the HTTP Adaptive Streaming solution (dealing with MPEG2 transport, which had not yet been addressed in existing standards) to the ISO, into whose standard, called MPEG-DASH, that work is now merged.

New Requirements, New Work for 2013
OIPF specifications are living documents. They evolve to meet the developing market, with maintenance and upgrades adding additional requirements to keep solutions relevant and contemporary. Ongoing work is lead by leading industry members, and includes support for 3D content/programming, support for the evolution to IPv6-based networks, and support for simple and secure streaming as well as a variety of browser enhancements.
A reduced membership fee was introduced for small enterprises in 2012, offering full participation in the Forum but with an 80 percent discount on membership cost for firms with a turnover under €10m. This helped a number of new members to participate in the work of the Forum and enabled them to demonstrate interoperable OIPF apps and services at events including IBC 2012 and NAB 2013.
Each application or service demonstrated on the OIPF booth addresses OIPF specifications, written once but demonstrated working on a broad variety of devices from a number of vendors using the OIPF specifications. In 2012, this included Fraunhofer, Dotscreen and Stingray Digital applications.
Stingray’s Karaoke application, for example, was shown working on a North American Sharp TV, a European (HbbTV) Philips device from TP Vision, a UK specification Humax set-top box (like the latest Freesat STB for the UK market), a Sony Google TV STB and a UK Bravia TV. All devices ran the same application, written once rather than in a proprietary manner for each individual model.
Mario Dubois, CTO of Stingray Digital Group says: “Since joining the OIPF we were able to meet and connect with more connected device manufacturers in two months than we had in the previous two years, allowing for a faster and wider deployment of The KARAOKE Channel App. As developers of interactive music services and applications for TV service providers and connected TVs, we recognise the importance of working together as an industry to define standards and address issues related to IPTV resulting in more efficient development.”
Global relevance, events, interoperability testing and new members
2012 saw the OIPF emphasising global relevance, including the Middle East, with Saudi operator STC joining the Forum. A very successful OIPF Roundtable event in Montreal, hosted by Rogers, encouraged four new Canadian members, The Weather Network, Stingray Digital, Espial and more recently UXP Systems.
Leading Hollywood firm Blufocus, who specialise in technology testing for major US Studios, was presented as a new member at the Asian OIPF meeting held in Tokyo in October. This visit also included dialogue with Japan Cable Labs and the Japan IPTV Forum. Japan Cable Labs gave a keynote speech to OIPF members, describing how they had adopted the OIPF specifications into their standards for cable STBs in Japan.

In France, founder member Orange hosted a successful OIPF Interoperability Test, addressing their requirement for a solution representative of a viable commercial offering for a typical tier-one service provider. During five days of engineering, testing and demonstrations by Ericsson, Fraunhofer, Opera Software, Orange and Zenterio, interoperability in the areas of service discovery, delivery of linear and on demand content, HTTP adaptive streaming and terminal based applications were demonstrated according to the Orange requirements, all based on the published OIPF specifications.
As well as new members from Canada and the US, the Middle East and Humax from South Korea, many leading companies from across Europe have joined OIPF work in the past 12 months. Set Top Box vendor ABox42, mistserver.org and 3 Screen Solutions from Germany, TV app developer Axonista and Digisoft.tv from Ireland, DCC Labs from Poland, Dotscreen and Broadpeak from France and Zenterio from Sweden. UK based new members include Perpetual Solutions, Streamhub, Digital TV Labs and WMC Global – with Accenture being the latest global organisation to become a member of the Forum in the past month.
In Conclusion
Through the coming year, the connected TV industry will start to see real benefit from the extensive investment in the work of the OIPF to date. Thanks to adoption by various regional standards, gradual implementation of additional aspects of the OIPF specs into CE Devices and the emergence of apps and services using the OIPF specs, IPTV stands on the threshold of achieving its full potential built on the OIPF’s foundation of interoperability.


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