BroadbandTV Group, a joint venture between YooMedia plc and ICTV, providers of the HeadendWare platform, have announced that they will trial broadband interactivity with UK digital cable operator ntl.

HeadendWare can perhaps be thought of as interactive on demand. Rather than requiring local execution of applications on set-top boxes, ICTV’s HeadendWare is used to allow personal computer based servers to deliver MPEG-2 video to standard digital cable set-top boxes, while a small client application returns remote control commands back to the server.

The average round-trip response time is said to be between a tenth and a third of a second. Although it requires a one-to-one connection between the server and the set-top box, the system provides support for high quality streaming audio and full motion video as well as Macromedia Flash and Shockwave animation.

“It has the potential to transform the interactive experience for the viewer in the same way that broadband transformed the internet experience for web-users,” said David Docherty, chief executive of YooMedia.

“Until now, interactive television has lacked the vivid quality of linear television or the best of the worldwide web,” added Mike McGrail, chief executive of ICTV. “Our technology gives BroadbandTV Group the opportunity to create a new elite class of interactive services.”

While the HeadendWare approach may not provide the scalability required for broadcast programming, it is well-suited to high value interactive services such as pay-per-play games. It also offers a higher level of televisual interactivity than typically seen on the web based Liberate platform currently used for cable in the UK.

BroadbandTV has also created a partner programme for broadcasters and content providers. Initial development partners include the BBC and MTV.

The trial will begin with selected ntl customers in 2005.