Despite the ongoing debate about middleware standards, a number of vendors are simply building on open standards from the web world, even supporting features such as SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics. One such is Dreampark, a small Swedish company that cheekily claims its Dreamgallery solution is “the most deployed IPTV middleware in Europe” — by virtue of the fact that they have more operators, rather than end users.

Magnus Persson, the co-founder and now sales director of Dreampark, explained to informitv that the company was established back in 2000 with a focus on interactive services delivered to the television over the internet using the personal computer platform.

They received Swedish government funding for research into user interface design. Their product was based on the results of this research, which suggested that the user interface needed to be simple and efficient.

They signed up satellite operators CanalDigital for their IPTV service on the strength of a prototype on a personal computer. This was then developed for a set-top box.

Their next customer was Viasat and they have gone on to sign up other operators, mainly in Scandinavia, focussing on smaller service providers looking for an independent middleware vendor that supports many different vendors in the ecosystem.

They now support Amino, Motorola, Tilgin and Zyxel boxes and content protection from Conax, Latens, NDS, Verimatrix or Widevine.

“We’re very positive about the future at the moment,” he said. In response to the recent news that Espial is to acquire Kasenna, who could both be seen as competitors, he said: “it changes the picture for us and provides an opportunity”. The ongoing consolidation in the middleware market means that there are now fewer independent options.

Dreampark is committed to open standards, using a browser based approach, taking advantage of modern software designs that do not require a round-trip to the server for every single interaction. Their software sits on web browsers such as those from Opera, Mozilla, or Ant.

It still requires an application programming interface to connect to the lower level functions, but these are generally provided by set-top box vendors.

“We can do everything in the browser that we need to,” Magnus explained. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he argues that browser-based middleware will perform as well as dedicated client software, and it is generally easier to maintain.

The company says many operators see changes being made in minutes that might require a six-month upgrade project by some middleware vendors using proprietary native technology.

Dreampark recently announced support for SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics, an open standard that allows resolution independent graphics, helping to support high-definition resolution without compromising speed.

“We aim at doing high-definition graphics with better performance than native clients do standard definition today,” said Björn Lang, the chief technology officer of Dreampark. “With SVG boosting the performance of browsers I can no longer see any real reasons to stick to static and maintenance-intensive native clients.”

The speed improvements come partly because SVG is being implemented to use hardware accelerated graphics. Ekioh, based in Cambridge, England, has an SVG engine that it claims can provide a user experience “second to none”.

“SVG has many advantages over HTML,” said Piers Wombwell of Ekioh. “A user interface written in SVG is generally simpler than if it were written in HTML. With the document and the layout algorithms being less complex, it is more efficient for rendering by the hardware.”

“The result is amazing,” enthuses Magnus of Dreampark. “We were really impressed by the performance. It is very, very promising. SVG is the future.”

To address perceived issues of scalability, Dreampark is also looking at multicasting applications and data, allowing distribution to an arbitrary number of customers. Dreampark is also developing small JavaScript applets it calls ‘Dreamlets’ which can be multicast and targeted at specific channels or groups of users.

Dreampark is not alone in advocating a web standards approach to broadband television services. Others include the Zignal solution from Industria in Iceland, which has just opened an office in Stockhol, so Dreampark could see a little local competition.

Ultimately, a competitive market based on open standards can only be a good thing for prospective operators. The promise of web standards based middleware is that it will open up the market to a much wider development community, making it much easier to create applications and integrate with existing web services.