At the ANGA cable show at Cologne in Germany, Strategy & Technology and Humax showed the first applications to bring streaming video from the internet to the television under broadcaster control using the latest MHEG-5 middleware specifications. These build on the open standards currently used for interactive services on digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom.
Working with set-top box manufacturer Humax, S&T has enhanced its advanced RedKey 2 technology and MHEG applications to exploit the capabilities of the new MHEG Interaction Channel as defined by the sixth edition of the Digital TV Group D-Book, which is being published as an ETSI standard.
Humax, which first licensed the S&T implementation of MHEG middleware for a range of devices, including the Foxsat-HDR PVR to support the UK launch of Freesat+ in November 2008, plans to use the new technology in products designed for Freeview HD.
The MHEG Interaction Channel specification allows broadcasters to retain full control over viewer access to online video content. It allows broadcasters to offer services such as Catch-Up TV launched from a broadcast portal. It also enables interactive advertising applications with internet-style usage and response reporting.
The hybrid file system enables content from the broadcast channel to be merged seamlessly with content delivered over internet protocol via the Interaction Channel, and uses HTTP streaming, which will work on any network without the need to configure routers and firewalls.
A parental guidance mechanism is also available to prevent the viewing of inappropriate programming — in line with playback of broadcast material recorded on hard disk.
Bob Hannent, the chief technologist at Humax, spoke of the ability to provide an effective return channel to MHEG with minimal impact to existing infrastructure, working within a standards framework.
The MHEG specification was originally developed in the mid-nineties, prior to the widespread adoption of web and internet standards. It has been extended to include support for data delivered over an internet protocol network connection.
It has the benefit of being a published open standard that can run on relatively simple consumer electronics hardware, although some have questioned whether it is sufficiently sophisticated to support the sort of applications and services that users have grown accustomed to on the web.
While broadcasters may welcome the ability to retain control over the viewing experience, consumers are increasingly expecting to be able to access other online services that are not necessarily aligned to broadcasters, as well as being able to view other media accessible through home networks.