The European Broadcasting Union, which represents the interests of public service broadcasters, has backed innovation in hybrid broadcast and broadband delivery, calling this “one of the most exciting developments in the media today”. The EBU is not, as reported by some, currently backing any particular standard but is seeking alignment of various initiatives around a common core.
In Britain there is Project Canvas, a platform proposed as a joint venture between a number of parties, including the BBC and ITV, which are both members of the EBU. As yet there is little on the table by way of specific standards, but the Digital TV Group industry association is pursuing a Connected TV programme to investigate various aspects of the technologies involved. The country already has a large installed base of MHEG devices. The MHEG-IC interaction channel is being promoted as an extension to allow integration with internet services.
Then there is MHP, which was originally developed by the DVB Project as the Multimedia Home Platform specifically for such applications, based on the Java language. Adoption by broadcasters has been limited, although there are over 7.5 million MHP set-top boxes in Italy, where the national broadcaster RAI is an EBU member. In the form of GEM or Globally Executable MHP it forms the basis of the Tru2Way standard for cable television in America and has been incorporated as part of the BD-J specification for Blu-ray discs.
“We see our role as trying to bring together the alternative HBB systems to align them so that we might have a common core system which is used throughout Europe,” David Wood of the EBU told informitv. “We are a trade association of our members so our job is not to support any particular one of those systems but to try to help to bring them together,” he said. “I think everybody realises that there are different national contexts.”
There is some hope that the HbbTV and Connected TV initiatives could be brought into alignment around a common core. The carousel broadcast file systems used for interactive television could form part of that common core, together with some other aspects of signalling. The differences are more likely to arise at the application and presentation layers.
Consumer electronics manufacturers are keen to see commonality across systems as they need to address an international market to achieve economies of scale. Many are already marketing or developing their own connected devices, generally based on open internet standards.
The linking and integration of broadcast and broadband services is a key issue for broadcasters, who are well placed to promote services, such as catch-up programming.
This is, however, only one feature of connected devices and displays, which will be able to access programming and services from non-broadcast providers, as well as media stored on home networks.
There is a danger in viewing connected television services through the lens of interactive television services that have been launched to date. In fact, as the success of thousands of applications developed for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch have demonstrated, the network connected display could enable a new category of product and services, some of which are still not envisaged.