The prospect of a single standard for interactive television and video services across Europe has ironically come a step closer. The BBC is finally dropping its insistence on the legacy MHEG standard and will support the adoption of HbbTV for interactive television services. There will be a planned migration from MHEG to HbbTV, although there is still a large legacy base of existing receivers that are still reliant on the MHEG standard, which dates back to 1997.

The BBC will remove its requirement for MHEG support and will work with industry groups such as the Digital TV Group to align specifications around HbbTV.

The first version of the hybrid broadcast broadband television specification published as a standard in 2010. The draft 2.0 version was published in November 2015. The latest version, HbbTV 2.0.1, was announced in April 2016, including features added to support the markets in Italy and the United Kingdom. A full test suite is not expected until the end of the year.

The aim is to enable industry adoption of HbbTV 2.0.1 in time for manufacturers to build the hybrid broadcast broadband specification into 2018 product cycles.

Working in close consultation with manufacturers and other affected parties, a plan will be developed by the BBC, Freeview, Digital UK and the DTG by September 2016. It will then be shared publicly in relevant industry forums. The plan will include the development and sharing of test applications to enable manufacturers to ensure correct behaviour of the new HbbTV-based services.

The DTG welcomed the move, saying it continued the work it initiated with a paper ‘Towards a Common European Technical Standard for Interactive Services on Free-To-Air TV Platforms’ it produced earlier in the year.

“We are actively engaged to set out a plan, working with the BBC, Freeview, DUK and DTG Members to deliver a solution which works for both the industry and consumers with their varied viewing preferences,” said Richard Lindsay-Davies, the chief executive of the DTG. “We are all supportive of a well-managed migration from MHEG to HbbTV.”

The next iteration of the DTG D-Book, which sets out the technical specification digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom, will be published in October 2016.

Currently in its eighth edition, the D-Book was first produced in 1996, before the launch of digital terrestrial television in 1997. MHEG was specified to provide the user interface for interactive services, including so-called red-button applications on digital terrestrial television.

Since then, over 100 million digital terrestrial television receivers have been sold in the United Kingdom, where MHEG support has been specified as part of the platform. MHEG was subsequently adopted in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Ireland.

MHEG-5 was developed as an open standard by the Multimedia and Hypermedia Experts Group in the mid-nineties. Deliberately limited in scope and designed to run on very basic devices, MHEG was developed to include an Interaction Channel based on internet protocols but was generally more primitive than modern browser-based systems.

HbbTV was developed as an alternative open industry standard, born out of separate initiatives in France and Germany, based on a combination of broadcast and internet technologies. It references existing specifications, including OIPF, CEA, DVB, MPEG-DASH and W3C. The HbbTV Association merged with the Open IPTV Forum in 2014.

The latest version of HbbTV uses contemporary web technologies, including HTML5 and CCS3, allowing applications and services to be developed using widely adopted web skill sets.

HbbTV is used by Freesat and Freeview Play in the United Kingdom. HbbTV has been adopted in at least 15 countries, with over 35 million compatible receivers deployed so far.