bringing multi-service TV to life

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Television is evolving at an unprecedented pace thanks to the convergence of broadcast, broadband and telephony networks, the growing consumer appetite for on-demand television and the emergence of multiple devices in the home on which audio-visual content and related applications can be viewed.

OpenTV 5 enters the rapidly changing environment to offer pay-TV operators and viewers a new generation of sophisticated middleware to enhance TV viewing and a technological solution that supports a wide range of applications across the multiple screens of personal computers, smartphones and tablets.

Olivier Wellmann, NAGRA Vice President, Product Development for the Middleware & Multi-Services Product Unit, explains the vision behind the product.

Q: What is OpenTV 5 and how does it relate to the current generation of OpenTV middleware?

A: OpenTV 5 is more than a next-release middleware product – it represents a new category of solutions, designed for media convergence. This is really a connected Internet device that knows how to do television. It enables service providers to offer and monetize new applications and services in a fast changing and increasingly complex TV and connected home environment.

So it is a completely new middleware product. It’s a totally new start and, because we decided to go down this route, we are able to change a lot of things compared to our current OpenTV 2 product releases. We were able to create a new category of solutions that not only addresses the challenges of the past, thanks to our 15 years digital television expertise, but also tackles the growing need of the hyper connected future. It is a really exciting piece of technology.

Q: How would you describe the vision behind OpenTV 5?

A: OpenTV 5 is a next-generation media-convergence platform for the connected home. It is a modular client-device solution that is designed to accelerate innovation, thereby enabling operators to launch new services to multiple devices across different networks and to maximise revenues through new business models. Thanks to the OpenTV 5 platform, pay-TV operators can really start to bring multi-service offerings to life.

In addition to its core function of enabling broadcast digital TV, OpenTV 5 enables hybrid connected TV scenarios, it makes advanced advertising and transactional services a reality, it drives the multi-device play – not just on the set-top box but on any device through its multimedia home gateway capabilities. In other words, it enables the whole connected home ecosystem.

The great thing about OpenTV 5 is that it combines the latest web-based technology while marrying NAGRA’s well-established digital television know-how to create a platform that is both flexible and modular, with a rich set of features and built-in security. It offers operators much greater ease of authoring new applications and a faster deployment of advanced services and applications.

The user experience is fundamental to OpenTV 5. The aim is to create a common user experience across different devices using mark-up language technology, which eases time-to-market and reduces application development complexity. As a result, it’s possible for instance to have a rich TV guide that works on multiple devices, so that there is no need to redevelop and redesign applications.

Q: What are the main features of OpenTV 5?

A: As well as traditional TV-centric features – which enable and enhance services such as broadcast TV, PVR, video-on-demand, over-the-top content and home networking – the hybrid platform offered by OpenTV 5 also enables a wide range of innovative features. These include Social TV cloud-based applications, feature-rich and intuitive content discovery, content transcoding for streaming to other devices, and built-in data analytics. In addition, because OpenTV 5 is an Internet device, most HTML5 and Web technology and services apply with minor adjustments. This opens the door to an unprecedented level of innovations to the television environment.

Q: What are the most important technological aspects of OpenTV 5?

A: Most important is the fact that OpenTV 5 leverages Linux, and Linux brings a lot of key benefits in terms of implementing best-of-breed components and applications. If something good exists in the open-source community, we can quickly integrate it into the product – for instance, GStreamer for presenting, recording and serving multimedia streams, and D-Bus for inter-process communications. Similarly, we added our proven proprietary TV middleware components and we manage the integrated delivery as a product, with the benefits it brings in terms of robustness and support.

In parallel, we revisited a lot of the previous generation middleware paradigm and really tried to solve the issues that the industry has faced, such as long lead time and difficult integration cycles. For instance, OpenTV 5 uses standard Linux drivers. We were thus able to dramatically reduce the number of middleware drivers needed. There are more than 100 drivers in OpenTV 2, but there are just 18 in OpenTV 5. Also, we have worked even more closely with the major SoC vendors. This obviously helps portability, reliability and time-to-market. Another innovation example is what we have done with network integration. Prior, the middleware would have had to add a lot of specific network adjustments as to integrate into a specific customer environment. These specific developments were often difficult to quickly bring in and time consuming. We completely changed the OS architecture to a Declarative Configuration framework, reducing the amount of native code needed to deploy by bringing the operator customization needs to be declarative (XML based). This drastically reduces the time-to-market as well.

As well as Linux, the HTML5 and SVG standards play a key role in OpenTV 5, along with newer standards such as CSS3 and Canvas. HTML5 is important because it simplifies authoring across multiple screens. OpenTV 5 embeds an open-source WebKit browser. Of course, not everything in HTML5 used on a PC is relevant to television. That’s where our expertise in integrating TV functions within a mark-up language environment is very useful. These include remote control navigation, channel selection or audio and visual tags, which allow viewers to play online video sites without the need for plug-ins such as the Adobe Flash Player. In addition to Webkit, the solution leverages a highly optimized SVG browser to increase performance on more constrained hardware environments. And we bring well-tuned hardware acceleration capabilities to these runtimes. Finally, we also developed a highly optimized JavaScript Framework that focuses on these TV centric areas to ease the creation of a Guide or any other TV apps. The combination of all these elements gives you a great platform to create a high performance user experience aimed at the television consumption.

By adopting this new approach, operators and developers have a more modular and flexible platform. They have the freedom to experiment and try new things at a speed that was not possible before, and at a much lower cost than previously.

Q: How does OpenTV 5 change the way that we use the PVR?

OpenTV 5 includes Whole Home PVR capability, which enables the Digital Media Server (DMS) features as defined by DLNA. It makes the set-top box stream PVR recorded content to any compatible device within the home network. This means that viewers can start to watch a recorded program on the main TV screen, pause it, then continue watching in on another TV set or on a different device elsewhere in the home. Content security and rights management is supported by NAGRA’s DRM technology - NAGRA MediaAccess Persistent Rights Management (PRM). In a similar way, OpenTV 5 also enables the consumer watching TV content via a tablet to send it to the TV set.

What OpenTV 5 does is actually turn the set-top box into a home gateway, the household’s entertainment, information and communications hub. With the gateway, you can start doing many things – not only sharing content across the home on any device but also streaming live broadcast content directly to other devices or addressing more devices with a common user experience by storing the user interface in the PVR and then sending it to the TV in HTML5 or instance.

Owning the gateway is critical for service providers as it provides the foundation to capture the additional revenue streams of the future. With OpenTV 5, the gateway can also offer even more in terms of value-add, addressable interactive advertising and personalized user experience that displays differently to each member of the household. The gateway is not just for TV – cable operators can enable the gateway for such features as VoIP, Wifi Access Point with internet, routing functions and firewall. The OpenTV 5 platform, with its standard-based modular architecture, is also open to a whole new Smart Home ecosystem coming into play to address new business opportunity such as home security, home automation, e-health or energy management. The modular multi-process architecture allows us to add modules from partners and further enrich the platform. These possibilities are very exciting.

Q: So does this mean that the gateway is some kind of alternative approach to TV from the Cloud?

A: Not at all. The Open TV 5-enabled gateway is not a play against the Cloud. With OpenTV 5, broadcast and OTT content are seamlessly available to viewers within a single channel list, improving the overall experience. In fact, the Cloud enhances the gateway solution through OTT live, on-demand content and advanced meta-data or even social integration. These cloud-based services can be provided by the service provider or its affiliated Web content and application partners, delivering cloud-based UIs. We have really open-up the options here.

Yet delivering broadcast-grade OTT content in the home can be a challenge for service providers as it depends heavily on the IP bandwidth available at the edge of the network and within the home. A gateway with multiple tuners, either as a headless standalone product or a full-fledged set-top box, can stream live broadcast channels to devices in the home. It can even transcode content using adaptive bitrate protocols to efficiently deliver content to tablets or connected TVs independently of the overall IP bandwidth available into the home. This opens up extraordinary possibilities in several worldwide markets where Internet access is still constrained or the cost of upgrading the IP network infrastructure restricts the deployment of new services.

Q: It sounds like OpenTV 5 is really a win-win for service providers wishing to deploy the next generation of pay-TV services…

A: It really is. It was built from the ground up to address the business potential of the new DTV ecosystem: leading edge architecture based on best-of-breed technology, modular and flexible software design, developer-friendly HTML5-based application environment leveraging broadcast expertise and powerful hybrid gateway capabilities that can extend to new business opportunities. OpenTV 5 is also a scalable product as it can address both entry-level and high-end market needs. And it was designed to co-exist with existing solutions and systems. It essentially helps service providers deploy a new cost-effective convergence platform for the future while leveraging their existing investments.