Monthly Archives: September 2009

IBC Report – Microsoft considers Canvas as possible Mediaroom feature

Microsoft is considering supporting the UK Canvas specification – backed by a BBC, ITV and BT joint venture – as a possible feature of its Mediaroom IPTV suite, but only if it is genuinely open.

The suggestion came from Ted Malone, senior director of product management for TV, video, music and platform business at Microsoft, when Connected TV met up with him at IBC.

“If it proceeds as an open approach,” said Malone, “we could add support as a feature of Mediaroom.” Malone said that Microsoft would be paying close attention to the Canvas specification, when it finally emerges, to see if it included any proprietary standards. If so, Microsoft would not consider it to be “an open format.”

Malone declined to comment on what role BT Vision might play within the Canvas venture (a source of considerable speculation at IBC) , but, since this incorporates Mediaroom technology, albeit in a limited implementation, it does suggest one way in which the hybrid concept could be extended to accommodate Canvas. That, of course, will depend on what technology elements the Canvas venture eventually decides to incorporate in its specification, and whether it gets regulatory approval.

Malone pointed out that Microsoft was itself in the process of refashioning Mediaroom to make it a more open platform: for instance, he said, the current Windows Media Player DRM used in its IPTV suite was viewed as having reached the end of its working-life. It would now be replaced by PlayReady, a next-generation DRM product which is already part of the Silverlight platform.

This would make it easier for a Mediaroom set-top box to stream protected video content to other devices in the home. “We’re looking to migrate all of our proprietary DRM [to PlayReady],” Malone said.

The move reflects increasing convergence between the Mediaroom product – intended for managed IPTV platforms – and Microsoft’s ‘over-the-top’ technologies. For instance, Mediaroom will be extended to support Silverlight itself as well as the PlayReady DRM it incorporates. It will also adopt Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming technology. This adapts the quality of the video stream in real time, based upon the consumer’s changing bandwidth and the performance of his or her device, to minimise buffering time and offer faster startup times.

“Mediaroom will embrace these and extend the reach of the Mediaroom service,” said Malone.

Connected TV views this as a natural progression: as the performance and reliability of consumers’ broadband links increases and offers a video experience more akin to that of a managed IPTV network, the need for Microsoft to support two entirely distinct product lines is disappearing.

IBC Report – DVB-T2: a possible home for the DVB’s next-generation handheld standard?

Connected TV met up at IBC for the first time with Peter Siebert, who recently took over from Peter MacAvock as executive director of the DVB Project office (earning himself the nickname ‘Peter 2.0′ in the process), and was treated to the latest version of the DVB standards road-map.

One of the most interesting elements to come out of our discussion concerned the fate of what used to be known as DVB-H2 – the next-generation version of the mobile/handheld broadcast standard DVB-H.

Temporarily shelved because of an intervening effort to get the satellite/terrestrial hybrid version of DVB-H (DVB-SH) underway (its first European implementation will be on the Solaris Mobile venture (see previous post), it is now back on the books again – under the working title of DVB-NGH (for ‘Next Generation Handheld).

Asked whether DVB-T2 – which has always encompassed advanced mobile broadcast capabilities as well as high-capacity fixed HDTV ones – mightn’t itself play the role of a DVB-H substitute, Siefert conceded that “maybe [DVB-NGH] is only DVB-T2. The elements of DVB-T2 are a good candidate.”

On the face of it, this might make good sense: operators in some countries are already looking upon robust profiles of DVB-T as a potential substitute for DVB-H, simply because such implementations re-use a pre-existing transmitter network.

Equally likely, perhaps, would be DVB-T2 with ‘add-ons’ – for instance, DVB-NGH could contain DVB-T2 plus LGE (4G) elements – or, indeed, it could end up as something entirely separate from DVB-T2, Siebert said.

In any event, the next DVB Technical Module meeting is expected to give the go-ahead to a new technical group which will decide what NGH will be based on.

At that same meeting, a study group will be reporting back on current industry 3D developments (very much the theme of this year’s IBC show) with a view to a decision being reached about what DVB’s role should be in the 3D standardisation process, if any. Siebert suggested DVB come contribute elements to do with service information and transport protocols.

Siebert said there was also an ongoing discussion going on between the HBBTV backers (see previous story) and DVB as to “whether DVB should play a more active role” in the hybrid DVB standardisation space, perhaps acting as an umbrella group for various industry initiatives.

Amongst other recent developments, nine European operators, including the likes of Kabel Deutschland, Kabel Baden Wittenberg, Ono and Com Hem, have now committed themselves to the next-generation version of DVB’s cable standard, DVB-C2. Siebert commented that in Germany in particular, cable operators were running out of capacity, so they required the extra capacity DVB-C2 could offer. As an example, he pointed to the fact that Kabel Deutchsland’s RFPs now contained questions about whether set-top box manufacturers were able to support DVB-C2.

The first DVB-C2 prototypes are due to be shown at the Anga Cable show in Germany next year, and IBC 2010 would certainly feature the technology, Siebert said.

IBC Report – Civolution water-marking technology poised for Q1 2010 rollout with major US pay-TV operator

The first large-scale deployment of watermarking technology in the pay-TV world should take place in the US in Q1 next year, Connected TV has learned.

Watermarking is a technique which embeds invisible identifiers into broadcast and other content, which can survive multiple transmission, compression and copying stages, in order to identify the sources of pirated material. Each device in the pre-production, production and transmission chain, all the way down to individual set-top boxes, can be given a unique code to pinpoint where the ‘leak’ has taken place.

Speaking at IBC, Alex Terpstra, CEO of Philips watermarking spin-off Civolution, declined to name the US operator in question, but said the Civolution solution it would be supplying is a hybrid one, integrating the technology at the encoder end and the set-top box. This means that as well as identifying piracy taking place at the headend, any set-top box used to illegally re-distribute protected material  can be precisely identified.

“There will be deployments in the field, we hope, in Q1 in North America,” he said. “I believe it is a break-through in the development of this industry.” The water-marking technology will be targeted at  protecting HDTV content.

Previously, except for a few small-scale IPTV deployments where watermarking is integrated into the DRM system , such content identification technologies have been confined to the pre-release market.

Examples include protecting preview copies of films given limited distribution before events such as the Oscars or the Cannes Film Festival, or content aimed at in-hotel distribution (where premium movies are made available before standard pay-per-view and pay-TV release windows).

Terprstra said the fact that the technology was now mature would permit new business models: for example, consumers might be happy to pay a premium to watch a movie at home in VOD mode while (or even before) it was being shown in the cinema. Previously, the studios might have been reluctant to allow this to happen without some sort of guarantee that piracy risks were being addressed.

At IBC, Civolution also announced that Taiwanese company MStar Semiconductor had become the first chipset maker to integrate NexGuard – Civolution’s core watermarking technology – in hardware, as part of its MSD3A11 chipset.

IBC Report – HBBTV set for pre-Christmas German retail launch using Humax and Kaon boxes

Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HBBTV) – a European hybrid DVB/IP platform backed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – is due to be implemented in Germany in time for Christmas this year, using retail set-top boxes manufactured by Humax and Kaon. Launches will then follow in Q1 2010 in Austria and Switzerland.

Richard Baker, executive vice president of sales and marketing at ANT, a TV software solutions provider, laid out the schedule for the implementation of the new specification during a demonstration of the system to Connected TV this morning on the EBU stand. This used broadcast HD content from the German free-to-air satellite platform and a 2MBit/s ADSL link, running on a Kaon receiver.

The system was first demonstrated by public broadcaster ARD in association with the Institut für Rundfunktechnik (IRT) at the IFA show in Berlin a week ago. ANT’s role in the demonstration is the contribution of its Galio Suite, which now contains extensions which make it the first platform to implement the full HBBTV specification.

The three HBBTV use-cases shown at IBC were:

1) A combination of Teletext (written in HTML, CSS and Javascript) and HD broadcast content

2) Broadcast applications which can invoke additional material associated with a channel (i.e. calling up a new streamed OTT video)

3) Access to web services and third party content

In order to access such applications, the remote control used includes an extra Web TV button in addition to the standard coloured ones. Interestingly, the same content can be arrived at through use-cases 2) and 3). In the example Connected TV was shown, the red button could be used within a live broadcast to call up a menu from which a live video stream could be ordered (in this case a trailer for some ARD content), using HTTPS over the broadband connection.

Using the red button to access a Web-based entertainment portal, however, gave access to a separate list of streamable OTT content which included the same ARD trailer as mentioned above.

Asked if British players were interested in merging their rival proposals (namely the BBC/ITV/BT hybrid platform Canvas and the DTG’s D-Book 6/7) with HBBTV, Baker was diplomatic, saying only that ANT and its partners had entertained “an open dialogue with the BBC [about Canvas]. If we have the opportunity to support the desires of the BBC, we’d be very happy about that,” he said.

Microsoft and Tesco partner for UK launch of downloadable ‘virtual DVDs’

We kick off our IBC blogging today with a story about a tie-up between UK supermarket giant Tesco and Microsoft in the UK, who announced this morning that they jointly plan to offer a service this autumn which would allow DVD and Blu-ray quality ‘virtual DVD’ copies of movies to be downloaded for replay on PCs and Macs.The new service, built on Microsoft Silverlight technology, will include interactive features and other add-ons which the partners claim will offer a viewing experience that “goes beyond other digital playback products in the marketplace.”

The basic idea itself is not entirely new, in that it only applies to Tesco customers purchasing certain home video titles from their stores. So in addition to watching them through their DVD players on the TV screen, they will also be able to download a digital copy to a PC elsewhere in the home.

What is new, arguably, is making the DVD ‘bonus’ features available in this way on downloadable content, closing the gap between what is available on a physical disk and a virtual copy. The other significant aspect of the deal is simply that it involves Tesco – one of the UK’s home video sell-through giants. They have enough market power to firmly embed such a service in the UK market, providing it appeals to their customers.

One might also suggest that – if what is being offered is really ‘Blu-ray’ quality in some cases (which will involve quite a lengthy download!) – the (unidentified) Hollywood majors backing the venture appear pretty confident about using a software-based DRM system such as Microsoft’s to protect digital versions of HD premium movie content.

Microsoft hopes to extend this Silverlight-based concept to other markets in due course.

At IBC, Connected TV will be meeting Gabriele Di Piazza, senior director for the Media & Entertainment business in the Communications Sector at Microsoft, to quiz him about the new service and other recent developments.

We plan to post live from the show.