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ANT CEO Lays Out Hybrid TV Design Challenges at IPTV World Forum
HbbTV offers most seamless hybrid TV experience, says ANT's Simon Woodward

In the hybrid TV era the two challenges facing broadcasters and device manufacturers are to fundamentally understand how to engineer broadcast and broadband streams together and figuring out how to design in simplicity.

Getting a handle on the first will automatically feed into the second, says Simon Woodward, CEO of software developer ANT.

“While hybrid services look like they are ready to go, getting the services delivered at high quality remains an uphill task,” he argued at IP&TV World Forum, being held in London this week.

The challenge is not perhaps an obvious one but involves a profound understanding of managing video streams from a combination of broadcast and broadband.

“We are seeing device manufacturers tending to fall into one camp or another," he said. "The challenge goes right down to the way in which video is delivered into a device, which is hugely different when you compare broadcast and on-demand streams over broadband. It is causing a whole range of issues, mainly because of differences in the core skills in either camp.”

These issues Woodward describes as video artifacts, asynchronous sound and picture, or a drop out of streams caused by poor quality media players. “Since most video is delivered over an unmanaged broadband network, you can’t rely on that infrastructure to supply or get your video, particularly HD video, from A to B.”

Aside from technical considerations affecting delivery, there are also considerations around design. “If the hybrid experience is not designed correctly, the consumer will be forced to make a choice between scheduled and on-demand TV when they are better served by being presented with a seamless user experience,” he says. “By causing the customer to make a choice between on-demand and linear TV the industry risks the customer being shortchanged. Instead there’s an opportunity to bring services together in a more cohesive way which drives to the heart of the capability of HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV).”

ANT is a founding member of the HbbTV Consortium and the company's Galio middleware has been adapted to support the HbbTV project, which is gaining traction in Europe.

It is the established standard in Germany, with broadcasters ARD, ZDF, and RTL producing a range of HbbTV services and number of TV device vendors offering retail products. German-speaking neighbours Austria and Switzerland are also on board.

It was recently deployed for DTT in France, where transmission company TDF is testing the potential of the standard on connected TVs and hybrid set-top boxes.

In the UK the Digital TV Group (DTG) has stated that its Connected TV presentation group is focusing on three areas, an HTML-based presentation technology (building on HbbTV), better graphics, and a framework to enable co-existence of HTML and MHEG-5 with other presentation technologies. Meanwhile UK free-to-air satellite service Freesat is preparing to launch a series of receivers to run on the platform, and STB vendor Humax is to launch its Humax TV Portal, including BBC iPlayer, through the manufacturer’s Freeview HD range.

“The platform that supports BBC iPlayer on Humax is ANT’s HbbTV platform,” says Woodward. “Whether the region is formerly an HbbTV region or product is branded HbbTV or not doesn’t matter. We are powering that development and it’s being adopted because it offers a standard to any device builders to blend linear with nonlinear. A notable ability HbbTV provides is for any broadcast of a scheduled programme to have links inserted over the top linking into on-demand services.”

With regards to YouView, now delayed until early 2012, Woodward suggests its biggest challenge was to get to market ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.

“There will be a huge demand for richer TV experiences around that event and it’s vital for any competitor in this space to be a part of that,” he added.

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