French MPEG DASH TV Requirements Have IBC Buzzing

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One of the more interesting bits of news coming out of last week's IBC tradeshow in Amsterdam was that the French government has mandated the use of MPEG DASH in all connected televisions.

The full story is a little more complicated, due to the number of connected TV initiatives floating around Europe. France's connected television scheme, backed by industry and government groups, is called TNT. It currently stands at version 2.0, which was launched mid-2011. The recent move to add DASH support to TNT 2.0 is the source of the buzz.

TNT is a French-only subset of what is commonly called Hybrid Broadcast Broadband television, or HbbTV, a pan-European standard for interactive televisions that now stands at version 1.5.

For those who read our coverage of the 2012 London Olympic games DASH interoperability initiative, HbbTV 1.5 may sound familiar. Belgian broadcaster VRT, which hosted the linear interoperability DASH testing in conjunction with the European Broadcasting Union, noted that the tests complied with the HbbTV 1.5 standard.

HbbTV 1.5 itself now includes DASH for adaptive streaming, so the French move to add DASH support to TNT 2.0 is widely seen as a move to coordinate technical capabilities between the French-only TNT 2.0 and the wider HbbTV 1.5 specification.

How does TNT fit in to the overall, ongoing HbbTV initiative currently engulfing Europe? That's the complicated part.

TNT, for instance, allows for two digital rights management (DRM) platforms: the open-source Marlin standards and Microsoft's PlayReady. Marlin is one of the five Common Encryption schemes allowed for in both DASH and UltraViolet, and Marlin has also been adopted by some non-HbbTV-based connected TVs and set-top boxes, with one major example being YouView boxes.

While some in the DRM space claim that Microsoft's PlayReady is the only way to go, the fact that Marlin is now a choice in three major premium content solutions may give it a leg up when it comes to DASH implementations in HbbTV, thanks to Europe's consistent support of open standards. Yet, it's worth remembering that DASH as a whole is capable of accepting three additional DRM schemes that aren't part of the TNT 2.0 initiative.

This leads to the next logical question: where exactly does DASH fit into HbbTV 1.5 and the TNT 2.0 specification?

In June, 2012, the HD Forum, a French industry body responsible for developing the TNT 2.0 specification, created a test lab for measuring interoperability in TNT 2.0 devices. HD Forum appointed the Farncombe design and consultancy firm, in conjunction with Digital TV Labs, to design the test suite.

"Farncombe in partnership with DTVL are designing the test suite to support the specific features of the TNT 2.0 profile, including DASH adaptive streaming (now specified in HbbTV 1.5)," DTVL said in a June 8, 2012 press release.

TNT will, according to the HD Forum, continue in lockstep with the HbbTV specification. Will all future French connected television sets need to support DASH? Yes, if they want to meet HbbTV and TNT standards, but it isn't a mandate as a number of connected TV devices are now reaching the market that use the TNT 1.0 and HbbTV 1.0 or 1.1 specifications.

One other issue left unaddressed by the recent inclusion of DASH within both HbbTV 1.5 and TNT 2.0 is the inclusion of a number of MPEG-2 and H.264 profiles. While everyone waits for Apple to decide about supporting DASH, the primary focus is now on the DASH subset of profiles surrounding H.264, known as DASH 264.

A recent interview with David Price, head of business development for media at Ericsson, notes that DASH 264 narrows the focus of DASH supporters, allowing them to get down to the business of interoperability testing.

"DASH 264 is a ‘best practice' subset of DASH that defines everything from the codec to subtitling and audio requirements with the aim of narrowing the focus," said Price.

The same may be true for TNT as it narrows focus to DASH.

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