Category: Pay-TV and the home network

Netgem proposes to integrate the set-top box and soundbar in one unit

Article

Combining the STB, TV soundbar and Alexa means telcos can stand out from the crowd | VideoNet

From the horse’s mouth

Netgem

SoundBox set-top box and soundbar

Product Page

Video (Click / Tap to play in YouTube)

My Comments

Soundbars and TV speaker bases are becoming an increasingly-valid path for improving your TV’s sound because they provide the sound through just one box, perhaps along with a subwoofer enclosure. This is because the typical flat-panel TV is becoming more slim but doesn’t have much thought put in to its sound quality and most of us want to hear our shows through something a bit better than that.

As I mentioned in another article on this topic, they will appeal to people who have their TV set up in the traditional manner with it being in the corner of the lounge so as to avoid it competing with the view offered by a feature window or fireplace. They also will appeal to those of us who like our music via a dedicated stereo system with its own speakers, something that is considered to be important thanks to the “back to basics back to vinyl” trend.

In some countries where there is a competitive market for “triple-play” Internet service or subscription-based TV service, the features that a set-top box or PVR offers are seen as a selling point for each of the service providers. As well, most of these telcos or pay-TV providers want to be in a position to upsell customers to better services.

This has led Netgem, a French set-top-box designer to offer to these providers a device which has a soundbar and set-top box in the one housing. It will have the ability to work with a variety of online video and music services and can be controlled by the traditional remote control or a smartphone app. But this box is also being equipped with Amazon Alexa support which allows it to work in a similar vein to the Amazon Echo wireless speaker. The Amazon Alexa agent will also learn media-navigation skills pertaining to this device so you simply can select what you want to watch by voice.

Philips achieved a similar goal by offering a soundbar with an integrated Blu-Ray player,  2-band (FM / Internet) radio and network media player in order to provide a soundbar equivalent to the “home theatre in a box” systems.

The idea behind this box is to allow a telco or pay-TV provider to provide a device that is better than usual to differentiate itself from the others. This is more so where they are focused on selling a “solution” rather than selling a product or service. In most cases, it could be seen simply as an optional device that customers can request rather than as the standard device for a premium package. It is because there will be some customers who will have their own soundbar or home-theatre setup as the way to improve their TV’s sound and simply want a set-top box as the gateway to an IPTV service.

As well, implementing HDMI-ARC, DLNA MediaRenderer, AirPlay / Google Cast playback and similar functionality cam make sure that this device can earn its keep as part of your networked personal A/V setup.

What is showing up is that, especially in Europe’s competitive markets like France, there is a strong interest amongst whoever is offering triple-play broadband service to provide something that offers that bit extra.

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Google have integrated Chromecast in to their set-top boxes

Article

Google bakes Cast capabilities into its Fiber boxes | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google Fiber

Blog Post

My Comments

Sonifi, a hotel-technology vendor is working on a guestroom-TV solution that integrates Google Cast functionality in to the hotel room TVs with the ability to stream via the hotel’s public-access Wi-FI network. This was one of the first “integrated Chromecast” setups that I have heard of where you can benefit from Google Chromecast functionality without you needing to plug in a Chromecast HDMI dongle in to your TV.

Now Google have taken this concept further with the Google Fiber TV package where the set-top box has the Google Cast functionality integrated in it. Here, the client device such as your laptop, tablet or smartphone is connected to the same home network as the Google Fiber TV set-top box like what would happen with your Chromecast. You would also perform the same procedures for streaming your app’s output or Web page through the TV as you would if you were using a Chromecast.

This concept can work well if Google continues to license their Google Cast software to other companies who manufacture smart TVs or network-capable video peripherals so as to keep this functionality as a product differentiator. Similarly, pay-TV providers and multiple-play telecommunications providers could have Google Cast as a differentiator for their set-top boxes that are part of their TV services especially where the market is highly competitive. The Google Cast Audio concept can also work well with network-capable audio equipment and Google could extend the logic so that if you are “Casting” an audio-only source like Spotify, Pandora or TuneIn Radio, these sources are by default sent to the Google Cast Audio endpoints.

It certainly shows that Google can put forward their Chromecast technology as something that can viably compete with the Apple TV ecosystem and could even coexist with Miracast and other platforms that are “possessed” by a particular brand.

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Canal+ offers an OTT décodeur independent of any French ISP

Article

Cube S OTT box from Canal+ | Advanced Television

Canal+ mise tout sur l’OTT avec son nouveau décodeur | Freenews.fr (French language / Langue française)

From the horse’s mouth

Technicolor (Thomson)

Press Release

My Comments

Most people who want to benefit from Canal+ in France were required to subscribe to this service via the telecommunications provider who would make it available via their existing décodeur equipment. This also depended on whether Canal+ had a direct partnership with their provider.

Now Canal+ is heading down the “over-the-top” route where they are able to provision their service via the Internet independently of whoever was the customer’s telecommunications provider.

This is based on a Technicolor-built DVB-T set-top box called the “Cube S” which can connect to the Internet via your Ethernet or Wi-Fi home network. It is primarily a small cube-shaped device that connects to your TV via a vacant HDMI or video input.

One of the advantages pitched by Canal+ is that the device is portable amongst locations and amongst carriers so you can keep your TV subscription even if someone offers a better broadband package than what you are on.  This is more so with a highly-competitive Internet-service market that is taking place in France where each provider races each other to provide the multi-play Internet service with the best value.

Canal+ could improve on this concept by offering the Cube S as a local PVR to record TV shows from free-to-air or their pay-TV service or work on “software-only” endpoints that are based around regular-computer, mobile or smart-TV platforms so that customers aren’t dependent on extra hardware to receive this service.

It is being seen as another way for a pay-TV provider to move away from an infrastructure-based model where a lot of money is tied up in their own infrastructure towards a model that is independent of that infrastructure. This also allows them to be sure that customers that aren’t in their infrastructure’s footprint can subscribe to the pay-TV service by virtue of their Internet provider.

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Pay-TV providers are pushing for integrating access-point functionality in to consumer-electronics devices

Article

Time for Pay TV industry to get serious about Wi-Fi | VideoNet

My Comments

LG's 4K OLED curved TV press picture courtesy of LG America

Could a smart TV like one of these be an access point for your lounge area?

Previously I have raised the idea of having integrated Wi-Fi access point functionality in consumer electronics devices as a way to provide infill coverage for your wireless network. This is due to an increasing number of network-capable consumer-electronics devices like printers, set-top boxes, smart TVs and the like having network functionality in the form of both an Ethernet socket and integrated Wi-Fi wireless networking.

Some of these devices actually repurpose the Wi-Fi network functionality as an access point during their setup routine so you can supply your home network’s Wi-Fi credentials from a smartphone or tablet for subsequent wireless-network operation. But I was drawing attention to situations like a Wi-Fi-capable smart TV installed in the secondary lounge down the back of the house where there isn’t the good Wi-FI coverage and this TV is connected to the home network via a HomePlug AV500 powerline segment, or a premium desktop printer with Wi-Fi and Ethernet used in the garage that serves as the home office and. again, is linked to the home network via a HomePlug AV2 powerline segment.

There was some attention in the TV-technology scene when AirTies put forward their Air 4920 802.11ac concurrent-dual-band wireless-network repeater which was considered capable of pushing out 4K UHDTV data streams reliably. It led to the device winning the Connected TV Award for the Best Consumer Device.  This was due to it also supporting Wi-Fi Mesh functionality which uses a mesh setup in a Wi-FI network.

But TV Connect also showed interest in a 4K set-top box which also implemented the Wi-Fi Mesh technology for receiving the data but having an integrated wireless access point. It was also targeted with the point of view of a broadband provider who provides a multi-play service that includes pay-TV being able to troubleshoot and service the Wi-FI connectivity if the connection is below par.

Of course, wired backbones are used by pay-TV providers to link set-top boxes to the home network typically to provide IPTV services, download video-on-demand content or stream content from a DVR to another set-top device servicing the bedroom TV. Typically this is facilitated using a “no-new-wires” technology like HomePlug AV powerline or MoCA  coaxial-cable which links back to the home network’s router. Why hasn’t the integrated access point functionality been investigated in these setups?

The concept can be easily implemented in to most of these devices using WPS-assisted “network-clone” functionality and automatic tuning for a simplified setup experience. As well, the ability to detect a wired-backbone connection can be used to determine whether to set up the integrated Wi-Fi functionality as a n access point, a standalone Wi-Fi network like a guest network or not run it at all.

At least those in the pay-TV scene are waking up to the idea that an access point which is part of Wi-Fi network infrastructure doesn’t have to be part of a dedicated network-infrastructure device. Instead it can be part of a device that makes use of the network.

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More coverage on the VIDIPATH technology.

Article VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNA

DLNA’s VidiPath Enables Subscription-TV Sharing At Home | TWICE

My Comments

I have given previous coverage to the DLNA VIDIPATH technology which allows you to use the home network to share pay-TV content around the home using compliant Smart TVs or desktop / mobile apps.

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

A PVR-type set-top box can serve as the hub of a VIDIPATH pay-TV setup

This article talked of a typical scenario where you have a PVR-grade set-top box provided by your pay-TV provider – the same kind of box as Sky+ or Foxtel IQ. The typical scenario for serving a TV in the master bedroom. the den or the games room would be to rent another set-top box from the pay-TV provider and have them pull coaxial cable to where it is installed. If you wanted to participate in the pay-TV provider’s “TV Everywhere” platform, you would have to download and register their desktop or mobile app to have cable-TV content on your computer, tablet or smartphone when you are at home.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

VIDIPATH-capable Blu-Ray players can bring pay-TV to the secondary bedroom TV

VIDIPATH provides an authenticated method of allowing third-party devices to connect to the PVR via your home network. The application that was raised in the article was to have a Smart TV in the bedroom or den without the need of a set-top box, or to install an open-frame app on your computer or tablet to pull up live, on-demand or PVR-recorded pay-TV content.

But a situation that wasn’t raised was the fact that one is not likely to spend as much on secondary TV sets as they would for the primary one where they watch most of the TV content on. Either the main set may be upgraded and the set that served that role would be installed in the bedroom, a smaller TV would be placed in the kitchen or similarly-small area or a set that doesn’t have the same bells and whistles as the one in the main lounge area may be placed in a secondary lounge area.

Here, such TVs may not be VIDIPATH-enabled and would really need to be considered would be Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray AV systems, network media players and similar video peripherals to be equipped for VIDIPATH. Why? This is because such devices can add this kind of functionality to an existing TV by simply using the existing TV as a display. It is in the same context as the VHS video-cassette recorders of the 80s where they had features like enabling cheaper and older TVs to benefit from remote control.

As manufacturers like Sony release Blu-Ray players and home-theatre systems that have “smart-TV” abilities, it wouldn’t tale long for them to offer VIDIPATH-capable versions of these devices as a way to enable the secondary sets.

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Now for Pay TV – A DLNA VidiPath-capable HDMI dongle

Article

HDMI dongle with DLNA Vidipath support will help cable operators with multi-room and multiscreen | VideoNet

From the horse’s mouth

ZapperBox

Product Page – Zip-R Stick

My Comments

VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNANow that DLNA VidiPath has been established for securely and surely delivering pay TV through the home network, a company has released a Chromecast-style HDMI dongle that exploits this technology.

This device, sold by ZapperBox as the Zip-R Stick connects to your home network via Wi-Fi, serving as an ultra-compact set-top box to bring your pay TV to that secondary TV. This is without the need to have a technician supplied via your pay-TV company to pull cable to your bedroom, den or kitchen.

It is built as part of the ACCESS NetFront Living Connect 3.1 media-sharing solution and has the NetfFront Browser software on that stick. As for the ability to control it, you use your smartphone to control it via a Bluetooth link or use an RF-based remote control that is compliant to RF4CE specifications.

One main application that would come to mind is where you have a TV set up in a transportable manner where you locate it wherever you are wanting to use it. Here, the Zip-R stick could be plugged in to a flatscreen TV which has a size of up to 32” which is kept in the kitchen or den and is ready to bring out to the yard so you can follow the ballgame while working or relaxing out there.

This is at least an example of what a level playing field offered by DLNA VidiPath technology can offer through the path of device innovation.

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VIDIPATH has now been launched for Pay-TV

Introduction

VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNADLNA have worked out the final set of CVP-2 Guidelines and have started a testing regime for video equipment that fits the bill. This is to provide the ability for a level playing field when it comes to distributing premium subscription-TV (Pay-TV) content around a customer’s home network to devices that the customer owns.

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

They have also decided to market the new concept under a consumer-friendly brand which is “VIDIPATH”. This is following on from how a distinct brand make it easier for customers to remember what to look for when buying in to a technological improvement, such as with the successful Dolby noise-reduction system for the cassette tape.

The reason to progress with VIDIPATH has been based on the strong circulation of DLNA-capable media-server and media-endpoint equipment to distribute audio, image and video material over the home network. For that matter, it is a feature that is so important to me when I choose network-capable AV equipment or NAS units.

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

They launched the certification program for service-provider and consumer equipment on Sept. 11 and VIDIPATH-certified equipment is expected to be available by December, in time for this Christmas’ shopping season.

What does it offer

VIDIPATH offers DLNA compliance plus features essential to the delivery of premium subscription-TV content around the home to the display device.

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

VIDIPATH enables a compatible smart TV to view pay-TV content without the need for a set-top box

It uses DTCP-IP link-layer protection and device authentication to assure a secure signal path to the display device. This is important for content providers who want to be sure where the content is actually ending up.

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

A PVR-type set-top box can serve as the hub of a VIDIPATH pay-TV setup

Also it uses HTML5-based remote user interface to allow the customer to have the full user experience associated with the pay-TV service at the TV or on the mobile device without the need for a set-top box or “TV-Everywhere” app on each viewing device. This allows for access to PVR services, pay-per-view / video-on-demand content, the pay-TV provider’s storefront and other services associated with the pay-TV service. The HTML5 interface would be able to adjust itself for useability on smartphones or small tablets which have the smaller actual screen sizes even though a lot of newer devices are implementing increased screen pixel densities.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

VIDIPATH-capable Blu-Ray players can bring pay-TV to the secondary bedroom TV

Another feature is to provide the exchange of necessary data across the home network to allow the gateway device to enter low-power modes when the display client devices aren’t making use of it. This also works alongside the ability to provide remote diagnostics on any of the display client devices when the customer calls the pay-TV service provider to rectify faults with their viewing experience.

It even supports “adaptive delivery” to allow the VIDIPATH-capable Pay-TV system to provide a best-case signal that is dependent on the viewing device and on the bandwidth available to the home and within the home network. This is based around the open-frame MPEG-DASH adaptive-streaming technology so that implementations aren’t necessarily bound to particular vendor ecosystems.

How will VIDIPATH be implemented in the home network?

Sony PS3 games console

Consoles like these could be able to pick up pay TV from a VIDIPATH gateway device

A pay-TV service like Sky, DirecTV or Foxtel would supply a VIDIPATH-certified gateway device to the customer. This device would be connected to the satellite dish, cable-TV infrastructure or dedicated IP service connection like DSL and to the home network. It may be in one of two form factors: a “headless” device that has no video output for an attached display device, or a full PVR set-top box of the same ilk as a Foxtel iQ2, Sky Plus box or one of the cable-TV PVR boxes, which is typically connected to the main living-room TV set.

The customer would view their content on a display device that would be a VIDIPATH-capable Smart TV or be a TV set connected to a DVD player, network media player or other video-peripheral device that is VIDIPATH-certified. They could also run a VIDIPATH-certified media-client program on their regular computer, smartphone or tablet to view the TV content on the device.

How will it benefit

Customers

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

With the appropriate app, this tablet can pull in pay-TV using VIDIPATH

They can concentrate on their own TV or video peripheral device and the device’s remote control being the navigation device for their pay-TV content, rather than juggling different remote controls for changing channels on the pay-TV box and adjusting the sound on the TV or home-theatre. This is a real bonus with smart TV’s or home-theatre systems that have access to network-hosted AV content.

If I move location, I would only need to worry about returning one piece of hardware to the pay-TV provider as part of the move-out process if they don’t operate in my new location. Similarly, for those of you who live in pay-TV markets where different providers compete, the process of selecting the best offer is simplified because you only deal with one piece of hardware to connect to the provider’s infrastructure. An example of this is most US markets where DirecTV and / or DISH provide a satellite TV service that can compete with what the local cable-TV firm offers.

Pay-TV providers

They are in a good position because they can rationalise the pay-TV customer-premises hardware they need to have on hand at all times. This is more so with having to deal with providing and managing set-top boxes for customers who want pay-TV in other rooms. Rather they can be in a better position to provide highly-capable gateway devices and manage one of these per subscribing household or business.

They still don’t lose the ability to provide the distinctly-branded user experience because this can be conveyed across all of the customer’s VIDIPATH-capable display devices. Rather they can even enrich the branded service and effectively take it further in a “write once, run anywhere” manner.

What do we need to do?

.... as can a smartphone like this

…. as can a smartphone like this

As customers, when the opportunity comes to buy network-capable video equipment, we need to keep our eyes peeled for the VIDIPATH logo on the equipment. As well, when we subscribe to pay-TV, we can use our pay-TV provider’s feedback mechanism to suggest implementing VIDIPATH as a service feature.

As pay-TV providers, we should look towards identifying whether the pay-TV equipment that is in current circulation at our subscribers’ homes can support VIDIPATH after a firmware upgrade. Similarly, implementing VIDIPATH in next-generation customer-facing equipment like gateways or set-top boxes can be a valid step for evolving the pay-TV service. This also will be about training the staff who deal with our subscriber base such as sales staff, customer-service staff and installation technicians to understand the VIDIPATH system and how it can make the job easier. It may also involve effectively “dumping” the revenue stream that is realised from renting multiple set-top boxes to customers who have multiple TVs.

Conclusion

I would expect DLNA VIDIPATH to simplify the pay-TV experience and integrate it with an increasing number of customer-owned display devices, whether be Smart TVs, games consoles or tablets.

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