IP-based broadcasting Archive

Smart TV Alliance–the goal of a level playing field for connected TV

Articles

Will Smart TV Alliance challenge cable operators? | FierceCable

LG launches “universal” smart TV platform | CNET

Leading TV Makers Launch Smart TV Alliance, Provide Infrastructure For Effective Collaboration Among Smart TV Makers And App Developers | FierceCable

From the horse’s mouth

Smart TV Alliance – Website

My Comments

At the moment, there are many different connected-TV platforms out there offered by different hardware-manufacturers for use with their “smart-TV” sets and video peripherals.

This provides key challenges for both content creators and video-hardware companies alike. Content creators would be required to work towards creating their interactive content and service-to-TV front ends for each smart-TV platform and, in some cases, this would require negotiation with the platform owner ie the video-hardware manufacturer for them to develop for that platform.

Similarly, there is a higher cost of entry for companies who haven’t established a “smart-TV” platform of their own. This especially applies to those who make TVs, Blu-Ray players and video peripherals for multiple brands on an “OEM” or “ODM” basis or who focus on certain aspects of their device’s design like a European TV maker offering premium TVs that excel in picture and sound quality or a computer-technology name offering network media players.

What has now just happened with LG and TP-Vision; who are represented by the Philips TV nameplate, is that they have started a “Smart TV Alliance”. This is an industry association open to broadcasters, pay-TV providers, video-hardware manufactures and software developers who want to create a level playing field for the connected-video marketplace.

They even targeted the pay-TV industry so that this industry doesn’t have to focus its activity around set-top-box infrastructure which has a high capital-expenditure cost.

Issues that have to be raised include a standard SDK and codebase for applications, encouraging the support for standard network-connected and local-connected peripheral-device classes as well as support for industry-standard broadcast-broadband TV arrangements. This, along with home-network integration, could be worked out using one or more reference implementations for these sets.

Similarly, the Smart TV Alliance could work out issues concerning “multi-box” setups like home-theatre setups and Blu-Ray players as well as network setups like network DVRs and smartphone / TV viewing arrangements.

Such an association can open the path to a critical mass for connected-TV applications such as IPTV channel directories, multi-screen synchronous viewing and video-on-demand services.

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NBN–as a way to improve the TV experience

Article

NBN Co – National Broadband Network – Australia | Will the NBN fix my TV reception?

My comments

The question that was often raised in this article was the feasibility for the National Broadband Network to be used as a conduit to providing a reliable high-quality TV viewing experience. This is more so in areas around Australia where TV reception quality is next to hopeless and is something regularly encountered in rural areas.

There are some IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services in place through Australia but these are offered by some ISPs as a way of delivering multichannel pay-TV service to their customers. Similarly, the regular free-to-air TV stations run Internet-based TV services typically in the form of on-demand TV content. This is where one typically can catch up on past episodes of a TV show or see “12-inch” (extended-length) versions of particular content like TV interviews.

But the National Broadband Network could be used as a platform for delivering an IPTV service similar to what has happened in France with their “n-box” triple-play services, and also what happens in some other European countries. There, one could use the set-top box which is connected to the Internet to tune in to regular free-to-air TV broadcasts. There is even the ability to gain access to extended content offered by the broadcasters like “catch-up” TV from the comfort of your couch.

This is also augmented by the main TV manufacturers rolling out “main-lounge-area” TV sets and video peripherals that have an extended-TV platform and can connect to the Internet. These sets, commonly marketed as “smart TVs”, have been pitched with apps that have access to various functions like broadcaster

Freeview, who represent the free-to-air digital TV platform in Australia, could extend their remit for this service beyond the classic terrestrial-based technology. Here, they could set up a “Freeview IP” environment which uses IPTV and the National Broadband Network to distribute regular “scheduled-broadcast” TV content via this infrastructure. This could be extended to a “couch-based” user interface for extended on-demand content such as catch-up TV.

Questions that may be raised concerning this would include negotiation with sports leagues and cultural bodies concerning using Internet infrastructure to broadcast their content. This may be seen as treading on “online rights” contracts and may break sports-code ideals like “delay-to-the-gate” blackouts (where a fixture can’t be shown live in a city unless a minimum number of seats are sold) or similar requirements. As I have covered before, if the intention is to broadcast in the regular manner on to the Internet as would be expected for a regular TV service i.e. verbatim broadcasting with own talent calling the event and use of regular commercial and continuity material specific to the area, there shouldn’t be a difference.

As the NBN gets rolled out around Australia, we need to take action on being able to deliver the free-to-air TV content through this infrastructure in a similar manner to how it has been enjoyed.

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Online rights for sports and cultural events–what could be done?

After hearing the latest furore about Optus delivering delayed broadcasts of the AFL and NRL football matches to their mobile subscribers, I have thought that something needs to be done concerning how online and mobile rights for sporting and cultural events are worked out.

Typically the online and mobile rights for these events are bought by ISPs or mobile carriers for exclusive distribution to their subscribers. This has become a thorn in the side of sports and cultural bodies, existing radio / TV broadcasters and similar groups due to various limitations that could exist.

For example, most radio stations run an Internet-hosted simulcast of their regular broadcast and this has extended radio to the iPhone and popularised the Internet radios such as the ones I have reviewed on this site. What has happened lately is that radio stations that call AFL or NRL football matches using their own talent have had to run alternate programming on their Internet feeds so as to placate Telstra who have exclusive rights to these matches.

Similarly, Optus running a broadcast-IP setup and cloud-recording arrangement to deliver the football to their subscribers has ruffled Telstra’s and the football leagues’ feathers.

This can cause issues not just with ISPs and mobile providers but can affect companies who deliver any form of IPTV services which is a growing trend with the arrival of next-generation broadband services. It could even extend to usage environments such as hotels and apartment blocks implementing “broadcast-IP” tuners to deliver broadcast content from a rooftop aerial to the building’s LAN with Internet-enabled radio / TV equipment connected to the network showing or playing the content.

What needs to be looked at for defining online rights to a sporting or cultural event is whether the online use is simply a verbatim use of an existing radio or television broadcast or data available on the scoreboard; or whether it is an extended mixed-media interactive use of the content. The “verbatim use” would be something like diffusing broadcasts from a broadccast-IP tuner to a broadcaster simulcasting an audio or video feed of the broadcast to the Internet and providing a user-interface just to gain access to that stream. It can also encompass someone who writes a mobile scoreboard app with their own interface.

This is compared to an enhanced online service with extra data on the game being provided alongside the broadcast of that game, such as on-demand video, a Web scoreboard or a highly-strung scoreboard app with the leagues’ logos.

Here online / mobile rights could be split in to two categories – a default simulcast rights for existing broadcasters which requires verbatim use of the sportscast including all commercial and continuity material normally broadcast; and an enhanced online right for online providers who buy that right. The latter right should then enable access to the content by users associated with competing Internet and mobile providers under the same terms as the rights-holder’s subscribers. There could also be a raw-data right for people who prepare their own data applications like sports-magazine Websites and online scoreboard apps.

For the league or cultural-event organiser, they could be in a position to sell multiple online rights classes or choose to offer “verbatim-use” (simulcast) rights to existing rights-holders as a way of bolstering broadcast-rights packages/ As well, private-network use of broadcast material, including time-shifted copies, should be qualified as a standard fair-use right for users of that network such as a household or a hotel’s employees and guests.

What needs to happen is a common sense of “working out” broadcast rights for live sporting and cultural events so that uses commensurate with broadcasting are protected yet the organiser can sell advanced-interactive use rights to online and mobile providers.

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Freebox Révolution–the standard to measure a triple-play service by

Articles (French language – best resources)

Dossier -Test du Freebox Server | DegroupNews

Freebox Revolution – Test du Freebox Player | DegroupNews

From the horse’s mouth

Freebox Home Page – Free (France – French language)

My comments

Typically, the kind of equipment supplied to consumers by telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers for “triple-play”or similar Internet services has typically been drab in design and functionality. This is typically to work to the lowest-common denominator with both price, functionality and style.

The situation is very different in France where there is a lively competitive market for “triple-play”Internet service. Most urban or regional centres in this country are “dégroupée” for multiple competing ADSL-service operators. Here, these operators have access to the customers’ telephone lines as cable without paying France Télécom for a dial-tone service. There is also a steady rollout of fibre-optic service by the competing service providers for next-generation broadband Internet, with an overlaying requirement to provide competitive access to the ducts and poles for the fibre-optic service.

One of these major players is Free who have established a triple-play service for many years. Their latest iteration of the “Freebox” is now a benchmark for anyone offering a similar setup, whether in France or anywhere else.

I have previously covered the Freebox Révolution  in HomeNetworking01.info when a recent firmware update was released that integrated it with Apple’s ecosystem. As well, I have researched many French and English-language resources to learn more about this system.

The Freebox Révolution system

This system, like other triple-play setups offered in France, comprises of an Internet-gateway device, known as a “box”, and a set-top-box, known as a “décodeur”. These units have typically been interlinked by an Ethernet cable or user-supplied HomePlug kit, but is connected through a pair of “Freeplugs” which combine a power supply and a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge in one box.

The units are a statement of industrial design in a similar way that Bang & Olufsen equipment are still a statement in this regard for consumer audio-video equipment. Both the Internet-gateway device and the set-top box have been designed by Phillippe Starck, known for extraordinary designs like the Parrot Zikmu network-enabled speakers or some of the LaCie external hard drives or network-attached storage systems.

Internet Gateway Device (Freebox Server)

This device consists of a broadband router, network-attached storage, VoIP ATA with DECT base station and audio player in one box.

It has a dual-WAN interface for either an ADSL2 service or an FTTH fibre-optic service. But the LAN functionality is one of the hallmarks of a cutting-edge device. It has 4 Gigabit Ethernet switched ports for Ethernet client devices as well as an access point for an 802,11n three-stream 450Mbps Wi-Fi segment. I mentioned previously that this unit also supports a HomePlug AV segment through the use of the supplied Freeplug adaptors. The Wi-Fi access point can also work as a separate “hotspot segment” for other Free subscribers.

The VoIP functionality works with an integrated analog-telephony adaptor and a DECT base station that you can associate 8 DECT cordless handsets with. These will provide full functionality with CAT-iQ DECT handsets.

The 250Gb NAS can work with the regular file-protocol suspects (CIFS, FTP, HTTP) but can work as a DLNA media server. It also works as a “staging post” for FTP, HTTP and BitTorrent downloads, the latter function being described as a “seedbox”. The recent firmware upgrades also implemented Apple TimeMachine support for incremental MacOS data backups. Of course, there is USB connectivity for 2 devices as well as eSATA connectivity for an external hard disk.

There are integrated speakers for playing media held on the hard disk, the Internet or an Apple AirPlay network but you can use it as an elementary amplified-speakers setup by connecting a Discman or iPod to its AUDIO IN jack. Of course you can play the music through better powered speakers or an amplifier using the AUDIO OUT jack.

This router is totally UPnP to the hilt with UPnP Internet-Gateway-Device for hands-free setup with Skype, games, MSN Messenger and the like; as well as being a UPnP AV / DLNA media server. Free could do better by integrating something like TwonkyMedia which can allow content discovery on metadata other than the file-system tree.

Let’s not forget that the Freebox Server is IPv6-ready as expected for a future-proof device. This is being augmented by the fact that ADSL Free subscribers in zone dégroupée aras or FTTH Free subscribers can have an IPv6 connection now.

Set-Top Box (Freebox Player)

This unit has an integrated Blu-Ray player with Blu-Ray 3D support (after new firmware added) as well as a digital-TV / IPTV set-top box / PVR. It connects to the TV via an HDMI connector or a SCART cable, both offering that “single-pipe” connectivity between the Freebox and the TV. Of course, there are connectivity options for other audio-video setups like SPDIF optical; and you can connect USB peripherals like SD card readers to this unit for direct viewing.

It is controlled via a gyroscopic remote control but has a supplied game controller as an alternate input device. Of course, you can connect a USB keyboard and mouse to it as extra input devices or control it from your iPad using the Freebox Connect app.

One drawcard in my opinion is that it is a fully-fledged Internet terminal with access to an app store, namely the FreeStore app store. This allows you to download games and similar “lean-back” apps; as well as view the Web or check email from your couch. Just of late, this set-top box has had YouTube support baked in to its latest firmware update.

You can now use the Freebox Player and its associated sound system or television’s speaker to play material from your iTunes software or iOS device using AirPlay. This at the moment applies to audio content only.As well, you can discover and play content held on DLNA-compliant media servers on your network including the Freebox Server’s hard disk.

Plans and Pricing

You can equip that French home or apartment with this device for € 29.90 per month. This gives you inclusive unlimited telephone telephone calls to standard phone services in most countries (Europe, Francophone countries, US, Australia, NZ, etc); and mobiles in France.

The Internet service would be up to 28Mbps while you have access to most basic TV service. Pay €1.99/month extra for 185 additional TV channels while you can service another room with Free’s TV service for €4.99/month extra with a simple set-top box or another of this Freebox Player for €9.99/month extra.

Existing Free subscribers can upgrade for €199.99 less €30 for each year they have been with Free.

The prices are obtained from Free’s latest tariff charts available on their site and would appear to be ridiculously low for people who live in a country that doesn’t have a lively competitive broadband-Internet market.

Conclusion

What I see of the Freebox Révolution is a system of equipment for a home network that is all about an Internet service provider offering a future-proof attractive cutting-edge piece of equipment rather than offering second-rate equipment to their customers.

This is primarily driven by a country who is behind a really competitive Internet service market for consumers and that the competition is driven on value rather than the cheapest price possible.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011–Part 2

IFA LogoWelcome back to the second part of my report on the Internationaler Funkaustelluing 2011. In the first part, I had touched on home appliances briefly but had focused on computing technologies like smartphones, tablets, laptops and the home network.

Now I am focusing on consumer electronics which mainly is focused around digital cameras, TV and home-theatre / hi-fi technology.

Consumer Electronics

Cameras

3D is still being considered a dominant technology with some of the cameras being equipped with two lenses and sensors. As well, Samsung have also fielded a camera with two screens – one on the back and one on the front.

The camera manufacturers are releasing more of the small interchangeable-lens cameras. These are typically in the “non-SLR” style with the screw-on lens mounts. It is leading towards the appearance of more compact cameras with high-factor zoom lenses. Here, these cameras are being pitched mainly as  mainly “bridge-cameras” which exist between the “point-and-shoot” camera and the SLR camera and have many adjustable photography factors including semi-automatic and manual exposure modes.

An issue that may affect the launch of digital photography equipment at this or subsequent IFA shows is the up-and-coming Photokina photo/film/video trade shows. These shows appear in Cologne at the end of September and they are often seen as a major launchpad for anything to do with photography or videography. A valid point may be raised about whether companies with digital photo / video equipment show their equipment at both shows, launching consumer equipment in Berlin and “enthusiast” equipment (DSLRs, high-end camcorders) in Cologne.

Of course, there hasn’t been much interest in using network technology for photo and video equipment when interlinking with computer equipment.

TV and Display Technologies

There are a few key trends that are occurring concerning the television receivers being promoted at the IFA.

One is the DVB-T2 digital-TV standard which is to launch in Germany. This revision of the DVB-T terestrial digital-TV standard will provide for more HDTV with H264 video. It will also allow for advanced interactive TV (HbbTV, VoD) platforms, robust terrestrial reception as well as more services per TV channel.

3D is still a dominant technology with Toshiba and other names promoting glasses-free 3D viewing where their sets use a polarizing screen and support an ersatz 3D effect for regular content. Haier are also using a similar technology for their 3D Internet-enabled set. LG are running 3D TVs that work with cinema-style passive polarizing glasses. ,

For content, Deutsche Telekom  is providing “Entertain 3D” channels as part of their Entertain IPTV service. This requires the  Deutsche Telekom “Entertain” set-top box and access to a VDSL2 next-gen service. There will be the magazine channels as well as highlight footage from Bundesliga football (soccer) matches as well as the “usual suspects” – those popular 3D action and animation films from Hollywood.

Another key trend is Internet-driven smart TV. This is with access to the Social Web, video-on-demand / catch-up TV amongst other interactive-TV services using the home network.

Hama are releasing at this year’s IFA an Android STB with access to full Android Honeycomb service  on the TV screen. This time, the set-top is able to connect to the network via WiFi, or Ethernet.

Samsung are pushing the Social TV agenda. This allows you to view TV and chat on the Social Web at the same time with a button to press to focus on Facebook/Twitter/Google Talk chat streams or TV content. There is also the ability to use a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Tab as the TV keyboard once you install the appropriate app. Of course, there is a Samsung TV remote that has a QWERTY keyboard and LCD display to facilitate the chat function.

Samsung have also released an app for their Android smartphones and tablets which allows the image on their Smart TVs to be shown on these devices.

Sharp have contributed to the smart-TV race with the AQUOS Net+ app subsystem for their TVs. As well Metz are showing a network-enabled 3D TV with HbbTV broadcast-broadband support and a 750Gb PVR.

There was an increased number of TVs that had the 21:9 aspect ratio being launched at this show. This aspect ration was more about a “cinema-screen” aspect ration that was often used with a lot of movies since the 1950s.

Even the projector scene is going strong at this year’s IFA.

Acer are showing the H9500BD 3D Full-HD home-theatre projector which is to be released October. This unit can work at 2000 ANSI Lumen with a 50000:1 contrast ratio. It fixes the keystone problem that often happens with projectors by using a lens-shift setup rather than digitally skewing the image; as well as a high zoom lens that permits a big image with a short throw and also has wall-colour-correction for projection to non-white-walls  It is expected to sell in Europe for €2499 recommended retail price

Sony are also launching a 3D-capable projector with a 150,000:1 contrast ratio and use of lens-shift as the keystone correction method. The big question that I have about this projector is how bright this projector is in ANSI lumens.

Canon also launched the LV8235 which is an ultra-short-throw DLP projector. Here, this projector can throw a 2-metre (80”) usable image projected with it being positioned at 32cm (1 foot) from the wall or screen.

As well, Sony had used this show to premiere a set of 3D personal video goggles. Here, these glasses show 3D video images on separate OLED screens, mainly for use with personal video players or games systems.

Home Theatre and Hi-Fi

There has been some activity concerning networked home-theatre and hi-fi equipment.

Harman-Kardon are launching a 3.1 HTIB with has an integrated 3D Blu-Ray player and uses a soundbar as its main speaker.

Loewe have used this event to launch the Solist single piece audio system. This has a CD player and access to FM and Internet radio broadcasts as far as I know. It can connect to home networks via WiFi, Ethernet or HomePlug and uses a 7.5” touch screen or Loewe Assist remote control as its control surface.

Sony have launched the SNP-M200 network media player which is the follow on from the SNP-M100, It offers 3D video support and an improved Facebook and Twitter experience. Of course, like the SNP-M100, it has the full DLNA Home Media Network credentials including being a controlled device. They also launched another Blu-Ray player in the form of the BDP-S185 which supports 3D Blu-Ray playback and access to online content.

As well, Pioneer have launched some network-enabled hi-fi equipment including a component network-audio player for use with existing hi-fi setups. Philips are using this show also to launch a Streamiun MCi8080 music system with DAB+ and Internet radio, a CD player as well as network audio. Intenso have launched their Movie Champ HD media player which is one of those media players that play off USB (or the home network). But this one can properly play 3D video in to 3D-enabled TVs.

It is also worth noting that Jarre Technologies is a newcomer to the scene of “worked” audio reproduction technologies. This firm has been set up by Jean Michel Jarre, known for setting the tone of European ambient-music with Equinoxe and Oxygene, and is now following the same path as Dr. Dre’s “Beats Audio” name. Here, they are launching their highly-powerful iPad speaker tower which can work comfortably at 10,000 watts and uses “speaker tubes” but would need a large area to perform at its best. Here, this product is all about proving Jarre Technologies metal and I wonder when there will be premium and multimedia laptop computers that have their audio subsystems tuned by Jarre Technologies on the market and who will sell these laptops.

Germany is now heading towards DAB+ digital radio broadcasting which yields an improvement over the original DAB digital-radio technology that it worked with before. Here, this technology uses AAC audio coding, allows for an increased number of broadcast services per multiplex and, from my experience with the Australian setup as I used many DAB+ enabled Internet radios on review, provides for highly-robust digital radio reception. It may be easier for set manufacturers to launch DAB+ digital radios in to this market due to them having DAB+ radios already on Australian and other DAB+ markets; and UK readers may find that their newer digital radios may be already set up for DAB+ technology even though the UK is working on “original specification” DAB radio.

Conclusion

The Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 has reinforced the role of the networked home especially as Europe takes to the newer Internet technologies like 4G wireless broadband, IPTV and next-generation broadband service.

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Freebox Révolution–the first to be compatible with the full Apple ecosystem

 

La Freebox Révolution est compatible avec AirPlay et Time Machine – DegroupNews.com

My Comments

It is not common for Internet-gateway equipment that is typically supplied by a communications provider or ISP to support any of the protocols that are peculiar to Apple’s ecosystem. Typically a person who wanted a device to work tightly with their Macintosh or iOS device had to use a network device supplied by Apple or an Apple-approved third-party vendor.

Increasingly most network-attached storage devices started to support iTunes server functionality or Apple Time Machine backup functionality through the use of open-source components that were enabled through the device’s Web-based dashboard. But the AirPlay playback function has been based on code that Apple controls and devices had to have Apple approval in order to compete with the Apple TV device as a media player.

Now Free, one of the telecommunications carriers in France’s lively and competitive “triple-play” Internet market have integrated their latest Freebox Révolution customer equipment with the Apple ecosystem. This functionality is supplied for free as part of the latest firmware update for the Freebox Révolution router and set-top box.

At the moment, the AirPlay playback functionality is available through the Freebox Server’s integrated speakers or an audio device connected to the Freebox Server’s line output. The Time Machine network backup is done by using the Freebox Server’s integrated hard disk.

There are some other slight improvements for the Freebox Player in the form of  improved MKV compatibility and UTF-8 subtitle handling. But this device could really support the AirPlay functionality better because it would ordinarily be hooked up to the TV and a good-quality home-theatre system. As well, if Apple allows, it could support AirPlay video playback from from a Macintosh computer or an iOS device.

It certainly shows how capable the consumer-premises equipment for a triple-play service can become under a highly-competitive environment for “triple-play”Internet.

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Product Review–Sony BDP-S380 Internet Blu-Ray Player

Introduction

I have written a previous article about recent Blu-Ray players with Internet-video functionality and how they can bless a TV with many years in its life with this “smart-TV” or “Internet-video” functionality.

Now I am reviewing the Sony BDP-S380 Internet-enabled Blu-Ray player which is an example of these players and is the entry-level model in Sony’s component Blu-Ray player lineup. This unit interests me because it is an example of a Blu-Ray player that can extend the functionality of existing TV sets, including older and cheaper units, by providing access to Internet TV services.

The BDP-S480, which is the next model up in the series and costs AUD$30 extra, has the functionality of this player but can show 3D-capable Blu-Ray discs on 3D-capable displays, as well as drawing down material held on the DLNA Home Media Network. The BDP-S580 also has integrated Wi-Fi functionality for most home and small-business Wi-Fi networks.

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray player

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$199

Sony BDP-S480 Recommended Retail Price: AUD$229

Functions

Internet Radio NPR Radio
Internet TV YouTube, LiveStrong, Wired, Market-specific catch-up TV services
Optical Disk Blu-Ray / DVD / SACD / CD
Stored Memory USB Mass-Storage Device

Connections

Output
Audio Line output 2 x RCA stereo
Digital Audio output SPDIF PCM / Bitstream via RCA coaxial
PCM / Bitstream via HDMI
Video Line output 1 x RCA composite,
Component Video Line Output 3xRCA jacks (YCC or RGB)
Video HDMI output 1 x HDMI
Network
Wi-Fi 802.11n WPA2 WPS with optional Sony dongle
Ethernet Yes

The unit itself

The Sony BDP-S380 is a slimline Blu-Ray Disc player that can work well as a DVD player or basic gateway to video-on-demand services.

Equipment setup

You can connect this Sony Blu-Ray player to a large range of older and newer video equipment. An example of this is the component video output being able to be set to yield RGB component video as well as YCC component video. This will please those of us who have European TVs that are equipped with a SCART connector or video projectors and monitors that have RGB video connectors. In the former case, the user will need to purchase a SCART-component-video cable and in the latter case, they will need to make sure the device accepts basic RGB video input through three RCA or BNC terminals.

Sony BDP-S380 Network Blu-Ray Player rear panel connections

Rear panel connections

Of course, the BDP-S380 can work with HDMI-enabled video equipment as a Blu-Ray player should and has the ability to connect to home-theatre receivers or digital preamplifiers via an SP/DIF coaxial RCA connector.

It can connect to the home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi via an extra-cost USB dongle available from Sony. Personally, I would connect this player to the home network via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV connection in order to benefit from reliable performance, and have tested this player’s network ability with this connection setup.

General operation experience

Sony BDP-S380 Network Blu-Ray Player remote control

Remote control

The BDP-S389 Blu-Ray player has a user experience similar to what happens with other Sony consumer audio-video equipment made over the last few years that uses the TV as its user interface. Examples of this include the PlayStation 3 and the STR-DA5500ES home theatre receiver which I reviewed previously.

This user interface, known as the “XrossBar” interface, has you moving between the main media types (Music, Pictures, Video) and the Setup and Network options using the “Left” and “Right” buttons on the device’s remote’s D-pad. Then you select the sptions like media collections and services or setup screens using the “Up” and “Down” buttons on that D-pad. When you are in this interface, you really know where you are because you still see some of the other top-level icons on the screen.

Local media playback

The Sony BDP-S380 is able to work properly as a fully-functional standard Blu-Ray player. This includes the ability to work with BonusView and BD-Live discs that require reusable local storage or network connectivity.

Of course, like nearly all DVD and Blu-Ray players that are on the market since the last few years, this unit need to be operated by their remote control.

It can play content held on USB Mass-Storage Devices, primarily memory keys and single-unit flash-card readers. The instructions mention that this player could work with USB hard disks but the player may not provide enough power to drive the bus-powered 2.5” hard disks by itself.

Here, the Sony has two USB ports for connection of these media devices. But the front port can be used for the optional Wi-Fi dongle or a USB keyboard. At the moment, this would come in handy when using the built-in YouTube or Qriocity services where you enter in user login details or search for media. The rear USB port is used for separate local storage if you are using BD-Live or BonusView discs.

There is a small display on the front that can come in handy for playback of audio CDs and SACDs without the need for the TV to be on.

Network Media

The Sony BDP-S380 can be used to connect to the local “catch-up TV” / video-on-demand services that are offered by most of the channels. For Australian viewers, this includes the ABC iView service, the SBS service and the Plus7 service.

You also have access to other Internet video libraries like the YouTube library, the Qriocity library, LiveStrong.com amongst many others. With some of the libraries, you have to log in to the libraries to gain proper functionality such as access to personalised content selections. There is an option to allow this player to regularly poll for new services that are delivered on the Bravia Internet Video platform, which you can do through the setup menus.

The login experience for services like Qriocity and YouTube is primarily “SMS-based” where you use the numeric keypad on the remote control to enter your login parameters. If you need to change character sets, you have to highlight a “ABC” / “123” option using the D-pad. There is the option to use a USB keyboard for improved login experience.

Like most of these devices, there isn’t any form of catering for the reality of multiple users sharing the one piece of equipment. Here, if you log out of the YouTube client for example, the software doesn’t cache your username – you have to enter these details fully.

Being an entry-level model, the Sony BDP-S380 loses some features. One of these, which I find critical for the networked home, is DLNA media playback. The Sony BDP-S480, which is the model above, has this feature along with Blu-Ray 3D playback as the two main differentiating features.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

I would recommend that Sony provides the DLNA media playback feature across the whole component Blu-Ray player range for the next model run and provide extra DLNA features like MediaRenderer functionality for step-up and top-shelf models.

As well, I would like to see support for an improved multi-user “hot-seat” experience for this class of devices, such as retention of username and/or simplified PIN login options. It could also benefit from social communications features like Twitter / Facebook access and a Skype videoconferencing terminal in a similar vein to Sony’s BRAVIA TV sets.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player as a good-quality Blu-Ray / basic Internet video solution for use with a cheaper or older TV set. This is more so for those of us who want to “cut our teeth” on Internet video by replacing a half-dead “Chinese-special” DVD player rather than replacing a TV set with many miles left in it. You also get a good-quality reliable optical disc player as well as an Internet-video terminal in the same package.

If you want more functionality with your home network, especially if you have lots of media on a network-attached storage device, I would prefer that you spend the extra AUD$30 and go for the Sony BDP-S480 rather than this model.

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Blu-Ray players–they could give more life to older and cheaper TVs

Article

Smart TV – why are Blu-ray players second-class citizens?

My comments

I agree with the principal argument that this article had put forward concerning the availability of the “smart-TV functionality” in video peripherals like Blu-Ray players or network-media adaptors. There is due to a reality that most of the consumer-electronics industry has been missing concerning how people have purchased and owned TV sets; something I, like most of you, have seen for myself.

The reality with TV purchasing and ownership

Since the 1970s, the typical colour television set has been able to enjoy a very long and reliable service life, thanks to transistorisation. This had been underscored with the gradual introduction of electronic tuner subsystems that were more reliable than older mechanical tuner systems like the old “click-click-click” tuning knobs that were common in most markets or the “push to select, twist to tune” button arrays common on TV sets sold in the UK in the 1960s.

This long service life then allowed for a “push-down” upgrade path to exist in a similar manner to what happens with the household refrigerator. Here, one could buy a nicer newer fridge and place it in the kitchen while the older fridge that it was to replace could go in the garage or laundry and act as extra cold storage space for food and drink, such as the typical “beer fridge”. In the case of the TV, this would mean that one would buy a newer better TV, most likely with a larger screen and place it in the main lounge area. Then the original set which was to be replaced by the new set typically ended up in another room like a secondary lounge area or a bedroom or even in a holiday house.

Usually the only reason most households would scrap a TV set would be if it failed beyond repair or was damaged, Even if a set was surplus to one’s needs, it would be pushed off to another household that could benefit.

Some people may think that this practice has stopped with the arrival of the LCD or plasma flatscreen TV, but it still goes on.

Not all TVs are likely to be “smart TVs”

Not all manufacturers are likely to offer network-enabled TVs in their product cycle. This may be due to a focus on picture quality or the ability to build lower-end products to a popular price point.

It also includes sets like TV-DVD combo units or small-size models that are offered at bargain-basement prices. As well, home-theatre enthusiasts will be interested in buying the latest projector rather than the latest “smart TV”.

Addition of extra functionality to existing televisions with video peripheral devices

The consumer-electronics industry has had success with extending the useability of existing television receivers through the use of well-equipped multi-function video peripherals.

The video recorder as a TV-enablement device

The best example of a device enabling older and cheaper TV sets was the video cassette recorder as it evolved through the 1980s. This wasn’t just in the form of recording of TV shows and playback of content held on videocassettes.

It was in the form of improved television viewing due to the TV tuners integrated in these devices. By model-year 1981 in all markets, the typical video recorder was equipped with a reliable electronic TV tuner. As well, all VHS and Betamax video recorders that implemented logic-control tape transports also implemented a “source-monitor” function when the machine wasn’t playing tapes. This would typically have the currently-selected channel on the machine’s tuner available at the machine’s output jacks including the RF output channel that the TV was tuned to.

Here, this setup gave the old TVs a new lease of life by providing them with a highly-reliable TV signal from the VCR’s tuner. In some cases, users could tune to more broadcasts than what was available on the TV set. Examples of this included cable channels received on an older “non-cable” TV in the USA or Germany; channels broadcasting on the UHF band through a mid-70s VHF-only TV in Australia and New Zealand; or access to Channel 4 on a “4-button” TV in the UK due to more channel spaces.

The ability to change channels using the video recorder’s remote control also allowed a person who had a cheaper or older TV to change channels from the comfort of their armchair, something they couldn’t previously do with those sets.

Similarly, some households would run a connection from the video recorder’s AUDIO OUT to their hi-fi system’s amplifier and have TV sound through their better-sounding hi-fi speakers. This was exploited more with stereo video recorders, especially those units that had a stereo TV tuner integrated in them, a feature that gradually appeared as TV broadcasters started to transmit in stereo sound through the 80s and 90s.

How the Blu-Ray player is able to do this

The typical well-bred Blu-Ray Disc player has the ability to connect to the home network via Ethernet or, in some cases, Wi-Fi wireless. This is typically to support “BD-Live” functionality where a user can download and view extra content held on a Blu-Ray Disc’s publisher’s servers in addition to viewing content held on the disc. As well, the Blu-Ray Disc player can connect to ordinary TV sets as well as the HDMI-equipped flat-screen TVs that are currently in circulation.

Some of the Blu-Ray players, especially recent Samsung, Sony and LG models can also pull down media from the DLNA Home Media Network and show it on these TVs. As well, some manufacturers are rolling out some Internet-ended services to these players.

In the same way as the video recorder was able to extend the functionality of the cheaper or older TV set by offering extended tuner coverage, remote control or access to better sound, the Blu-Ray player or network media adaptor could open the world of Internet–ended entertainment to these sets.

What the industry should do

The industry could work towards achieving similar interactive functionality for the network-enabled video peripherals as the network-enabled TVs. They could achieve this through the establishment of a “platform design” with similar applications and capabilities across a consumer-video product lineup. It is infact what Sony is doing for their consumer-video products at the moment with very little difference in interactive-service lineup between their TVs and their Blu-Ray players.

Here, the interactive-TV software is consistent across the whole lineup of TVs, Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray-equipped home-theatre systems and other video peripherals. The manufacturer may vary the software according to the device’s function by omitting functions relating to particular hardware requirements like screens, optical drives or broadcast tuners in order to make it relevant to the device class. Of course, there could be support for user-attached peripheral devices like USB Webcams, Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, UPnP-compliant printers and the like to extend functionality for particular software applications like video-conferencing.

The software may be fully revised every few years to build in new functionality and accommodate better hardware. It may also be a chance to improve the operation experience for the software concerned. Yet this could maintain the branding and skinning that the manufacturer and software partners do desire.

Conclusion

There is a different reality that exists when buying TV equipment and this function should be supported equally in video peripheral equipment like Blu-Ray players and network media adaptors as in TV sets.

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DLNA now meets Pay-TV setups

Articles

New DLNA Interoperability Guidelines Will Turn Your TV Set-top Box into a Home Server | eHomeUpgrade

From the horse’s mouth

DLNA Press Release

My Comments

DLNA have released a set of interoperability guidelines for networked equipment that can play premium pay-TV content, whether live or recorded across the home network while keeping it secure. This is based on the DTCP-IP link protection protocols so as to protect the content from being re-streamed in an unauthorised manner.

AllVid and similar initiatives

These guidelines will lead to the acceleration of the “AllVid” initiative that has been put forward to the FCC by the likes of Sony and TiVo. This is a way of providing an open scenario so that people can use equipment they have bought with their pay-TV services in the US rather than having the TV just become a display for their set-top box leased from the cable company.

The idea behind tis concept is that there is a “gateway” device that connects to pay-TV broadcast services like cable, satellite or IPTV. This device connects to TVs, set-top boxes and PVRs via the home network using DLNA-specified technologies and is responsible for bridging the broadcast content to the home network as well as managing the access-control to the premium content on the pay-TV service.

If it receives broadcast content from terrestrial, cable or satellite services, it would use one or more RF tuners and circuitry to present the broadcast channels as network streams as well as authenticating and authorising the pay-TV content. On the other hand, an IPTV setup which connects to the home network would simply authenticate the content and present it across that home network.

It also will provide for situations where the user may change to a different pay-TV service that uses different technology or move to a different area that uses a different pay-TV service without losing their investment in their equipment.

OCAP-compliant “Tru2Way” cable-TV setups

The first main implementation would be cable-TV systems that are based on the OCAP-compliant “Tru2Way” platform. These will have a regular set-top box with separate security measures that can work across the different cable-TV setups. As well, they would be a DLNA server that works to these guidelines, providing the channel lineup that the customer has subscribed to as well as programmes recorded on this set-top box to the compliant TV equipment.

Of course, the main application with this could be to serve the content out to secondary TVs that are compliant to this standard or are connected to video peripherals that again are compliant. It could also lead to the main TV being connected to a “video server” set-top box

The main difference between these setups that one should know is the kind of “skin” that is expected on the user interface. The “AllVid” user interface is expected to have the viewing device’s branding like Sony’s XrossBar rather than the media-provider’s. Conversely the Tru2Way platform is meant to have support for the content provider’s or service provider’s “skin”. This also includes the creation of DVD-style menus and user interfaces along with the enablement of full interactive television apps like voting up that favourite dancer or singer on that talent-quest reality show.

Questions

Pay-Per-View services

A good question that hasn’t been answered so far is how this will enable the initial purchase of “pay-per-view” content. Most pay-TV operators run one or more pay-per-view content services, either in the form of one or more broadcasted events that is sold in this arrangement or a “movie-on-demand” or “virtual cinema” service with a few of the latest blockbuster movies shown across multiple channels.

The current problem is how can a user instantiate a pay-per-view content purchase in one of these setups using the TV’s remote control; and seeing it through so that the content is available and duly authorised. This includes allowing the account owner to place controls on what pay-per-view content can be purchased in their home.

What do customers look for in the new equipment they intend to purchase

Also, customers need to have something to look for when they purchase TV equipment so that they are sure that the equipment is compatible with DLNA’s premium-content requirements. This could include a “super-logo” that is exhibited on compliant equipment, with the equipment having to support the DTCP-IP functionality as part of this functionality set.

Retroactive upgrading of current equipment

The other factor that needs to be looked at is whether this DLNA premium-content-handling functionality can be brought to existing DLNA-compliant hardware such as the current crop of Sony and Samsung TVs through a firmware upgrade; or whether they would need to replace the existing hardware to gain this functionality.

This will be more important with TV sets as people who upgrade TVs will end up deploying their existing sets to other rooms of the house or to other locations.

Conclusion

At least the use of DLNA technology and the extension of broadcast-content-protection methods to the network could make it easier to allow flexible equipment setups in most mainstream viewing applications.

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HomePlug now integrated in the power supplies for “triple-play” equipment

Articles

These French-language articles are both from France, which is one of the few countries which can boast a lively competitive ADSL2 or fibre-optic powered  “triple-play” Internet-service market. Here, these services are based around each service provider providing an Internet gateway device known as a Freebox, Neufbox, Box SFR or something similar, which I refer to as an “n-box”. These are connected up to an IPTV set-top box that is connected to the TV set and they are known as a Freebox Décodeur or Décodeur SFR or something similar.

neufbox Evolution : le CPL intégré dans l’alimentation – DegroupNews.com

FreePlugs: Free.fr (France – French language)

My comments

The HomePlug that is a power supply unit

Previously I have been observing the developments concerning HomePlug powerline networking and have seen some HomePlug devices in an interesting form-factor. This form-factor is in the form of a single-box combination device which works as a power supply for a piece of equipment as well as a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge for that device.

These devices would have three cables

  1. AC-voltage cable to plug into the AC outlet
  2. Low-voltage cable to plug in to the device in order to supply power to that device
  3. Ethernet cable to transmit data to and from the device and the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in this box

A few companies like Netgear had tried these as “on-ramp” accessories for their routers but Free and SFR are taking off in their own right to use this as part of their “triple-play” environment where the TV set-top box and the modem are effectively part and parcel of each other in the home network. This is also achieved as a way of “idiot-proofing” these setups and avoiding unnecessary service calls.

Why not take this further

Bringing network printers to the HomePlug network

Quite a few network-capable inkjet printers that I have used or reviewed are using an external power supply rather than having the power-supply in the unit.

This is typically in the form of a power-supply “lump” similar to the typical charger unit that comes with a laptop. On the other hand, Lexmark and Dell use a power-supply module that plugs in to the printer and the AC cord plugs in to this module.

These setups could be used to provide HomePlug powerline networking capability to a printer as long as the printer has an Ethernet socket. This would provide a logical alternative to Wi-Fi wireless networking which is known to be unreliable at times.It is due to the fact that Wi-Fi it is based on radio technology which can be affected by metal furnishings, walls that are made of dense-material construction like double-brick or stone walls; or building insulation or double-glazing that uses metal foil to improve its insulation qualities.

On the other hand, manufacturers could simply integrate HomePlug powerline networking in to a SOHO printer design like the HP Envy 100 which has an integrated AC power supply without the need to create an extra socket for the Ethernet connection.

802.3af and 802.3at Power-Over-Ethernet – a perfect marriage with HomePlug

The 802.3af Power-Over-Ethernet standard and 802.3at high-power version of this standard uses the same Category 5 cable to provide power to a device as well as convey data between the device and the network. This is typically implemented with wireless access points, security cameras and IP telephones to provide a robust yet simple power-supply setup for these devices in business networks.

Here, a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge could be integrated in to an 802.3af / 802.3at compliant power-supply module to provide a “one-cord” solution for connecting a device to a home network as well as powering that device from the AC power. The device would have to have an Ethernet socket capable of taking the Power-Over-Ethernet power; and this could appeal to a wide range of device classes like Internet radios, IPTV set-top boxes and electronic picture frames as well as the usual suspects like desktop IP telephones, Wi-Fi access points. Ethernet switches and security cameras.

Conclusion

This demonstrates that the use of power-supply integration can bring the reliable no-new-wires network that is HomePlug AV to more devices in a cost-effective design-friendly manner.

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