The highly-competitive French Internet and telecommunications market is drawing out another key trend regarding provision of TV service. Nearly every French telco is offering a “décodeur” set-top-box along with their modem-router “box” that is above ordinary for this class of carrier-supplied equipment. It is typically part of the deal when a customer signs up for a single-pipe triple-play Internet service with these operators.
But Bouygues Télécom is heading towards the smart-TV approach through the use of their B.TV app that runs on compatible Samsung smart TVs. It is in lieu of a décodeur set-top box that normally is part of the deal for watching the TV channels provided as part of these services.
The single-pipe triple-play package is expected to cost EUR€39.99 per month over a 24-month contract and is available to areas that are served by Bouygues Télécom with fibre-to-the-premises technology. Bouygues Télécom are also offering a Samsung 4K UHDTV for people who are signing up to this deal. This is the Crystal 4K UHD model with a 43” variant for EUR€49, a 55” variant for EUR€199 or a 65” variant for EUR€349.
It is part of a trend affecting the highly-competitive French ISP market to telcos to have a “set-top-box as an app” using smart-TV platforms for their n-box triple-play service, with SFR also on the bandwagon. Here, this will offer the IP-delivered linear and on-demand TV content and a lean-back user interface for the TV service through the app.
Questions that will come up with this app-based approach include whether the app will be delivered to other mobile and connected-TV/set-top-box platforms; along with the availability of a set-top-box for people to use with existing TV sets. It is although these offers will be pitched towards the ownership of certain Samsung TVs but there is the reality of older TVs being pushed to secondary viewing areas. There will also be the issue of maintaining these apps even if the TV or set-top-box manufacturer declares end-of-support on their device.
B.TV is what I would see as part of a Europe-wide effort to provide “set-top-box-free” TV service for IP-based multichannel TV providers including telcos who are part of this game. This is to avoid the need to buy a huge quantity of hardware to get one of these services off the ground.
There is still in most areas of the world an undercurrent of interest regarding broadcast-LAN setups where a server box is connected to a TV-broadcast source and streams it across a small network to be picked up by various network-enabled devices. Such setups are used to facilitate access to traditional TV services from a tablet or laptop without the need to use a USB tuner module.
What is broadcast-LAN technology
A broadcast-LAN device like the HDHomeRun devices is a network server device that houses one or more radio or TV tuner front-ends and streams the audio or video content from radio or TV broadcasts over a local network. Client devices like computers, smartphones, tablets or smart TVs pull in these streams offered by the broadcast-LAN device to show on their screens or play through their speakers.
The broadcast-LAN device is typically connected to the RF source it is designed to work with like an aerial (antenna) for a traditional terrestrial radio / TV setup, a satellite dish for a satellite-TV service or a cable-TV infrastructure.
Some of these systems may even decrypt premium pay-TV content themselves through the use of a separately-installed hardware decryption module or integrated software. On the other hand, software in the client device may decrypt the premium content. Here, it is about providing access to pay-TV from multiple TV sets without the need for a set-top box.
Why is there interest in broadcast-LAN technology
One advantage is that there isn’t a need to run a connection from the RF source (cable TV, outdoor TV aerial, satellite dish) to each viewing device. It also obviates the need to use a dodgy indoor antenna such as “rabbit’s ears” as a substitute set-local connection. Nor is there the need to have a cable-TV or TV-aerial technician install cable-TV or TV-aerial sockets in each room you would likely to use an easily-transportable TV in, something that can easily be required when you use a room for a different purpose.
A broadcast-LAN setup provides a method of streaming TV over your network that is independent of your Internet service’s quality. It can then appeal to those of us who use a laptop, smartphone or tablet to watch TV content via our home network in lieu of using a small TV to watch broadcast content in secondary areas. This is because it can use your home network, especially if you use Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug powerline technology, to transport the video streams from the broadcast-LAN device to the client devices.
As well, there isn’t the need to run multiple client apps or Web URLs to pick up the different broadcasts that are available to you. If you use the app or interface associated with the broadcast-LAN setup, you are able then to have a viewing experience similar to traditional TV viewing including the ability to channel surf like you always did.
Such technology plays in to the hands of people and societies who show a strong interest in traditional free-to-air TV content such as countries with a strong public-service broadcast scene like Europe or Australia, or the cord-cutting trend that is taking place among young people in America where people are dumping cable TV services and watching online content and local broadcast TV.
Some manufacturers have seen these facts as a point of innovation by integrating a broadcast-LAN server function in a TV-antenna device or component. For example a number of European satellite-dish component manufacturers have offered “IP LNB” devices which comprise a broadcast-LAN server device including multiple tuners in an LNB antenna device that mounts on to a satellite dish, with these devices being powered by Power-Over-Ethernet technology. Similarly, some indoor TV aerials and portable satellite dishes are being equipped with this functionality including, in some cases, DHCP and Wi-Fi access point functionality to allow for a transportable TV setup for your tablet or laptop.
Another factor being called out for broadcast-LAN by some vendors is the idea of using multiple broadcast-LAN server devices to increase the capacity of a TV-viewing setup based on this technology. This is through adding additional broadcast-LAN server devices to the same RF source in order to allow an increased number of TV channels from that source to be watched or recorded concurrently. On the other hand, adding an additional broadcast-LAN server device associated with different RF technology such as satellite TV to a home network equipped with an extant broadcast-LAN device could open up access to programming offered by that different technology.
Another driver that has been called out in the US market through the Obama presidency was the idea of access to cable TV across one’s household without the need to equip each TV with a set-top box provided by the cable-TV provider. But this idea has fallen apart thanks to a newer government that supports the status quo with the cable-TV providers.
It also had been pitched towards the cable and satellite TV industry as a way to save money on set-top-box inventory and allow, for example, the rental of one highly-capable multi-tuner PVR box that connects to the subscriber’s home network and the main TV. The household then connects secondary TVs and computing devices to this PVR box via the same home network to view live or recorded TV content offered by the pay-TV service on these devices.
Similarly, an increasing number of broadcast-LAN server devices support DLNA / UPnP AV content-discovery standards which are supported by most Smart TVs and video peripherals. Here, it means that most of these devices can pull in the TV stations without the need for extra software.
A broadcast-LAN setup offers a way to future-proof one’s TV experience for newer broadcasting technologies. This is more so as ATSC and DVB are investigating, trialling or driving the market to implement newer digital TV standards that can support 4K UHD TV broadcasts. Here, a standards-compliant broadcast-LAN device could be able to use its DLNA presence or a single app to bring forth TV delivered according to newer standards to existing equipment.
What needs to happen
At the moment, the broadcast-LAN idea is primarily being used by people with higher technical / IT skills. This is typically due to various rigmaroles being required to set up most of these server boxes or a requirement to use set-top boxes or other video peripherals with most existing TVs. It also includes being able to track down necessary client software for most operating systems if you are using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Simplified setup and operation
There will have to he the idea of a simplified setup routine to reduce the time taken to get a broadcast-LAN setup running or adapting it to newer broadcast conditions like the arrival of new stations or stations changing their output channels. With SAT>IP setups, it would be facilitated by the client devices and software “remembering” channel details as a channel update is performed. On the other hand, it may be about the broadcast-LAN box remembering these details and you using a Web-based user interface to instigate a channel scan.
The SAT>IP setup could support server-side caching so that new clients can quickly download a broadcaster details list when they are setup rather than causing the broadcast-LAN box to do a channel scan. Similarly a server-based setup could provide for a Web-based UPnP-compliant setup with a lean-back display optimisation to allow users or installers to complete tune-in procedures, along with a hardware-based “install” button to instigate tuning and network-interface setup.
One issue that has to be raised is to provide station-listing-aggregation or EPG-aggregation so that you see a TV station as one entry even if you are using multiple broadcast-LAN devices. This could be facilitated by one server device acting as an aggregator or through the use of advanced client software. Answering this question could facilitate handling sites with many end-users or PVRs recording many shows concurrently. This is a situation that comes up during peak TV-ratings seasons where all the broadcasters concurrently run shows of popular interest.
Another issue that will come up is for client devices to support standards-driven Web-based interactive TV like HBBTV or RVU when they receive broadcast content through a broadcast-LAN setup.
Marketing the concept to everyone
Then there is the issue of marketing the broadcast-LAN concept to mainstream TV viewers. Firstly, it would be successful for setups that are standards-based like SAT>IP and aren’t dependent on particular manufacturer-supplied apps.
The main use cases that would be positioned here are to support the use of supplementary viewing devices without the need to pull extra RF cable; or to support satellite TV in a convenient manner. It is of key importance to those of us who live in rented homes or multi-dwelling buildings where you have to seek your landlord’s or building committee’s permission to have extra TV outlets installed.
It also includes the use of portable computing devices especially tablets and laptops for viewing TV anywhere within the scope of your home network.
TV manufacturers would also have to provide network and broadcast-LAN client functionality within cheaper TV sets that are pitched as second or supplementary sets (typically sets with screens less that 40 inches or having reduced functionality), as well as the larger TVs typically pitched for primary use. As well, providing easy-to-use client software that can be an add-on app or baked in to the operating system could open up this experience for people using devices like tablets, games consoles or laptop computers.
As well, games consoles, media boxes, Blu-Ray players and similar video peripherals would need to support standards-based broadcast-LAN client functionality. This would be of importance with the fact that these devices can enable secondary TV sets not equipped with broadcast-LAN client capabilities such as older sets that have been pushed down from primary-area service.
The concept of broadcast-LAN server devices that work with your home network still has relevance today especially where receiver-setup flexibility is important. It also allows for multiple receiver devices to be operated in premises where installation of RF infrastructure will be difficult like rented premises.
But these setups need to be simplified when it comes to installation or operation and awareness of this concept needs to be underscored across the general populace.
It is often said that today’s cool young viewers have done away with watching TV the traditional way where you select a channel and view a sequence of shows run on that channel.
Rather they are seen to prefer to watch on-demand content offered by one of many different on-demand services including “catch-up” TV services, making more of an effort to choose the kind of shows that interest them. It is underscored by the practice of “binge-watching” a TV series where one watches multiple episodes of that TV series along with Netflix and co implementing recommendations engines to list shows that one may be interested in.
It will maintain the traditional remote-control experience like channel surfing
But this traditional approach to TV content consumption is still practised by most viewers, especially those of older generations.
Some viewers still like the idea of “channel surfing” where one flicks through the channels to discover something that could be of interest to them. In some areas like some of Australia’s capital cities, it was facilitated with some channels that were neighbouring each other on the dial. This habit has been made easier since television sets were equipped with remote controls or could be connected to devices like video recorders or cable boxes that provided remote-control channel change.
As well, it is seen by some of these viewers, including children, to be relaxing to watch a run of TV shows offered by one of the channels. Examples include an afternoon after school where children watch cartoons or similar TV shows, or the practice of having a TV news channel play while one engages in ordinary daily activities.
Let’s not forget that news and sports content totally lend themselves to this kind of viewing. In some cases, there may be two concurrent sporting fixtures of interest, such as the Boxing Day ritual in Australia where households flick between the Seven Network for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the Nine Network for the Boxing Day Test cricket match. Or one could flick through channels running different coverage of the same news event to compare how they cover it or look for further detail about that event.
Let’s not forget that the on-demand TV experience can be “linearised” for a viewer through being led on to recommended content or subsequent episodes of a series.
What is DVB doing to bridge the linear TV experience with the Internet?
The DVB Consortium who define the digital-TV standards that Europe, most of Asia and Oceania work with are working towards defining the DVB-I standard. I would suspect that most of this effort has been driven by Germany’s approach to free-to-air and pay TV where the idea of delivering TV service is to be media-agnostic and most, if not all, TV stations in the German-speaking countries are delivered by the traditional TV aerial, a cable-TV infrastructure or satellite TV.
The DVB-I standard is an IP-based TV broadcasting standard that supports the provision of linear-streaming TV services through the open Internet. Here it is intended to provide an app-free experience in a similar manner to TV services received via the traditional TV aerial, cable TV infrastructure or satellite dish. This means that a TV or set-top box can be connected to a home network and Internet service then the customer can be asked to add Internet-hosted streaming services to the programme lineup with the set discovering these services from a directory like what has happened with Internet radio.
There has been an earlier attempt at this goal in the USA with RVU technology that is part of the DLNA VidiPath specification, but it has been used primarily as an attempt to deliver cable-TV to secondary TV sets without the need for extra set-top boxes. This was also as part of an Obama-era effort to require cable-TV providers to deliver their pay-TV services to households without the need for each household to rent a set-top box from that provider.
One app will be all that is needed to deliver TV to a smartphone, tablet or laptop
The goal will also be about providing a similar experience for Internet-streamed linear TV content as what we have traditionally experienced with broadcast TV, whether free-to-air or subscription (pay) service. This includes the ability to support logical channel numbers that allow for direct access to particular channels, the ability to quickly change channels no matter the source thus continuing the “channel-surfing” tradition.
But on the other hand, some service providers such as cable-TV providers will want to convey their branding and user interface to the end-user. This may also be seen as being important with broadcast-LAN device manufacturer, building owners / strata committees who run MATV setups, or hoteliers who want to persist their identity to the end-user. It can also apply to end-users who are using budget-level equipment where not much thought has been put in to the user interface. HBBTV has answered this need through the use of an “OpApp” or “Operator App” standard to permit the ability to deliver that operator-level interface, which would appeal to TV-service platforms of the Freeview kind.
For broadcasters, DVB-I would do away with the need to create and maintain client software that viewers would need for access to their content. This also does away with various platform issues that creep up with maintaining these apps including catering to each new smart-TV, computer or video-peripheral platform. It also means that people who own older Smart TVs or video peripherals based on platforms that have been abandoned or neglected by the set’s manufacturer aren’t at a disadvantage.
Some of the key benefits that could come about include:
A transport-medium independent operation approach for receiving linear TV broadcasts. This means that TV manufacturers and broadcasters can work towards a simplified “single line-up” for traditional TV broadcast services no matter whether they are carried over the Web or via satellite, cable or terrestrial RF means.
The ability to support broadcast-LAN infrastructure including cable-TV and master-antenna-TV (single antenna or satellite dish serving many TVs like in an apartment block) setups driven totally by IP (Internet Protocol) technology. This approach will be relevant with infrastructure-level broadband providers wanting to use their infrastructure to deliver free-to-air and/or pay-TV services, something being approached by Chorus in New Zealand.
Ability for niche TV services with traditional-style TV experience to exist via Internet due to no need to obtain broadcast-spectrum licences, set up transmitter equipment or get on board cable-TV infrastructure. In a lot of ways, this could reignite the possibility of community TV services coming back on board and not living in fear of losing their access to broadcast spectrum.
With the use of HBBTV (Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband TV), this standard could lead towards a rich linear + on-demand TV setup through traditional TV sets and set-top boxes without the need for special client software. Similarly, it could lead to the creation of gateway software for regular or mobile computer devices to provide access to commonly-available video content services through these devices, knowing that this software can work with newer IP-based broadcasters.
The DVB-I approach could then open up the pathway for a universal TV service that makes use of Internet-based infrastructure like next-generation broadband infrastructure without the need for it to be app-centric.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now 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.
DLNA 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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 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.
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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