TECH SPOTLIGHT

HbbTV On U.S. Broadcasters’ Agenda For IBC

The global interactive broadcasting standard will be the focus of U.S. broadcasters at next month's IBC gathreing in Amsterdam. Says Kevin Gage, NAB’s chief technology officer: “Our job is to go look at what are potential future capabilities of television in the U.S. The outreach with HbbTV is all part of the learning process."

Two months ago, a consortium of some 60 consumer electronics manufacturers and European broadcasters launched a campaign to gain global acceptance of their HbbTV standard for interactive broadcasting.

At the International Broadcast Conference in Amsterdam next month, U.S. broadcasters plan to see what it is all about and whether it fits with their own ATSC 2.0 initiative for interactive broadcasting.

They also plan meet with European broadcasters to discuss the possibility of a global next-generation broadcast standard.

Among those scheduled to sit down with the HbbTV proponents is Kevin Gage, NAB’s EVP-chief technology officer. “Our job is to go look at what are potential future capabilities of television in the U.S.”

But Gage cautioned that the meeting is not an endorsement. “The outreach with HbbTV is all part of the learning process.”

The unwieldy abbreviation HbbTV stands for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV. By integrating broadband with terrestrial broadcasting in smart or connected TVs or set-top boxes, HbbTV empowers broadcasters to offer new services, including “catch-up TV,” on-demand video, interactive advertising,  social media and second screen integration.

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The standard is already deployed in several European countries, including Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Gage says the campabilities offered by HbbTV align with the goals of ATSC 2.0, the backwards-compatible U.S. standard that is now in the works.

Jon Piesing, vice chair of the DbbTV steering group, says HbbTV would work in the U.S., even though it was designed primarily for Europeans. “Adapting it to fit in with an ATSC broadcast is something that the ATSC colleagues would be perfectly capable of doing,” he says. “Adapting it isn’t large-scale reinvention.”

ATSC is the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the U.S. broadcast standards-setting body.

According to Piesing, HbbTV includes a set of HTML and Web technologies (the standard is currently being updated to support HTML5), a protocol on how to carry those technologies in a broadcast signal and a definition of how everything works over IP.

If DbbTV were to launch in the U.S., consumers would need either a TV capable of connecting to the Internet, or a set-top box designed specifically around DbbTV technology.

When the service first launched in Europe, set-top box manufacturers sold devices that added a broadband connection to TVs and included an over-the-air tuner. Now in its third year of operation in Europe, TV manufacturers are building the DbbTV technology into their sets.

Consumers who don’t have a broadband connection into their TV sets can still receive basic DbbTV  like HTML pages, images and Java script, Piesing says. “You probably can’t do video, other than the actual broadcast video,” he says. “But you can do information services, like something that says, ‘Please connect your TV so you can receive these additional services.’

“If it’s a local broadcaster in a predominantly rural area where people are irritated they don’t get good enough broadband, then that might be provocative. But if it’s in a metropolitan area, when the broadcast starts up, it’ll detect if a TV’s not connected and encourage the user to do so.”

U.S broadcasters are also attending steering meetings for the Future of Broadcast Television (FOBTV) organization. FOBTV uses the NAB Show, which is held in April in Las Vegas, and IBC as opportunities for its biannual meetings.

“FOBTV is a forum in which we’re discussing how to enable a global television standard, or standards,” says Gage

FOBTV is composed of four technical subgroups, says Peter Siebert, executive director of the DVB standards group, one of the founding members of FOBTV. “Right now, they’re defining a reference architecture and then they will try to identify which building blocks for this architecture are already there, and which other building blocks might still be needed.”

FOBTV doesn’t intend to create a standard of its own, Siebert says. Rather, it identifies potential aspects that are missing from existing standards and then will go back to groups like ATSC and DVB and request that those aspects be implemented. (DVB is the European counterpart to ATSC.)

ATSC has begun work on a next-generation broadcast standard, dubbed ATSC 3.0.

Mark Richer, president of ATSC, says Youngkwon Lim of Samsung, who chairs the management and protocols group of ATSC 3.0, will give an update about the standard at the FOBTV meeting.

Proposals for the physical layer of ATSC 3.0 are due tomorrow, Aug. 23. Complete proposals are due Sept. 27.

One of the submissions will be DVB-T2, the current European broadcast standard, according to Siebert. “I’m pretty confident that a technology, which is derived or based on DVB-T2 will come to the U.S.”

Richer says there are no formal meetings scheduled at IBC that relate to ATSC 3.0.

“What happens behind closed doors is a whole other things,” says Richer. “Companies are talking to each other about this and I expect some companies to collaborate on joint proposals. It’s quite an interesting time.”

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