EBU General Assembly Endorses Hybrid Broadcast Broadband, Calls for Common Approach

--IMPALA Hails Freesat's Beta-Launch of MHEG Interaction Channel

The General Assembly of the European Broadcasting Union (note: the latter, generally referred to as the EBU, is a confederation of 75 mostly public service broadcasters from 56 countries) has issued a public statement of support for "hybrid broadcast broadband" (i.e. for technologies that make "both broadcast and broadband available on the same television display"), describing the emerging phenomenon as "one of the most exciting developments in the media today."

The statement goes on to stress that the EBU is interested in seeing the various different implementations of hybrid broadcast broadband aligned with one another: "Alternative approaches to this have been developed over the past few months, but the EBU Technical Committee and EBU Technical are doing all it can to help alignment of the systems," the statement reads. "There are four systems developed or being developed today: HbbTV, MHP, CTV, and Canvas. Efforts are being made to see if there could be a 'common core' which would be universally used."

According to the EBU, its Executive Board recently held a session that included "demonstrations of the HbbTV system for which receivers will be on sale in Germany in time for Christmas. German broadcasters have developed a number of HBB services such as news and catch-up TV," the EBU statement explains, adding that the session gave its General Assembly the opportunity to "touch and feel" those services. (Note: the HbbTV specification was recently submitted to international standards body, ETSI, and was also the subject of a three-day interop event that saw the participation of 20 companies--see the article published on itvt.com, December 7th.)

In related news: The International MHEG Promotion Alliance (IMPALA), an organization that was set up in 2006 by Strategy & Technology, Cabot Communications and EchoStar Europe to promote use of the MHEG-5 standard beyond the UK (note: MHEG-5 is the middleware standard upon which the UK's free-to-air digital terrestrial service, Freeview, is based; it was developed and standardized in the mid-90's as part of the DAVIC standardization effort to support interactivity and navigation for VOD services), has issued a public statement welcoming "the beta release of the world's first deployment of hybrid broadcast broadband MHEG Interaction Channel (MHEG-IC)" by the UK's free-to-air satellite platform, Freesat (note: see the articles published on itvt.com, November 4th and 30th). The beta deployment sees Freesat allowing a select group of customers (all of which are equipped with Humax HD set-tops) access to the BBC iPlayer catch-up TV service via an IP connection in their Freesat boxes.

According to IMPALA, the MHEG-IC's goal is "to provide a seamless viewer experience of broadcast-delivered content augmented with content delivered over IP as an extension of the channel or network." The MHEG-IC "gives access to streamed on-demand video content in addition to traditional text and graphics as well as the ability to support secure transactions," the organization explains. The MHEG-IC uses a "hybrid file system" that is designed to enable broadcasters to create common applications that can work on both IP-connected and non-connected receivers in a seamless manner. It allows applications to determine whether or not an IP connection is possible (i.e. whether or not the receiver incorporates the necessary hardware and software) and whether or not such a connection is actually available (i.e. whether or not the user has connected the receiver to their home network). The system enables decoding of MPEG-4 or MPEG-2 streams using the same hardware used for broadcast content. "While there has been much discussion in the marketplace about other potential hybrid technologies, we are delighted that MHEG is the first to make this real-world breakthrough," IMPALA's director of market development, Giri Valliappan, said in a prepared statement. "The MHEG-IC has been designed to provide viewers with access to additional on-demand services without the broadcaster having to relinquish control, something that we believe to be tremendously important."