BBC Red Button Team Announces Open Source Release of its MHEG+ Interactive TV Toolkit

--MHEG+ Programming Language Powers BBC's ITV Services on Freeview and Freesat

In a posting on its Internet blog, Monday, by Mark Hatton, a senior software engineer from the BBC's TV Platforms Group, the BBC Red Button team announced the open source release of its MHEG+ toolkit under the Apache 2.0 license.

According to the BBC, MHEG+ is both a programming language and a suite of tools that was developed in-house by the corporation itself for building interactive TV services on the UK's MHEG-powered Freeview (free-to-air digital terrestrial) and Freesat (free-to-air digital satellite) platforms. "If you have ever used the Freeview or Freesat red-button services, such as the interactive news and weather and even the CBeebies games and Formula 1 alternate commentary, you might be surprised to learn that you were using an MHEG+ application," Hatton stated in his blog post.

MHEG+ was developed back in 2005 as a BBC Research & Development project aimed at creating a programming language "more palatable and modern than its predecessor, MHEG-5," Hatton explained, adding that "the '+' suffix in the MHEG+ name is meant to suggest that it is a superior language to MHEG-5, often referred to as simply 'MHEG.'" According to the BBC, MHEG+ is now not just a programming language, but a comprehensive suite of tools for developing interactive TV applications: the toolkit includes a compiler, a debugger, an emulator, automated testing tools, and a code editor that integrates with the Eclipse IDE. The BBC says that the toolkit's emulator--dubbed the MHEG Player--emulates both Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes, and incorporates an MHEG graphics engine, a virtual tuner (allowing users to, for example, "virtually" switch from BBC One to BBC Radio 5 Live), and a virtual remote control. The toolkit's integrated debugger, meanwhile, is "feature-rich," the BBC says, and can be used to debug both MHEG-5 and MHEG+ code.

"Until today, MHEG+ was only available for use by BBC staff for the benefit of our own interactive television applications," Hatton's blog post continued. "But we think MHEG+ is too useful a tool to keep just to ourselves. Open sourcing MHEG+ is another example of the BBC's drive toward openness and demonstrates our eagerness to give something back to the technical community. Further, we hope to encourage the community to get involved in MHEG+ and make it better. There are many ways to participate, from simply developing interactive applications (and possibly reporting bugs), to documentation writing and code contributions." The MHEG+ source code can be downloaded from the MHEG+ SourceForge project page, which also offers a forum for discussing MHEG+ and getting help.