By: Don Fujiwara

Ah, the couch. The unsung hero of the living room, the couch is, at once, a repository for loose change and petrified, half-eaten Twizzlers; the surrogate scratching post of wayward housecats; and the nighttime destination for those unfortunate enough to have forgotten an anniversary.

And now, thanks to those behind Hybrid Broadcast Broadband Television (HbbTV), the simple couch is grabbing its own little piece of the living room limelight. The HbbTV coalition believes its hybrid digital TV standard opens up new avenues for communications service providers to push content directly to the consumer, all in the comfort of their very own living room. The coalition refers to it as a “couch-oriented TV environment.”

HbbTV is both a digital TV standard and the marketing platform driving it. At its root, it is an open standard developed to converge broadcast, IPTV, and broadband internet through one set-top box to your hybrid digital television. With a single remote, you can call up such features as VOD, electronic program guides (EPGs), teletext-based functions, catch-up TV, DVR, and internet applications in one, interactive package. Sounds awesome, right?

But HbbTV is not so much a new technology as it is a narrowing down of profiles of available standards, like Open IPTV Forum (OIPF), CEA-2014 (CE-HTML), and the DVB Application Signalling Specification. In a 2010 whitepaper titled, “Hybrid Broadband Broadcast TV V.1.1.1 Explained,” mediatvcom (one of HbbTV’s original supporters) wrote, “This approach is extremely valuable in terms of developments costs and, more importantly, time-to-market.”

The standard itself shows promise. Boiling equipment needs down to one set-top box, one TV and one remote removes the PC from the loop, and makes the couch life that much easier. The open standard promotes usability across free-to-air, cable, satellite, and internet, plus it affords versatility and choice. Not to mention, we’ve only really just scratched the surface of the potentials of HbbTV applications and interactivity. As an added bonus, over-the-top (OTT) and other internet content can also be channeled directly into your living room via HbbTV.

HbbTV began as the marriage of two separate projects in February 2009: the French H4TV and German HTML profile projects. HbbTV has since crossed the channel from France and Germany to the UK, and three public networks in Holland had slated pilot broadcasts of “red button” applications for September of this year.

Pipeline spoke with Steve Morris, systems analyst at ANT Software in the UK. Morris says HbbTV’s European presence is “shaping up well” and adds, “We’re not only seeing more HbbTV services being launched in those markets where it’s already deployed, but also seeing more interest from markets where it’s not been formally adopted yet.”

While France and Germany have already embraced hybrid television, several other European countries are taking a look at how HbbTV suits their market needs, and Austria, Switzerland, and Spain are actively moving toward the standard.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) published HbbTV’s specification under reference ETSI TE 102 796 back in June of 2010. According to Morris, HbbTV benefits from its pragmatic approach to standardization. The simplicity of the standard facilitates shipment of products and services, and this makes HbbTV attractive to manufacturers and CSPs. Says Morris, “With HbbTV 1.5 on the horizon… HbbTV is continuing this approach of evolving based on real market needs rather than technology push.”

“What’s most interesting about HbbTV’s presence at exhibitions and conferences recently,” he adds, “is that HbbTV is no longer being demonstrated as a new technology: now it’s something that people expect to see and is more of a ‘table stakes’ feature for device manufacturers.”

Clearly, HbbTV is gaining momentum in Europe, but the question remains, will HbbTV make it in the United States? Or will it meet with the same tepid reception that IPTV has?


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