HbbTV spec finds way around set-top-box limitations

The HbbTV Association has announced the removal of more barriers stopping users from accessing interactive services.

HbbTV is the global standard for delivering so-called 'red button' services, linking traditional TV channels with additional information, catch-up or online live streams. In the UK, the BBC leads with the development of HbbTV, having migrated from MHEG5 to deliver its Red Button+ service to smart TVs.

Now a new specification has been published that will allow consumers access to HbbTV services, even when not supported by the user's set-top-box - in what is known as phase 2 of "Application Discovery over Broadband" or ADB.

This specification has been developed for markets in which set-top boxes are extensively used for TV reception – potentially preventing consumers from accessing HbbTV services. The ADB feature enables consumers to access the HbbTV services on their TV sets, even when not supported by the set-top box. ADB phase 2 is suitable for all types of set-top boxes: cable and satellite as well as IPTV and OTT.

When a compliant TV set receives the signal of a particular TV channel from the set-top box, it will discover via its broadband internet connection if there is an HbbTV app related to this particular channel and run that app. Further, the TV set will detect channel changes and other reasons for stopping the HbbTV app. The watermarks used in phase 2 also support synchronising the app to the TV image flow.

The extension employs watermarking technologies specified by ATSC, facilitating interoperability and benefiting manufacturers and broadcasters who can source and deploy technology components on a global basis.

ADB is a stand-alone, independent specification and not included in the core HbbTV specification. If it is widely picked up in the market by broadcasters and supported by manufacturers, it could be included in a future version of the core specification.

Vincent Grivet, Chair of the HbbTV Association said:
We are very excited about this key advancement of the ADB specification as this opens a whole new and large market segment to HbbTV services. It will further strengthen the leading role of HbbTV as the simple and effective technology to offer viewers attractive interactive services, independently of their TV reception situation, beyond the traditional direct broadcast situation which in certain key markets is not any longer the prevailing case.

RXTV Log comment:
This functionality allows broadcasters to circumvent some of the restrictions imposed on them by platform operators that force viewers to access their services via a particular type of receiver or set-top-box.

For example, the BBC could use this new functionality to circumvent restrictions on Sky receivers that stop it being able to deliver the same HbbTV Red Button+ service it offers on other platforms. All that would be required is that the viewer at home has a HbbTV compatible TV that is hooked up to a Sky receiver - many recent smart TVs do support the latest HbbTV standards.

Some readers may remember how older analogue set-top-boxes for cable and satellite - and some Sky digital receivers - 'passed through' the teletext signal allowing viewers, enabling viewers to control and access the pages via their TV's remote and their TV's teletext decoder rather than on the actual satellite or cable receiver. This new spec aims to do a similar thing for HbbTV.