DVB-MHP Test Platform
iTV content development system extends European plans for
worldwide iTV standard.
the goal is establishing the DVD Multimedia Home Platform
as the universal standard for interactive TV in Europe
and around the world, the dream took a step closer to
reality with a February announcement by France Telecom of
a DVD-MHP reference platform for testing assorted iTV
Implemented by the
research and development division of France Telecom in
partnership with French television stations Arte France
and Telerama, the demonstration and testing platform
"seamlessly" merges broadcast TV programming with
Internet content under the Digital Video broadcasting MHP
standard adopted last July by the European
Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
The MHP project
targets the 72 percent of the households in France still
without a home computer, enabling these viewers to
participate in the Internet revolution. Beyond it's
dominance in telephony, France Telecom is the nation's
leading Internet access provider along with providing
cable and satellite television services.
The MHP prototype
features a graphical user interface that supports
on-screen content personalization for each family member.
Functions coordinated by an electronic program guide
(EPG) include an Internet search engine for locating
television programming, recording content on a VCR,
playback at any specified timeslot, and displaying
ancillary content during programs, such as movie
trailers, interactive banners, and text overlays with
sidebar information, such as an actor's bio.
Coming next on the
R&D platform will be support for MP3 audio, online
chat, video telephony, on-demand video streaming, and an
array of "T-commerce" applications from stock markets
reports to merchandise sales.
A key technical
innovation in the platform is the introduction of a
Java-based DVB television signal decoder, also developed
by the France Telecom R&D labs at Rennes in Brittany.
The facility supports about 3,000 engineers and
scientists from the telco and its partners.
Development of the
MHP test platform began more than a year ago, says Eric
Bayet, the R&D Project director from Met@Tele
assigned to DVB-MHP development at the Rennes labs.
Through focus group studies, he reports, the R&D team
early on reached three central conclusions about
"First," he says,
"consumers expect more personalization. Viewers expect
interactive TV to be dedicated to what they want to see
when they want to see it, and they expect iTV to provide
the information they need every day, such as weather or
morning traffic reports.
"Second, the TV
should improve functionality and not remain a
single-source broadcast medium. People want access to
other media though their TV.
confirmed that the EPG is something people want and need,
even if they still buy a printed TV schedule like
Telerama." Akin to America's TV Guide company, Telerama
provides the EPG database of program schedules used on
the MHP test platform.
Now that the MHP
platform is up and running in the Rennes labs, Bayet
says, the next phase, scheduled for autumn 2001, is
developing an Internet portal with a thematic approach.
Designed to better give consumers what they want and
need, the portal will offer "deepening levels" of
interactive video, audio and text services.
phase development will be integrating support for
personal digital video recorders (PVRs) into the MHP
protocols, extending a PVR's capacity for T-Commerce into
"We don't want
simply to bring the Internet to the TV," he says. "Our
goal is to go further than anyone in bringing full media
convergence to the next generation of digital televisions
and set-top boxes."
of the MHP application interface (API) come from
Christophe Cuullic, application design manager at the
Rennes R&D lab.
Utilizing the Java
programming language, licensed by Sun to the DVB Project,
France Telecom's MHP-based EPG enables viewers to locate
programs by name, read a short review of the program, and
see clips from the program itself before it's formally
selected. Cuullic says the Java-based EPG does not
transgress the Gemstar/TV Guide patents.
API is the data storage media command and control
systems, which broadcasts data in a rotating loop or
"carousel." Here can be found such information as a
movie's characters and plot. The data is synchronized to
the content of the channel being watched. Specific
applications include news and weather reports, sports
statistics, interactive advertising, and video-on-demand
The 2001 IBC show
featured a good variety of MHP demonstrations, Bayet
notes. He expects next year's IBC will spotlight the
industry advancing from prototypes into full commercial
implementations, starting this fall with field trials
involving up to 500 France Telecom households.
"Instead of TV
programs telling you to visit this or that website,
within five years, every TV channel will have embedded
Internet content, and the TV experience will be so highly
personalized that we'll see major revenues from
interactive services in all 24 million TV households in
France, not just the five million now on satellite or
important, he says, "is that we must design interactive
content and services for the TV screen not the PC screen.
That's been a big reason why WebTV has not seen wider
acceptance in America. Relatively few people in Europe
have computers, so doing this right will help build the
mass audience for interactive TV."
the total cost of the MHP prototype platform, so far, is
approaching 15 million Franks. "We're not testing any
revenue-generating applications yet," he says, "but what
we're doing will make it worthwhile to launch commercial
The France Telecom
DVB-MHP reference platform is one of several ongoing
development projects across Europe, says Jean-Pierre
Evain, senior engineer in the technical department of the
European Broadcasting Union (EBU). With his office a few
doors down from the DVB office in Geneva, he's been
involved the MHP since its inception.
While the current
emphasis is on MHP version 1.0, he says, work is
progressing rapidly on MHP 1.1, which will support XML
(XHTML) and HTML 4.0 protocols (favored by the
Microsoft-backed ATVEF movement for enhanced television).
Down the road will be work to add support for MPEG4,
which enables advanced interactive video.
are being monitored and sometimes coordinated by the MHP
Implementers Group, founded in 1999. Members include
manufacturers of DVB receivers and playout equipment,
applications developers, plus broadcasters and network
include Bertelsmann, Canal+, Deutsche Telekom, Fantastic
Corporation, Grundig, IRT, Mediagate, Nokia, NTL, OpenTV,
ORF, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, PowerTV, RAI, RTL,
Sharp, Samsung, SES/Astra, Scientific Atlanta, Sony, Sun,
Thomcast, YLE, and ZDF.
Funkausstellung 1999, the Symposium of the German TV
Platform 2000 and IBC 2000, members of the MHP
Implementers Group jointly demonstrated their progress.
The first DVB-MHP Interoperability Workshop, held January
2001 in Munich, Germany, verified the interoperability of
applications and equipment created for the global MHP
"The idea behind
DVB-MHP since the beginning has been to create a retail
market for interoperable devises that consumers could
trust to work properly across all the platforms and
service providers," says Evain, noting it's similarity to
the OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP) being
developed through CableLabs in the United States.
DVB-MHP is entirely voluntary," he says, "but almost
everyone sees the importance of having one common
standard for all DVB products worldwide."
The strategy is to
start with commercial MHP implementation in Germany, he
says, because the German television market is the largest
and most technically sophisticated in Europe, especially
Berlin, this despite the iTV advances in the United
In France, the two
major providers of interactive TV services are TPS and
Canal+, both using proprietary software. TPS is deploying
OpenTV and Canal+ is deploying its own MediaHighway
As MHP enters the
digital television marketplace, Evain expects Open TV,
MediaHighway (Canal+), Liberate, PowerTV, Worldgate and
other iTV software vendors will migrate to MHP's open
standards. "They will have to compete by differentiating
their services, and that's when we'll really see some
advances in interactive TV."