[opendtv] Re: NEWS: LG & Funai sign tru2way

  • From: Kilroy Hughes <Kilroy.Hughes@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 13:04:04 -0700

Let me give you some facts, opinions, and history that might you can use to 
make your own guess as to the future of "Tru2way" AKA 2-way CableCard.

Regarding interactive TV and MHP software applications, MHP and OCAP have 
significantly different scopes.

MHP was designed to enhance broadcast signals with additional interactive 
information (Java and resource files pushed in a data carousel in the broadcast 
stream that would eventually collect and run in your settop box or TV). It was 
seen as a step up from Teletext and MHEG currently in use (OpenTV, ATVEF 
"webTV", etc. were also in use at that time).  The broadcaster/content provider 
controls the content, and when you change the channel it goes away.

OCAP was designed to support resident applications installed by the cable 
operator so they can take over your TV, settop box, etc. and control the 
primary user interfaces, such as EPG, VOD, provisioning, messaging, and other 
cable services with their own branding and advertising.

The history is that retailers and US Congress demanded that the cable industry 
open up their hardware business to allow any manufacturer to build compliant 
settop boxes so consumers could buy them at retail, there would be competition, 
innovation, and all the consumer friendly stuff.  The prototype for this was 
the US experience opening up the telco monopoly.  Consumers used to have a 
choice of 3 phone models and would end up paying several times the value of the 
phone over time because they had to lease it from the phone company.  That is 
exactly how US cable works.  After Ma Bell was broken up, consumers could buy a 
huge range of phones ranging from very low cost to new features such as 
cordless, answering machines, caller ID, speed dial, etc.

But, what happened in the case of US cable was a protracted process that looked 
responsive to the legislation, but hasn't resulted in any significant change in 
opening up the cable business, and in fact was used to give cable operators 
more control over manufacturers and consumers.

When this began, in the days when analog cable distribution dominated, TV 
manufactures could just add a cable-ready NTSC tuner (same NTSC modulation, but 
cable carrier frequencies) to enable any TV to connect to any cable network and 
tune all the clear channels provided. The simple network interface was 
standardized based on the analog terrestrial broadcast format (and some agility 
in RF tuning to handle different channel maps on different cable networks).   A 
cable box was only needed to receive special pay channels.

When it came to digital cable and return channel network protocols, no such 
standardization or interoperability existed.  There were two basic systems from 
Scientific Atlanta and General Instruments (Motorola), and variations within 
them, plus different conditional access systems.  Each cable plant deployed 
boxes specifically matched to their particular headend and had their customized 
EPGs, etc. designed into those boxes by the manufacturer ... built to order.

There were two basic approaches that could have been used to create an open 
1.  Standardize and publish the network protocols and data formats (like EPG 
data files) so anyone could make and sell a settop box or TV anywhere.
2.  Keep proprietary/incompatible network protocols and data formats, require 
each TV and settop box to plug in different hardware for each proprietary 
network protocol and conditional access (this is called CableCard), and for 
full functionality including EPG and VOD (CableCard 2, or "Tru2Way") each TV, 
PC, STB would have to run the OCAP operating system and allow the cable 
operator to control it and install their own OCAP applications like user 
interface, EPG, and VOD.

It would have been possible to implement option 1 using a DOCSIS two way 
channel and IP protocols running in parallel with the legacy proprietary 
systems until those could be phased out, but that system would have been 
potentially open to competition from other EPG providers, VOD providers, etc. 
and would have allowed manufacturers like Panasonic and Sony to build and brand 
their TV experiences, EPG, VOD, PVR features, internet features, etc. instead 
of being limited to whatever the cable operator wanted to offer and show to the 
consumer.  CableLabs made the obvious choice to require anyone who wants to 
make product to connect to their network to give them hardware control via 
network specific CableCards supplied by the cable operator, and software 
control by requiring all two-way devices to run OCAP so the cable operator can 
download their own applications to control the user experience.  Enhanced 
broadcast content like interactive sports scores and play along game shows are 
the last thing they care about.  Now that they have this mess, some of the big 
cable operators want to fix their real network interop problems with something 
like DVB Common Scrambling System so their settop boxes don't have to be so 
expensive and complicated. It seems that they noticed they got into the 
Internet and VOIP business since launching the OCAP tactic, and its time to 
move on.

Regarding the future of interactivity ... yes and no.

Early experience revealed that the "interactive" features consumers like the 
most were things like "Pause" and "search" ... making it easier to watch what 
they wanted when they wanted and where they wanted.  Most consumers are no 
longer satisfied being spoon fed a broadcaster's choice of shows and 
commercials tied to a TV set.  There's a trend from "push delivery" to "pull 
delivery" (VOD, PVR, Internet, etc.).

Internet delivery of both user generated video and TV shows is skyrocketing.  
When users interact with Internet TV, behavior, expectations, and capabilities 
are drastically different.  You may have heard of a recent startup with the 
silly name "Google" that thought interactive internet advertising might be 
worth something. Their net worth is probably more than the top US broadcast 
networks combined, so maybe they have something there.  Once you take TV to the 
Internet with thousands of shows online, "interactivity" in the form of 
recommendations/social, searching, virtual channels, targeted advertising, 
animated/interactive advertising, social viewing/chatting, viewing and 
interacting from any IP device ... that creates a whole new context and 
possibilities for "interactivity".

The idea of broadcaster or content provider generated "program enhancements", 
like MHP, is still doubtful.  Production, deployment, and especially testing 
adds a lot of difficulty and expense at each emission point, on top of just 
getting audio/video/subtitle done well and on time.  Is it an audience builder? 
 Certainly not in the near term, given the chicken/egg problem (not many people 
even have the equipment to see it).  Is it a revenue builder? (for the content 
maker?  The broadcaster?).  Not short term, and questionable long term.

It scales much better to host a web page in Milan that will play video with 
interactivity and advertising, which becomes immediately accessible to a 
billion users anywhere in the world who have IP video capability.

Kilroy Hughes

-----Original Message-----
From: opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:opendtv-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On 
Behalf Of Andrea Venturi
Sent: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 2:57 PM
To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [opendtv] Re: NEWS: LG & Funai sign tru2way


as you know, interactive tv in italy started in 2003, was based on MHP (the 
ancestor of GEM/Ocap/tru2way) and it has been heavily promoted by the 
Government with not that big splash.. :-|

there are many reasons about the failure, and it could worth another post 
another day.

anyway, i was beginning to believe that the tv service was to stay a couch 
potatoes business forever when i heard about this OCAP commitment in US; many 
deal between hardware producers and cable companies, this marketing rebrand to 
bump up the cool factor. (albeit i really don't get the pun behind tru2play.. 
if you want to tell me)

so it joined this mailin list and i spent some time listening. now that i think 
i catched the mood, i'd like to ask your opinion about interactive tv.

what are you expecting from it? which contents, whih killer apps (gaming, 
infotainment, transaction) ?

do you think it could work out for the masses or it will just stay in a niche 
(as it doesn't cost a dime over the standard DTV service anyway)?

do you forecast a standalone business model based on it (t-commerce?) or is it 
going to be just eye candy..

is there an audience still stuck in front of the tv set (ready to buy this new 
service), or they are all already run away to the nearest blockbuster?

i'd like to understand.. i'd like to think that, in Italy/Europe, we could get 
back from the US a new succesfull technology/business model that we could have 
been running five years ago, but it was just not the right time (or the right 

thank you for your attention


andrea venturi
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