Boxing clever

A look at the growing importance of set top box technology.
Convergence, FTA, Microsoft media room, Set top box, Video on demand, Latest Products
Convergence, FTA, Microsoft media room, Set top box, Video on demand, Latest Products
Convergence, FTA, Microsoft media room, Set top box, Video on demand, Latest Products


From simple DVR capability to interactive ad serving there are several new revenue opportunities for broadcasters fed through the set top box (STB). Digital Broadcast looks at the hardware’s growing role.

From the perspective of the viewer, the set top box (STB) sits at the heart of TV and telco convergence.

Audiences are more concerned with services than the technology that enables them. In the recent past the volume of these services has dramatically increased and the STB has assumed a number of additional roles during this time.

Originally just a receiver and tuner, the role of the STB has evolved so that it is now an integral component of any digital TV service.

As IPTV rollouts continue and satellite pay TV offerings continue to push VOD services, more questions are raised about the way Middle East audiences will react to their widespread adoption.

“A study has found that 54 percent of DVR users would rather not watch adverts,” says George Dabaghi, regional director, Motorola. “However, if you can offer some kind of incentive – a voucher for a pizza or discounted VOD content – then there is a good chance that this figure would be more like 24 percent.”

“At the moment most of the IPTV services in the Middle East are ‘plain vanilla’, simply delivering the FTA channels in IP to end users. What operators need to do is begin trialling the technology – which is already in place – in partnership with the advertisers.”

Increasing use of the STB in this way also creates new opportunities for operators to combat the threat from illegal online content sources with ad funded (or subsidised) services like those suggested by Dabaghi.

“Content creators need to take their head out of the sand and start thinking of innovative ways to add value for the consumer,” says Jeremy Foster, marketing director, Ericsson Middle East. “The Spotify music service is the classic example of how some people will tolerate ads if they can stream music for free, At the same time though, Spotify recognises that some people would rather pay to avoid advertising and they are catered for too with a subscription based, ad-free service.

“Flexibility in payment options is the answer. IPTV allows for this, it can create a unique experience for each individual. IPTV gives far greater insight to what users are interested in and offers enormous benefits to advertisers but there is a lot of discussion and there could be some pain required to find the best way to approach this change in the business model,” claims Foster.

While operators and advertisers in this region stall their use of the full capabilities of modern STBs, globally consumers are becoming more aware of what the market can offer.

“There has been a dramatic shift in how people view content,” says Frederic Maizeret, group account director, telecoms and retail, Pace. “Consumers want a complete entertainment experience and the STB has had to evolve to deliver these new services and meet consumers’ expectations. The public are definitely becoming much more aware of the different technologies available to them.”

Maizeret believes that hybrid capabilities have become a must have function as broadcasters continue to make more content available online.

“The Le Cube box we developed for Canal+ (main picture, page36) is France is a great example of this. It’s one of the world’s first hybrid satellite and IP HD PVR devices which uses the Ethernet port for VOD. And in Dubai, for example, enabling access to IP services is crucial as there’s an increasing number of DTH providers.”

With the increasing merging of delivery platforms and consumers looking to view this material on a number of device,s the STB is spreading its wings beyond the TV set.

“There’s definitely a need for media storage in the home, and the STB will sit at the heart of this, becoming even more intelligent than it is today. We’re seeing a lot of demand for home content solutions where the set-top box and the gateway work closely together, and we’re working on delivering content around the home, both wired and wirelessly,” says Maizaeret.

Amino harnesses power of the atom

Set top box developer Amino demonstrated its new range of hardware powered by the Intel Atom Processor CE4100 at the Intel Developers Forum.

The media processor combines leading-edge consumer electronics features for HD video support, home theatre quality audio and 3D graphics, according to Amino.

“The CE4100 is a powerful media processor that is designed specifically for home entertainment and enables a greatly enhanced consumer experience,” claims Dominique Le Foll, CTO, Amino. “As one of the first IPTV solutions providers to demonstrate its capabilities, we are very encouraged by the response from customers and partners particularly to its over the top capabilities.

“This builds on our relationship with Intel and we are delighted to have worked closely with them to showcase the benefits that CE4100 can bring to the performance of STBs in the IPTV world,” added Le Foll.

Motorola supplies du with VIP series boxes

Motorola has supplied du with two models from its VIP range of IPTV STBs.

The VIP1200E and VIP1216E can support both HD and SD, DVR capability with client scheduling, media sharing and music on their TV.

“Consumer trends show an appetite for personalised media experiences. Key features of Motorola’s latest set-tops enable du’s customers to enjoy customised viewing experiences, such as recording and playing back high-definition IP-based video content,” said Ali Amer, vice president, Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, Motorola Home & Networks Mobility.

Du is estimated to have between 70,000-100,000 IPTV subscribers in Dubai

PACE: pushing hybrid model

Deployed by Modern Times Group’s Viasat Broadcasting in late 2009, the TDS855NV is a HD PVR with built-in hybrid functionality. Supporting both MPEG-2 and H.264 content, the TDS855NV HD PVR has 320GB storage capacity and allows users to record up to 80 hours of HD or 160 hours of standard definition content. The set-top box has dual DVB-S2 tuners so the user can record and watch content in a combination of different ways to maximise the time they spend viewing television.

As a hybrid box, the TDS855NV comes equipped with an ethernet connector which allows IP content to be delivered over low-bandwidth connections using NDS’ Progressive Delivery (PDL) technology, which removes buffering problems associated with slow broadband download speeds, according to Pace.

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