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HomeArticlesTechnicalAdvancements in Set-Top- Box Technologies
Friday, 16 August 2013 07:01

Advancements in Set-Top- Box Technologies

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Mandatory Digitisation has brought with it a huge demand for set-top-boxes as every TV set in India needs one. There are 156 million TV Households in India out of which 105 million cable TV homes need STBs. Already 26 million STBs have been installed in the Phase-I and II of Digitisation. Another 79 million analogue homes are yet to be connected. Then there are homes with multiple TV sets raising the demand by another 20%. STB quality, standards, types and technology has been in the news since Digitisation started.  Unfortunately India does not have a good base for manufacturing our own STBs. 95% STBs are imported and hence it is very important for the operators to understand what is available in the world market. In this article we shall focus on the technologies available in STBs.

Set top box” (STB) is a device, which is connected to a television set at the consumer premises and which allows a consumer to view encrypted channels of his choice.

STB technology basically has to match the overall technology of the network providing the services to the consumers. These networking technologies for video distribution have advanced to a great extent. Convergence of telecom and broadcasting dominates all future technologies making the networks shift to IP based broadband infrastructure. Hybrid STB having a cable connection and an Ethernet connection provide host of services never dreamt earlier. 

In India all cable networks are operating on DVB-C and QAM where as DTH services use DVB-S, DVB-S2. There are very few IPTV operators in INDIA. Thus maximum demand in India is for DVB-C and DVB-S STBs. However, the developed world is going for IP based networks using STBs with Android, Windows or Linux OS in them. Broadcom Corporation, a global innovation leader in semiconductor solutions for wired and wireless communications has recently announced the BCM7014, the industry's most integrated single chip standard definition MPEG2 cable set-top box (STB) system-on-a-chip (SoC) solution designed to accelerate India's cable TV digitization initiative by providing a cost-efficient system.  BCM7301 is another chip from Broadcom that incorporates tuner and LNA, cost efficient SD AVC STB for emerging markets, and support for variety of advanced security and connectivity solutions.

These are some of the latest developments in the STB technology that we may be using in the near future.

Chromecast : Google recently launched a new TV dongle, designed to compete with Apple TV. called Chromecast, the dongle plugs into a television's HDMI port, and allows users to stream media from smartphones, tablets and computers. It will launch immediately in the US for $35 but international launches haven't yet been confirmed. Unlike other similar devices, such as Apple TV, with Chromecast the media is streamed from the cloud, rather than from the mobile device itself. The emphasis is very much on streaming clips from services such as YouTube and Netflix via a far cheaper device.

YouView in UK have announced the arrival of a software update that will bring EPG improvements to Humax boxes sold at retail and through BT. Rolling out over the next two weeks, the update brings enhanced search capabilities to the box's TV guide, with exact search terms now being matched. Channel filters will also be added to the EPG, grouping channels together based on the sort of programming they offer.

Humax DTR-1000 YouView set-top box is a Digital terrestrial set top box with catch up players and recorder.  DTT services are under trail in India but in developed countries DTT set top boxes are now available from just about every supermarket. While they are handy for converting your old analogue TV into digital so you can receive Freeview services very few offer you the added benefit of watching catch up TV services. 

Connected Red Button : The BBC has launched a new Connected Red Button service in the UK. Hitting Virgin Media's TiVo box first, it adds a host of new functionality to the established digital TV feature.

First up, the new Connected Red Button will let you to catch programmes on channels that are off-air, including the BBC children's channels, BBC Three and BBC Four, day and night.

Entone has integrated LG Electronics' Netcast media streaming platform with its hybrid media gateway. The combined solution is designed to deliver linear TV and over-the-top (OTT) online TV services to Internet-connected consumer electronics devices without the need for a traditional set-top box.

Companry has developed a streaming player application specifically targeting subscribers of broadband service providers, selected cable operators and other video operators.

Meanwhile the number of devices on the market able to view catch up TV services - from mobile phones to games consoles, web tablets such as the iPad and 'smart TVs' including an entire range from Samsung has increased exponentially, making competition in this space very crowded indeed. Some of these devices are aimed primarily at an older generation who want the convenience of watching catch-up services on their large living room TV rather than on a smaller portable device such as an iPad. Also those who don't want to upgrade their main TV to a smart TV which have built in catch-up TV services, but which are still expensive (though coming down in price rapidly).

One clever feature in the Entone STB is 'Find Programmes By Genre' which pulls together all of the content from the various catch up TV services and displays it as thumbnails which you can scroll through. So, for example, if you like comedy it will display programmes from 4oD such as Peep Show, alongside content from the iPlayer such as Bad Education or Russell Howard. Useful if you're not sure what to watch and don't want to have to check through each of the catch up TV services individually

Apple TV : The new Apple TV  may have gesture control as one of its features, according to fresh rumours sparked off by sources close to the company. According to The Huffington Post, there was a lot of talk recently about the TV that is said to be in development and Apple is working on a service that would allow people to skip TV advertisements, with the company paying money to the networks that they would lose with fewer people watching the ads. The report said that the news follows Apple's plans to purchase PrimeSense, an Israeli company which designs 3D sensors that allows people to interact with devices, being the technology behind Xbox Kinect. 

The report added that the company's facial and body recognition technology could given an Apple TV the power to recognize who is watching, enabling the device to have customized profiles.

Google and Sony have revealed the NSZ-GS7 Internet Player and the NSZ-GP9 Internet Blu-ray player, each having the second generation of Google TV inside. With a completely overhauled interface, Google TV integrates with your existing TV, laying apps, a modified Chrome browser and a lean-back YouTube player over your regular live TV broadcasts. Both units come with a re-worked remote control too that features a QWERTY keypad on the rear and multi-touch touchpad on the front.

The move will also concern cable and satellite broadcasters, who increasingly offer on-demand services as part of their packages. Amazon typically aims to undercut rivals when it enters new markets: the Kindle Fire, for instance, is among the cheapest tablet computers available.

The benefits of Android aren’t hard to see: it can be free to use, it’s more open than Windows because it’s open source, and it’s seen by some as the operating system of the moment, according to companies using it at the show. Honeywld Technology of Taiwan plans to launch Android set-top boxes that will bring the OS to TVs, allowing users to surf the Web and use Android apps on their televisions.

TVonics team with RNIB and IVONA for set-top box for the blind and partially sighted:

TVonics have teamed up with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and software developers IVONA to develop an updated version of their DTR-HD500 aimed at blind and partially sighted people. Using text-to-speech technology, the updated box is easier to navigate for those with poor eyesight, with audio descriptions of both the TV shows being broadcast and descriptions of the box's navigational features. This is the first box which will allow blind people to independently record programmes and pause live TV. This box will enable people with sight loss to get a great digital TV experience without paying a premium."

Echostar HDT-610R: World's slimmest PVR

Echostar has launched the HDT-610R, claiming it to be world's slimmest PVR. Also known as the Ultra Slim Box, it measures a slight 14mm thin, despite housing a HDMI connection, twin tuner and 500GB hard drive.

The box also offers live TV rewinding and pausing functionality, as well as intelligently seeking out HD versions of shows when available and offering the ability to set shows to record from advertisements. It is an interesting fact that set-top-box technologies are changing too fast for masses to adopt them when they come. By the time consumers decide to buy, a new version of the technology is introduced. The researchers are working 24x7 to bring new features including low power consumption and multi-platform viewing experience. We in India are still way behind to experience these technologies but one should always hope for the better.

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