Virtual set-top box - TV user interface from the cloud

04/09/2013 - Virtual set-top box - TV user interface from the cloud

Virtualization of the set-top box enables quicker innovation cycles and cost savings

Previously deployed set-top boxes are an increasing obstacle to the rapid launch of new TV services and contemporary, graphically pleasing TV user interfaces. Their performance - particularly among older devices - is often no longer sufficient to ensure a satisfactory user experience. At the same time upgrade costs rise or upgrades are no longer possible due to technical progress - such as the spread of new web technologies. Against this backdrop, T-Labs began investigating approaches to the virtualization of set-top box features in late 2011 and has been testing them in initial field trials ever since. At the media event “Network Offensive”, held in Berlin together with the board members of Deutsche Telekom on September 3rd, this approach and the current prototype of the virtual set-top box have been presented for the first time in public – as an important driver for innovations in the TV area.

The primary goal of virtualizing the set-top box is to move the execution of applications to the cloud. From there, they run in a standardized web browser and are transmitted to various devices as a video data stream (H.264/H.265). The process can be used with HDMI dongles, smart TVs, tablets, PCs and smartphones.  With this approach, even older, low-performance devices can present ultramodern, resource-hungry user interfaces in a fluid manner. The virtual, cloud-based set-top box decouples the user device from the development process, and thus from the life cycle of applications and services. Ultramodern web technologies such as HTML5, CSS3 and WebRTC are used.

Thomas Staneker - presenting the Virtual Set-Top Box

After the initial analyses of a cloud approach to set-top box features were carried out in 2011, T-Labs developed a variety of prototypes in 2012 and 2013, together with partners such as ActiveVideo, and subjected them to testing. Both the robustness of the technology and its acceptance by users were tested, comprehensively and successfully, at internal technical units in Germany and by "friendly users" in the network of Greek company OTE. Another test will take place in the course of the last quarter of 2013, within the scope of the TeraStream field trial in Croatia. Activities for developing initial marketing strategies will be discussed afterwards.

At the media event „Network Day“, the latest activities were presented for the first time in public – and performed in two parallel sessions: Thomas Staneker, Head of  Shared Service Center TV, demonstrated the approach and the current prototype which was applied in the test with OTE in Greece. Thomas Kiessling, Chief Product & Innovation Officer, emphasized the importance of the virtual set-top box for accelerating innovations in the TV and video area.

T-Labs bears responsibility for the virtual set-top box R&I project, and also provides prototype middleware, based on HTML5, that delivers services such as a video-on-demand store, localized EPGs (electronic program guides) and a portal for TV apps. This middleware solution is also used for other projects within the Telekom Group. In addition to colleagues from OTE in Greece and Hrvatski Telekom in Croatia, project stakeholders include the FMED Innovation Center Lab, T-Systems, and the newly established TV Shared Service Center in Budapest, Hungary.  


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