HbbTV Paves Way For Premium Hybrid TV Services With Launch of DASH DRM Reference Application

The HbbTV Association has cleared a path for premium hybrid video services combining broadcast and broadband delivery by releasing its free-to-use DASH DRM Reference Application. This is a model that simplifies deployment of hybrid broadband/broadcast services, based on the HbbTV model. Broadcasters and other content delivery services now can combine DRM content protection with DASH streaming. The application is open to both HbbTV Association members and non-members.

The association has issued a statement to the effect that although the HbbTV specifications have always been agnostic to DRM and therefore in principle able to work with any of the popular products, it has been hard in practice for broadcasters and content providers to deliver DRM protected content to consumers via MPEG-DASH using an HbbTV application. Such capability is crucial for monetizing HbbTV content and services. The model new reference model has been successfully tested on TV sets representing a large proportion of the installed base in the market and also, with some technical limitations, on generic web browsers supporting W3C MSE and EME.

It is freely distributed under an open source MIT license and includes documentation covering the creation of valid MPEG-DASH files from users’ own video content. It also facilitates code reusability for any service provider implementing its own DASH video streaming application.

This process began in January 2017 when the HbbTV Association issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), culminating four months later in award of the contract for development of the specification to Sofia Digital. This has the broader aim of restoring momentum for the HbbTV momentum which had been stalled for several years after early success expanding from its original central European base.

Basic HbbTV signal flow diagram. Click to enlarge.

Basic HbbTV signal flow diagram. Click to enlarge.

The association was born under its original title of HbbTV Consortium in February 2009 from the French H4TV project and the German HTML profil project. From there it spread to other major countries on the European mainland and also to one or two outside the continent, including Freeview New Zealand which launched the HbbTV platform for DTT in July 2015 under the registered trade mark name "FreeviewPlus", followed by an extension to the DVB-S service (Freeview Satellite) in April 2016. It was also deployed in Saudi Arabia in October 2014 and has been tested elsewhere including Argentina, Japan and China where a trial was conducted, as well as Singapore where Mediacorp was introducing a service. However, in the US ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast TV suite, is likely to be preferred for hybrid services given that it uses MPEG DASH for broadcast and broadband delivery of media and data. The DASH Industry Forum (DASH-IF) developed a DASH interoperability profile specifically for ATSC 3.0.

There was one major gain though for HbbTV while the DASH DRM reference profile was under development when the BBC launched the first HbbTV Service in the UK in November 2017. Until then the UK had stuck with the old MHEG so called Red Button technology but had been increasingly isolated. By moving towards HbbTV, the BBC said that it could at last take advantage of newer technologies designed for the Internet age and bring viewers a richer interactive experience.

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