HbbTV Association Launches Developer Portal

The HbbTV Association, arbiter of the eponymous standard for harmonizing broadcast, IPTV and broadband delivery of video services, has launched its HbbTV Developer Portal as a free service to help program and execute applications for the platform.

The move is timely, some would say late, given that the platform is now well over a decade old and the latest version, HbbTV 2.0.3, was released in October 2020.

HbbTV has had a checkered history since its birth in February 2009 from the French H4TV and German HTML profil projects. Since then, it has absorbed other standards bodies following similar paths, in 2014 merging with the Open IPTV Forum, which also pursued end-to-end IPTV services. Then in September 2016 the HbbTV Association similarly subsumed the Smart TV Alliance, which had been founded in 2012 by LG Electronics, Panasonic, Toshiba and TP Vision. The latter move set HbbTV on course to be a key standard for converging linear and online video services through smart TVs, whether accessing the internet directly or via some connected box like a Roku.

Yet although the HbbTV work was influential at various levels, making a significant contribution to the American ATSC 3.0 standard for next generation terrestrial TV, it has failed to achieve its ultimate goal of becoming the de facto global standard for converged or hybrid TV serving up content from all sources transparently through a common UI (User Interface). Indeed, ATSC 3.0, while incorporating some of the HbbTV work, was not based almost entirely on that as had been earlier anticipated, emerging in 2019 with some significant differences and enhancements.

One negative factor perhaps was some confusion over what HbbTV was, given that it was both a promotional or even evangelical body driving harmonization of TV and an industry standard itself enshrined as ETSI TS 102 796. A more serious handicap perhaps was that, as the ATSC 3.0 developers realized, HbbTV was unfinished business, or rather had diverged slightly from the direction of broadcast TV towards streaming.

This led to the DVB-I initiative, and the standard of that name first demonstrated at IBC 2019, recognizing that future linear TV services would increasingly be accessed over the internet on devices such as tablets, smartphones, laptops and gaming consoles. DVB-I was designed to ensure that linear TV delivered over the internet would be as easy to use as broadcast TV and at the same quality wherever possible. To achieve this, DVB-I incorporated signaling of linear TV or content for delivery over broadband services in a way consistent with RF-based DVB technologies. It also included the metadata and mechanisms to present electronic programme guides, along with integration of linear services delivered by the RF-based DVB tuner and those delivered over broadband into a single coherent offering accessed through one consistent UI. Finally, DVB-I included a method for national TV regulators, operators and trademark licensors to offer a list of trusted and authorized services.

Since HbbTV was originally conceived for interactive TV and then for provision of consistent services via smart TVs, DVB-I had stolen some of its thunder. In the event, the two have converged via the HbbTV and DVB-I Interoperability group, which is working to integrate the DVB-I specification fully and enable it to deliver the promise of linear TV delivery on internet-connected devices. That is the stated mission, which sounds exactly like DVB-I’s remit without HbbTV.

This latest developer portal then can be seen as recognizing that now HbbTV is more about encouraging production of applications designed to run on connected devices, including smart TVs. Available at https://developer.hbbtv.org, it provides information for advanced users as well as a forum where developers can share their experience and discuss technical issues. It contains tutorials, such as setting up an on-screen message, handling the audio/video broadcast signal and interacting with the remote control, as well as documentation of the API (Application Programming Interface) reference. It also includes a resource section with details on the HbbTV DASH/DRM reference application, the HbbTV Test Suite and other tools, a developer forum to discuss questions, and the latest news on the HbbTV specifications. There is no reference to DVB-I, at least not in the promotional literature.

The HbbTV Developer Portal was initiated by the HbbTV Association’s Marketing and Education Working Group (MEWG) and developed by App Stream, a software development company based in Zagreb, Croatia, in collaboration with experts from the HbbTV Association.

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