EPGs: the proprietary debate

N

net1

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#1
The decision by Fusion Digital Television (UK news 11 May) to include its own proprietary EPG, with a 7-day guide could open a fault-line across the digital industry.

According to the industry newsletter, New Media Markets, the ITC has been asked to settle the dispute over the development of proprietary electronic programme guides (EPGs) for digital-terrestrial television.

The heart of the complaint is Crown Castle's decision lease capacity to third parties which will allow technology company 4TV to operate a proprietary seven-day EPG. Based in Nantwich, Cheshire, 4TV has developed FastTV which it claims: " ... is a rapid, feature rich EPG that offers much more than the basic 'Now and Next' functionality offered by many current EPGs."

However, other manufacturers allege that Crown Castle has not stuck to the terms of its licence as the EPG is not freely available and is offered on commercial terms. Crown Castle said that the data service was available to all manufacturers. Clause seven of Crown Castle's licence states that the licensee should ensure that: "Any EPG service included in the licensed service is provided using published technical standards which are freely available and have been standardised either by a recognised European standardisation body or such other industry body as is recognised by the Commission."

In the meantime, The Digital Network (TDN), which represents the interests of all multiplex operators, has been working closely with manufacturers on an open standard EPG which is based on the TV Anytime system Some believe that the work could be undone if proprietary versions are deployed and the revelation that Crown Castle had leased the capacity came as a surprise to many in the industry.

NMM reports an executive at another set-top box company saying: "If you have a licence then doing something that isn't laid down in that licence shouldn't be allowed. This could slow down the whole development of Freeview."

There has been dialogue between some manufacturers and the ITC about the matter.
 

cjgall

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#2
As far as I am concerned, propriety EPG's are bad news. Also, 4TV claiming that this 'new' EPG offers seven day listings implies that no other EPG system does. This of course is total nonsense, the DVB standard allows seven day EPG listings and, as its an open standard, it is up to the individual receiver manufacturer to decide how to impliment it, which is good thing for the consumer as each manufacturer tries to out do the competition. You only need to look at some of the German satellite channels EPG's on a FTA or (U)CAS box to see what I mean.

Propriety systems are bad news. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to add a viaaccess or seca smartcard to a Sky digibox alongside the sky viewing card? It would be a bad day indeed if consumers in the UK were forced to buy 'special' CA boxes for Freeview like they do here in Holland.
 

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#3
Agree. Proprietary anything is a bad idea. That's why we have standards there in the first place. Ultimately consumer choice is better served by avoiding proprietary solutions, which in my view are tantamount to monopolistic or "anti-trust" practice.

But the UK's already gone so far down that path with Sky that any discussions on the EPG for DTT amount to nothing more than a little noise in the system, a little posturing on the sidelines.

Rather than have any commission spending any amount of time looking at the nuances of a DTT EPG, I'd rather they concentrated their resources on unlocking Murdoch's creation.

They could start by forcing NDS to licence Videoguard in CI CAM form. Then they could force Sky to make the receivers and CAMs available in any electrical goods outlet. Then to adhere to the DVB EPG standards. And to develop a flexible EPG which allows the consumer to re-sequence channels and breaks the artificial and insidious influence that a fixed EPG gives Sky on the success or otherwise of a channel dependent on how high up it is placed. And while they were at it they could force Sky to market a PVR which does not require a Sky subscription and Sky telephone connection to activate. Or else to allow other independent manufacturers to do so.
And so on.

So all this talk of standards is very noble, but given the current and continuing direction of the UK satellite monopoly it's all a case of "too little, too late" if you ask me.


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rolfw

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#4
Not so sure about tha lack of importance with regard to DTT EPG standards, long term it will be the majority TV source in the UK and possibly elsewhere in Europe.

It is very important that any forthcoming system is open standard and totally user definable.
 

2old4this

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Ah, but DTT, unlike satellite broadcast, is necessarily limited to a given region. UK DT transmissions can not be picked up elsewhere. So it could be argued that each country developing its own standards will have no effect on the market.

Within any given country it would obviously be ideal to adopt open standards as that would allow home competition to flourish. But even then, it's not necessarily a problem if a proprietary standard becomes established - so long as it is available to others (albeit under licence). What you need to avoid is locking customers in to one particular supplier or manufacturer. Precedents include the CD. Philips patented it and until recently received royalties for every CD made, but did not attempt to control the nature or supply of devices that used them, let alone the content. As a result, it doesn't feel like a proprietary standard - but it is.

The problems we have seen with the satellite industry (Sky, Canal+...) stem from attempts by those companies to control as much as possible of the technology and supply chain. If NDS would licence its Videoguard system in CI form, then many of those problems in the UK market would be solved.

Likewise, if Canal+ had marketed their own Mediaguard CAM instead of fighting with Aston and refusing to officially recognise or support anyone using a generic receiver with an Astoncrypt CAM, then there too many problems would have been solved.

It is not necessarily the use of proprietary standards that leads to problems, but the behaviour of the companies as they try to use those standards to help create what amount to monopolies.

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cjgall

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#6
I would still argue for an pan European standard. Take the Netherlands for instance. Digitenne has opted to encode transmissions so you need a special box and a smart card. Digitenne is trying to market its product as a 'mobile option'. You can use it at home, at the campsite or on the boat. This is all well and good but as 120% of the Dutch population own a caravan and the Dutch do like to travel abroad. Not adopting an open standard would mean that a Dutch box would not work in say France and so on. Having said that, the three national stations NED1,2&3 will be FTA once analogue transmissions are turned off (planned for 2007 but...) but he commercial channels will remain encrypted. The Digitenne decision to use the conax encryptions system did influence my decision not to buy a digitenne box (I installed my first sat system just a few weeks ago), that along with the fact that the current list of channels is limited to Dutch channels and BBC prime, which cannot compete with satellite and cabel. I for one am not prepared to pat 8.95 Euro per month for the couple of weekends I may or may not spend on a Dutch campsite. However, I will probaly buy a digitenne box one Ned1,&3 go FTA.

Although initial takeup of Digitenne seams quite good, i don't see it seriously competing with cabel for the moment, as it costs rougly the same and you get a lot fewer channels, albeit better quality.

Due to the limited range of DTT I find it absurd that DTT transmisions are encrypted and the analogue counterparts are not.

I agree that Sky should licence out videoguard. I could then go out and by a Videoguard CA module a do away with my Sky box altogether. So, not only UK consumers would benifit.
 

2old4this

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#7
Well there's undoubtedly a strong interest for satellite reception while travelling abroad (as indeed attested to by the regular trotting out by Veronica Satellite & Hopper Guide of their "camping specials"). I can well imagine telly addicts wanting to keep up with their favourite soaps/etc while away.

But I'm not so sure about DTT reception. As cosmopolitan as the Dutch are, you'd have a hard time convincing me that 120% of them want to watch local French television during their annual pilgrimage to the Bois de Boulogne... :D

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cjgall

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#8
My initial interest in satellite was to get a mobile setup. This all changed when I had a run in with Casema ending in me canceling my subscription and when I discovered that I could receive all I wanted for next to nothing on digital satellite. I don't fancy carting a dish around north western Spain this summer though so I will just stick to my home installation.

My brother in law is quite happy to spend a large proportion of his hard earned (caravaning) holidays at home and abroad playing around with a dish, I should imagine he would welcome DTT. He does tend to tune into German stations though, even when in France where he is at the moment. Its been my experience that many Dutch people, besides speaking English, usually speak French and German, albeit to varying degrees.

An open standard would be useful for Brits bringing there DTT receivers over to the Netherlands & Belgium at least, and I asume that if I ever do actually buy a Dutch DTT conax receiver that it will function correctly in the UK. If I can ever afford to take my caravan over to blighty that is.

Don't misunderstand my support for open standard on DTT. I just think that all types of digital broadcasts should use the open DVB EPG standard. As it now stands, if a UK resident moves to the Netherlands, his/her DTT receiver will not work.

At the end of the day, satellite is unbeatable whether at home or abroad. Its just so frustrating to see a German channels EPG in its full glory and then switch back to canaldigitaals now/next EPG, or even worst, Sky's chaotic EPG.

We should also not forget that propreity standards usually translate into higher consumer prices not to mention the imposed limitations of such products. Take the market for official mediaguard/highway sat receivers, there are only a handful of receivers available and the other manufacturers such as Kaon, Lemon, Topfield & Humax are left out in the cold. 'Mainstream' manufacturers in my opinion dance too readily to the pipers tune as we have seen in the DVD settop box market.
 

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#9
I guess it's a question of how strong the demand is. The percentage of the population that wants to take their own receiving equipment with them abroad, is very small. I think this is slowly changing as equipment becomes smaller/lighter, and people more mobile. But will it ever be a sufficiently high number to itself provide a business case for (eg) enforcing standards between nations?

How much of a problem is it in reality that there are several analogue terrestrial broadcast standards in use across Europe (PAL I, B, G, D, K; Secam L, L', B, D, G, K)? Apparently it isn't seen to be much of a problem judging by the fact that there are still very few multi-system TV sets or VCRs on the market, and they're typically the high-end models. The mod required to change the UK PAL-I tuner to a Dutch PAL-B/G tuner (for example) is so trivial it's laughable. One cheap capacitor to change the frequency of the audio carrier. To build this and a switching mechanism into every TV set would mean no more than a few cents additonal manufacturing cost - yet it isn't there - because there's no significant demand for it.

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cjgall

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#10
I suspect that in the Netherlands many people will use DTT to suplement cable and for taking with them when camping in the Netherlands so I don't see demand dictating standards in the near furture.

I did try digital cable but sent it straight back as I actually found it in some respects to be worse that analogue, for example the sound is mono on many of the channels. For DTT to compete with cable here, digitenne will need to add a few foreign channels such as Belgium and BBC1&2 etc.

There are rumours of multisytems being developed, i.e. combined DTT and satellite receivers. This would be a step in the right direction. What we really need are affordable TV's with built in receivers for all three digital broadcasting platforms. This will only happen when the analogue signal is turned off throughout Europe.

Most TV's these days have at least one RGB scart connector which is a European wide standard and eliminates the problems associated with the various PAL variations. Scart allows me to connect my Sky box to my TV without worrying about PAL variations.

I wish manufacturers would incorporate a decent RF modulator in there SAT/VCR/DVD equipment, so I could pump a signal with stereo audio up my PC equipment upstairs.
 
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