Active-TV Technology for iPhone and iPod touch

Active-TV Technology for iPhone and iPod touch
Navigate YouTube

Navigate YouTube available at iTunes App Sore

An easy to use iPhone and iPod touch App that enables both new and advanced YouTube users to get the best from YouTube.

Browse video Standard Feeds, Categories, Channels and Playlists. Then organize new videos into your own favorites and playlists. Make playlists private or public. Subscribe to other user's playlists and video collections for future viewing. Subscribe to videos matching search-words.

Look at publicly viewable favorite videos, playlists and subscriptions based on your YouTube friends, family and contacts. Send and receive video links with YouTube contacts via YouTube video messages.

Search for new videos tagged for your language or geographical region, using local keyboard. Explore for new videos via easy switching of user ID to the owner of interesting videos - then explore their world.

All actions are kept in sync with PC, Mac or Apple-TV access to YouTube. Available at Apple App Store.

active-TV technology for PC

active-TV technology for PC
Windows PC based home network

Monday, December 29, 2008

Anouncing a UI for an internet TV using Lua run-time support

Active-TV Technology now offers an internet TV UI based on the Lua language and run-time support routines from CoreCodec. The Lua scripting tools currently enable a UI with abilities somewhere between MHEG5 and Adobe Flash.

CoreCodec is known for its CorePlayer, which supports “multimedia content on your desktop, mobile phone, portable media player, PDA, GPS, or convergence device”. It is widely used in the cell phone industry. Now, CoreCodec are in the process of retargeting their new Lua run-time environment to customers’ TV system-on a chip (Soc). They have already provided Lua run-time support for BroadQ’s Sony Playstation 2 project. Lua has particularly light-weight support requirements, and is popular in the video game industry.

Adobe’s Flash is widely used in the PC industry, when building web interface applications. Its availability for TV UI development would be greatly appreciated; given its productivity, capability and familiarity. The new CE3100 TV SOC from Intel has an advantage when supporting Flash due to the CE3100’s X86 processor core. Other, possibly lower cost TV SoC, will have a harder time supporting Flash. Using Lua may be the answer to competing with the CE3100.

Below is a TV screen image of the current Lua-based YouTube interface.
Daniel Mann

PlayStation 2 supports internet video

For some time BroadQ has been working on adding internet video viewing to the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). The project has taken longer than expected; but I can now report that I have accessed YouTube video from the PS2 console.

BroadQ partnered with CodeCodec to add advanced video codec support to the PS2. Till now CoreCodec have been a supplier of codecs and media players for cell phones. The partnership enables the PS2 to display YouTube video using the H.264 video format. The superior performance of CoreCodec’s codec enables decode of near HD quality video resolution. BroadQ will be demonstrating their QTV branded TV interface running on the PS2 at CES January 2009. Below are some early screen-shots of the QTV UI.

Note that these are not screen shots of the Flash version which BroadQ has previously shown during demonstrations. The images are from a new Lua Script implementation developed by Active-TV Technology for BroadQ. The Flash version required run-time PC assistance. This Lua version enables the PS2 to operate “standalone”, without any PC assistance being required. The UI implementation shown here is not complete; please expect changes before the CES showoff.

The application of the PS2 to view internet video from the living room TV is significant, given the greater than 120M units sold by Sony (see America Still Plays More Ps2 Than Xbox 360 and Wii Combined) . BroadQ plans for QTV, include support for video distributed by the emerging key suppliers such as YouTube, Hulu and more.
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now watch Google Video on the TV

Use Google Video to search for internet videos, then watch them at the TV, all without touching your PC or the keyboard.

Google Video enables access to longer format video than typically available on YouTube. The YouTube channel (currently available for testing), has been extended to include searching for Google Video. A TV screen image is shown below.

The TV-web formatted channel can be used with the D-Link DSM520 or other active-TV technology-enabled TVs. Note: the TV remote 'info' key can be used to toggle 'on-off' auto-play, resulting in uninterrupted TV-like viewing of one video after another...

This latest update to the YouTube channel includes improvements to the IR remote text-input, a larger preview image, and the ability to temporarily switch User ID to that of the author of the current video. This last feature, along with switching User ID to that of friends and family, makes it possible to explore a network of ‘connected’ videos.

Additional changes and improvements will be made pending user feedback or other technical refinements.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New YouTube channel for DSM-520

Following recent changes in the way YouTube streams video, DSM-520 owners are reporting that they can no longer play YouTube videos.

Now there is a new YouTube TV-website for the DSM-520 which works with the latest YouTube video. A link to a 16x9 test version is provided here. This new channel is also available in the “TV-web channel” listings on the side of this page.

After downloading the file, extract all contents to the c:\ directory. The new “testing” channel will appear under TV menu “My Media & Programs”.

The new YouTube TV-web channel for the DSM-520 is completely different from any previous ones. It is fast loading and there is support for video search, Playlists, Subscriptions, Categories and Favorites (all of unlimited size). There is also flexible access to Standard video feeds. As an added feature, it is now simple to view any public videos of your YouTube friends. The 'info' key can be used to toggle on-off auto-pay of next video.

Please send feedback to, in the event further tweaks are required during the evaluation period. Or add comments to this blog entry.
(Note about prior versions: some bugs were reported by users, but all seems to be working with the current version.)
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

x86 software for the living room TV

The Issue: Intel revealed more details at IDF about its TV chip based on an integrated x86 CPU, which lowers the barriers for networked TVs utilizing PC-like software

Behind the scene: I expect many high-end TV developers to closely consider the new Intel TV chip. Has any lack of clear leadership or innovation from the traditional TV chip suppliers left them vulnerable to market share loss? Or do they know something about the home TV user that new entrants have yet to grasp?

Solution: There are many competing technical and business approaches in support of digital convergence for the TV. Introducing a cost-effective Intel TV chip is clearly some kind of milestone. However, given Intel’s experience with Viiv, it should be aware that there are still critical and necessary development steps ahead: developing infrastructure, partners, and customers, and most importantly communicating the value to end users – these remain paramount and time-consuming steps to be undertaken.

Intel provided more information last week at the San Francisco Intel Developer Form (IDF) about their efforts to bring the software advantages of the x86 architecture to the living room TV. Prior approaches branded as ViiV had little success and partially relied on Microsoft Media Center technology. The new approach is very different and based on incorporating an x86 ‘Pentium M’ processor into a TV System-on-a Chip (SoC).

The x86 CPU architecture has a software advantage because of its use in the PC. This has lead to a long history of extensive and complex software being developed for the PC, which is frequently not made available (“re-targeted” as the technical types say…) for other CPU architectures. A good example of this is Adobe’s Flash, that essential plug-in to the PC browser. For non x86 CPU-based devices, Flash is either not available or available several generations removed from the current offering.

As digital convergence proceeds, consumer appliances are required to support software applications, which have thus far been the domain of the PC. It has proven difficult for traditional TV SoC suppliers, who do not rely on an x86 CPU core, to develop software to enable a TV to perform PC-like tasks, such as web browsing.

Intel documentation provides a block diagram of their CE3100 TV SoC family. Coupled with “aggressive” pricing, Intel is on course to have a significant influence on the initially high-end TV and Set Top Box (STB) markets. Using the CE3100 family, devices such as the Apple TV, which currently uses a PC-like architecture, can carry a lower hardware component cost. In fact, the CE3100’s support for processing a broadcast digital Transport Stream (TS) enables support for features currently beyond Apple TV.

As well as building a new range of TV chips, Intel will provide much of the software infrastructure supporting a CE3100-based networked TV. For this, they have to combine networking and web processing software with traditional TV software (what the engineers call dual software stack operation). Intel press releases indicate that they have worked with Futarque on this task. Interestingly, Futarque also collaborated with AMD on active-TV technology STBs.

No matter how enthusiastic technologists and business analysts are about the potential of TV convergence, it s is not clear how much technology the TV user really wants. Maybe a 3D UI with Flash animation is not desired by many? Maybe something much simpler, such as the very successful MHEG5 deployment in Europe, will continue to satisfy most TV users? That said, MHEG5 may not be left behind: there are companies working to add Ethernet and social network support for simpler MHEG5 TVs. If the CE3100-derived TV remains open (like the PC browser, for example) then it will gain the attention of many software developers, who will experiment and find hybrid software combinations that meet with TV user approval. However, if TV OEMs close their TVs -- like the Apple TV -- to “monetize” all convergence features, then the uptake will be much slower.

Increasingly, efforts such as MHP, OCAP or tru2way appear dated before they even have their day-of-success in the market. Their inability to deliver acceptable software solutions has left the market open to the CE3100, which draws upon software with a proven PC history.

Both the Intel Viiv and AMD Live!-branded projects, promoted as supporting digital convergence, met with little success. Interestingly, as Intel finds a new way forward via an x86 based TV SoC, AMD announces it will sell to Broadcom the TV SoC business it acquired with the ATI merger. AMD’s analysis of digital convergence would appear quite different from Intel’s

Technically Speaking
Requests by the networked TV to access an Internet webpage or widget are sent to the home router; and then on via the router’s broadband connection to the webpage or widget server. A TV must process the webpage or widget when it arrives. This requires complex software, which has traditionally been incorporated into the PC’s browser. A TV based on the Intel CE3100 has an advantage when stepping-up to perform these complex software tasks.

The active-TV technology approach relies on the router handing off much of the software task to a proxy in the form of a networked home PC: It enables a TV SoC not equipped with an x86 processor to access a PC’s software processing advantage. The TV’s request is first processed by the PC assisting the TV, and then simplified data is sent by the PC proxy to the TV for display. Some TV developers may prefer this approach as it reduces the prospect of TV obsolesce. The TV “borrows” the PC’s browser in support of its Internet access. This reduces the task of maintaining the TV’s browser software. TV purchasers expect a 10 or greater-year lifespan from their TV, as they would like to avoid the 3 year replacement cycle of traditional PC ownership. Conversely, TV manufacturers likely feel differently and would like to shorten this lifecycle.

More than Networking
Pioneer, Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic and others have introduced TVs with network support. Sometimes they are described as DLNA- or UPnP-enabled TVs. These TVs can access photos, music or video stored on a PC, which are also connected to the home network. Partly due to lack of simplified standards, these TVs are often poorly equipped to access Internet broadcast video directly.

Using an approach similar to active-TV technology, these TVs can use PC assistance to gain access to Internet video. MediaMall, a supplier of active- TV technology components, has announced a Beta version of its PlayOn software. This software runs on a PC that then acts as a proxy for the TV trying to access broadband-delivered video. Typically, a PC is used to access video from Hulu, YouTube or the like. But by using PlayOn, a PC can forward the video to any TV within the home network. The PlayOn software greatly extends the usefulness of a “simple” networked TV. A user can completely control video search and viewing using the TV IR remote, without requiring any contact with the PC assisting the TV.

Active-TV technology is more advanced than PlayOn, as it enables the PC to serve as a proxy for the TV accessing TV-formatted web pages that likely contain Adobe Flash. However, using active-TV technology requires a TV with middleware support beyond DLNA-UPnP. The simpler PlayOn software works with existing DLNA or UPnP-enabled TVs. Similar DLNA-TV supporting software from TVersity has been widely used for much the same task (2 Million downloads). TVersity is currently a more mature product, with reviewers indicating that, “at the moment PlayOn’s list of supported devices is much smaller than TVersity’s”. However, PlayOn is at the Beta-release stage. Their initial support for only online services indicates a focus on premium video services (such as Hulu), versus local PC-stored media.

Don’t forget the game platforms
For some time now, game platforms such as the Xbox, Playsation and Wii have included network support. This has enabled them to offer limited access to Internet broadcast video. Powerful as these game platforms are, they are not equipped to access the Internet with a browser as up-to-date as those used by the PC. This restricts their use for TV-web browsing.

Interestingly, in an effort to extend its audience reach, the BBC recently introduced a website tailored for the limited Wii browser. This enables access to BBC’s iPlayer catch-up video service. But to deal with current Wii limitations, the BBC must serve-up the video in the older Flash 7 video format, rather than the more efficient H.264.

We can expect to see versions of TVesity and PlayOn which further extend the types and variety of game platforms able to access video. These will no doubt rely on a PC assisted approach. Unlike the BBC, the PlayOn team can’t change the format of the served-up video, but they can use a PC to massage the video into a format digestible by simpler devices. The PlayOn website already indicates there will shortly be an enhanced version of PlayOn for the Wii.

Also relating to game platform developments, BroadQ had been working on PC-assisted software for the Playstation 2 (PS2). Recent developments indicate they have shifted to a method wherein the PS2 can access Internet video directly over a network connection – no PC assistance is required. BroadQ’s PS2 software is developed in Lua , much like some Sony PSP applications. Reports indicate the Qtv-branded software can directly play Internet video in FLV, H.264 and DivX formats. To simplify the Qtv PS2 software, the system relies on an Internet-accessed BroadQ server. This should prove interesting competition to the Wii when used to similarly access internet broadcast video.

What next
There are other platforms that avoid using networked PC-assistance, by supporting only simplified browsing -- such as the Syabas Digital Media Player box. Their DMP (also know as the Popcorn Hour A-100) supports most of the CE-HMTL format. Several sites are available for use with the DMP. The sites are accessed via a Media Service Portal (MSP). Maybe it would be better to call them portal plug-ins rather than websites.

Observers of digital convergence can only be impressed by the relentless efforts applied to bring Internet technology or interactivity to the TV. The CE3100 TV SoC is Intel’s best effort yet to make the x86 CPU architecture affordable for deployment within new TVs. On the one hand, it leverages a software installed base that includes support for Adobe Flash and other vital video entertainment software building blocks; on the other, it requires a new set of tools (and perhaps complexity) traditional TV manufacturers are not familiar with, as well as somewhat higher initial costs and perhaps the risk that consumers are not ready to embrace ‘full-on’ Internet-broadcast TV. Moreover, it is not the only technology or approach available, and some of the incremental approaches (with or without ‘borrowing’ PC browser assistance), may be just as valid, at least in the short term.

We will have to wait and see how the roll-out of the CE3100 TV SoC affects the evolution of the TV convergence market. To be sure, there will be business pressures to use it in only closed system. In view of competing and perhaps equally compelling approaches, however, I suggest Intel will gain the most traction in the market if it offers an ‘open’ platform for any software developer wishing to reach the TV screen.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Monday, July 7, 2008

Google to support the living room TV

The Issue: Google and others want a role to play in support of the living room TV. But how are TVs developing such that Google can have a role.

Behind the scene: Most if not all TV manufacturers are developing models with network support. These UPnP TVs enable media to be transferred between the TV and other networked PCs, appliances and servers.

Solution: The likely next-step after adding UPnP networking is for TVs to support browsing of TV-formatted websites. The life expectancy of a TV is long. This is why a TV may have Ethernet built-in but wireless networking technology, which changes more frequently, is likely left to an external add-on. Will browser technology be built-in or will it be left to as an external support role.

Efforts to get the PC and TV to work together continue. There is a desire to have PCs, TVs and hand-held devices, cooperate with each other. But as reported by the Wharton Business School, it is proving difficult to develop solutions which gain broad market acceptance.

One solution which has emerged with broad acceptance is the inclusion of Universal Pug and Play, UPnP, in new networked TVs. Further evidence of this is Google’s recent announcement of a PC UPnP server – Google Media Server. As mentioned in the NYT, a key point in their announcement is: “Google can offer a hardware maker a very easy way to add Internet video capability to a television”.

The last100 blog reports the Google server “works in conjunction with Google’s desktop search application - Google Desktop - to locate various media (photos, music and video) stored on your PC and make it available for streaming over a home network to any UPnP compatible or DLNA ‘certified’ device, such as a PlayStation 3” or TV.

There are already plenty of PC UPnP servers available, so why is Google entering the game? The Google PC sever can process information about media - know as metadata - in interesting ways. This can remove the TV from the burden of organizing media. A PC user can search and arrange media which is later enjoyed at the TV.

The information provided by the Google UPnP server need not relate to only PC-stored media, but also include information about web-accessible media. Perhaps the PC server is only a piece of the Google plan. A TV accessing web-video could be assisted by the PC’s UPnP sever, and make use of the media information organized at the PC.

A TV connecting with a Google server via broadband to the home can use the existing YouTube video library API to access video directly via the TV’s internet connection. Of course a broadband connected TV could also access some other video severs’ video resource. If Google extended its API it could upload meta-data from the PC sever to a Google web-sever. A broadband connected TV could then make access to the media meta-data without requiring networked PC assistance.

In all cases, the UPnP TV User Interface (UI) is determined by local TV firmware and not sent over the network connection. The media may be sent to the TV over the network, but it is up to each TV manufacturer to decide how to present the media on the TV screen. A UPnP TV is a step forward but it is not equipping a TV with the browser capability of a PC; where PC-webpages are sent over the network and used to format the PC display. So what is the next step for the UPnP TV?

It is clear that TV owners want some things built-into their TV and some things left out. They don’t want a VCR built-in, they don’t want a DVD player built-in, they do want a digital broadcast tuner built-in. With next generation TVs, customers want home network support, including UPnP access to media held on a PC.

TV purchasers want to also view video and photos delivered over the web; But it is not clear if the web browser and its plug-ins should be built into the TV or supported by an external box of some kind. Maybe TVs will be built both ways. One clear option is to use an existing networked PC as the “external box” supplying the TV with browser support.

Internet video broadcasters and TV-website developers, should be required to build a single TV-oriented TV-website which works with, both, a TV using a built-in browser, or a TV using an external browser. In the same way a VCR tape works with a built-in player or external tape player.

Flash is the most widely used browser plug-in. It seems essential that a browser built into the TV must support Flash. However, embedded browser developers are still finding it hard to integrated Flash into a TV-sized browser. (Apple TV has the internals and cost structure of a PC, not a low-cost TV chip.) Until this task is accomplished, it is much easier to use active-TV technology to support the TV with an external browser which does have Flash support. In fact for some TV purchasers may continue to prefer this approach. We don’t yet know.

The recent Adobe announcement regarding removing licensing fees when embedding Flash into non-PC video play-back devices, will help ensure Flash as the next “standard” beyond UPnP. TVs and STBs using Flash and AJAX (web 2.0 technology) can accomplish much more than a TV only utilizing UPnP.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Please Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

BBC News channel restored, via RTMP support

The Issue: Web and internet technology are always advancing. PC users are familiar with getting software updates enabling support for the latest and greatest features. TV-website support for BBC News video was recently interrupted due to a BBC technology upgrade; but now service has been restored following some rapid PC-side software improvements.

Behind the scene: A TV intended to support internet video browsing must deal with the continual change in internet video broadcasting technology. This is much more difficult to achieve using low-cost embedded microprocessor technology than a PC. This leads to the temptation to tie a networked TV to a managed portal service. But who wants a TV than can’t ‘tune’ to any internet broadcaster’s ‘channel’.

Solution: Active-TV technology pushes the burden of supporting software complexity from the TV to the networked PC assisting the TV. This simplifies the task of keeping a networked TV updated with the latest features being used by an internet broadcaster. Importantly, this ensures a long and useful life for the networked TV.

There are several free-to-download TV-websites available at this blog. One of the most popular has been the BBC News channel. Recently and unexpectedly the BBC channel stopped working. This was a result of technical changes at the BBC. I am pleased to report that a new TV-website has been developed and living room TV access to the BBC video has been restored.

The BBC maintains RSS video feeds for access by internet users. The RSS information is in XML format and contains links to individual videos. After examining the XML document, the TV-website software selects an individual video and a request for transportation over the internet is sent to the BBC. Until recently, the BBC was ‘sending’ the video via a protocol known as HTTP, but now they are using Adobe’s RTMP protocol.

A number of other internet video broadcasters are also using RTMP, notably Hulu. Active-TV technology collaborator MediaMall has been working on a new Hulu TV-website – it was mentioned on their blog. To enable access to Hulu video (and other RTMP streaming) they constructed a software module supporting RTMP. Recently they have been offering this optional module to TV and Set-Top Box developers.

Networked TV and STB developers have been relying on UPnP communication stackware from a verity of suppliers. MediaMall has not been one of these suppliers. This was the case with D-Link, but in support of Hulu video, D-link will be incorporating MediaMall’s RTMP extensions into their PC-side software. (The RTMP video is translated into the familiar HTTP before being sent over the network to the DSM-520). This will be included in a larger software update soon to be issued for the D-Link DSM-520.

I have tested my new TV-website using an early version of the new software bundle. The TV-website makes HTTP formatted requests for RSS data, and RTMP formatted requests for individual videos. D-link undertakes their own testing and will release a version of the updated PC-side software from their PC-website. Those who feel they can’t wait can download the current beta version.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TV widget support update

I am working on additional TV widget support, but wanted to release the existing software. This will enable those using the TV-websites available from this blogsite to make use of the previously described TV widgets. I will eventually add widgets to each of the TV-websites listed under “Free TV-web channels”.

With widget support included in a TV-web channel, the Settings page offers a “YourMinis widget” menu entry, as shown below. The current 16x9 TV-web format has room for two widgets. The “widget 1” is positioned immediately below the 10-entry video list. The second widget, “widget 2”, is position to the right or left of widget 1, that is, just below the video still-image.

After setting one of the 3 menu entries to select a widget, the user should return from the Settings page to the Video Menu page. The available widgets will appear under the previously selected menu. These widgets are supplied from an RSS feed. I intend adding more widgets to the RSS feed.

Widgets can have a configuration value. For example the Weather widget requires a US postal zipcode. A box is provided for entering a new configuration value. Triple-tap of the TV IR remote is required when entering a new widget value, such as a zipcode. See the example below.

Each channel, or TV-website, can have its own widget selection. The user's preferred widgets, along with the widget configuration values, are stored as cookies. This ensures the selected widgets are restored each time a user returns to the same TV-website.
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yet Another Internet Set-Top Box

The Issue: The avalanche of “Internet-enabled STB” announcements shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Given the number of detractors let alone prior failures, what continues to compel their advocates?

Behind the scene: No widely accepted standard for TV-based Internet video browsing has yet emerged. Clearly, it makes sense to enlist game platforms -- many of which are already connected to the Internet -- to the task of video browsing. But what can be learned from such efforts, regarding the task of enabling Internet browsing for TVs in general?

Solution: After all else has been tried, it seems likely that the forces of ‘lowest cost’, ‘simplest maintenance’, ‘longest useful life’, ‘unrestricted operation’, ‘easiest installation’, ‘minimum development complexity’ and ‘most user features’ will decide what hardware will be used for Internet video browsing at the TV. Active-TV technology is well placed for a decision based on these criteria.

Blockbuster, Vudu, Netflix, TiVo, Apple TV, BuildingB are some of the better known US companies introducing a Set-Top Box (STB) to enable TV access to their Internet-delivered video. There are many lesser-known units, such as the Myka, which bring BitTorrent directly to a box connected to the TV. (The 80 GB-version Myka 80 costs $299 and the 500 GB-version costs $459 -- typical prices for such boxes.) The Apple TV at $229 is said to make little profit. One of the lowest cost media adapter boxes is the D-Link DSM-520, currently selling for $150 at Circuit City.

Why so many boxes? The answer lies in an Internet video broadcaster’s requirement for a box to support a “please use my portal!” strategy. With few exceptions, notably the D-Link DSM-520, these boxes do not support open Internet video browsing. Rather, they are the hardware underpinning for a “walled garden” approach, one that delivers video from the broadcaster’s video library to the TV watcher. The fact that all prior Internet-STB projects with similar business models have failed does not deter repeated optimism for releasing new hardware.

Home users in the US have shown significant reluctance to purchase of any new STB – even the easy-to-use Apple TV. The idea that a user may require one STB per Internet broadcaster seems less than practical. But the business models on trial are driven by a common ambition to be a dominant video supplier or ‘video aggregator’ with a single STB that everyone uses; to be sure, a bit like Apple’s hope that the Apple TV would be the “DVD player for the Internet age”.

Why a STB and not the TV
Closed portal strategies are tied to STB use. This is because integration of Internet browsing directly into TVs has even less appeal because TV buyers are least likely to buy a TV which can only ‘tune’ to a single Internet broadcaster. The latest generation TV system-on-a-chip (SOC) devices with networking support make it technically possible to integrate access to one of today’s portal services, but it is far from clear how the TV’s support firmware can be maintained over a TV’s expected lifespan (6 – 10 years).

A relatively easy and certainly inexpensive way to give a TV access to Internet video is to use a PC-assisted approach, such as active-TV technology. Once such a system is installed at home, it enables the TV to use the latest Web 2.0 methods to freely browse any video broadcaster’s TV-websites. Notwithstanding clear advantages, some new developers still ask me how to get rid of the PC from the system. I am familiar with the methods of achieving this. But they come with significant tradeoffs…

From both the buyer and manufacturer points of view, it is important not to add to the cost of the TV; and equally important not to add software maintenance issues to the TV. It is also important not to limit the useful life of the TV. Also, the TV UI must be sufficiently responsive to keep pace with both the requirements and expectations of users familiar with PC Web 2.0 technology. Moreover, it is important to ensure the TV will be able to browse new Internet video broadcaster sites for years to come. Can all of this be achieved if the PC-assist approach is replaced with new integrated-TV technology? Needless to say, these requirements result in conflicts.

Making the TV smart enough
The non-PC-assist approach is to embed a small browser engine into the TV. This adds some cost and complexity to the TV. The closer to full Web 2.0 support required, the greater the cost and complexity entailed. Additionally, Web 2.0 keeps developing, such that the "chase" never ends. Leaders in developing these small embedded browsers are Oregan Networks and Opera.

Despite the failure of Intel Viiv and AMD LIVE! to gain a significant ‘hold’ of the living room TV, Intel and AMD nevertheless have development projects, Kenmore and Bobcat respectively, to integrate a lower power x86 cores into a TV SOC. This is an old idea, based on the understanding that the necessary support software is more available for x86 than the types of core processors used in, say, TV SOCs from Sigma Designs or ST Micro. Will TV users demand browser support features which leave non-x86 TV chips at a disadvantage? Will even the embedded x86 TV chips be able to satisfy users familiar with the latest Web 2.0 features available on their PCs? The unassisted TV approach likely has some user appeal, but once a TV is connected into the home network, it is very easy for it to be without any competitive disadvantage in terms of video browsing support – the TV just has to ‘wake up’ a networked PC and put its browser on proxy duty.

Most of “ultimate Internet aggregation” STB or digital media adapter projects (including Apple TV) are based on x86 because of the software development problems. So far, potential buyers have indicated the resulting cost increase is too much. Printers, DVD players, hard disc recorders, home wireless networking and other peripheral devices, are best not built into the TV. Maybe Web 2.0 support (if that is what is required) should also not be built into the TV?

TV developers have told me it adds zero hardware cost to include active-TV technology with a new networked TV. The PC is a good peer-to-peer or BitTorrent engine. Torrent support can be relatively complex for direct integration into low-cost TVs. I can see that for some implementations it may be useful to have a TV torrent box such as the Myka, but how many consumers will think it worth more than $300 when there are zero-cost TV-websites with complete torrent download control available? Via these TV-websites and the home network, the TV can ask for PC-assistance in managing the torrent on its behalf.

Reaching a TV audience
Recently announced are the Adobe Media Player and Adobe TV, a video aggregation website which is brand skinable and has advertising support. Adobe says, “In a (technical) nutshell, Adobe Media Player is an RSS aggregator. It consumes standard Media RSS feeds to notify and deliver video content to users.” The RSS mashing part sounds a bit like TVersity or Orb.

While the Adobe Media Player is described as skinable, this does not extend its capabilities to supporting a TV-formatted website, where navigation is via the TV IR remote rather than a desktop mouse. The Adobe Media Payer may be billed as a “cross-platform desktop player”, but it does not appear intended to work with a small browser embedded into a TV or STB – Adobe is not (yet) trying to reach a living room TV audience. Their technology relies on the more extensive PC support features (Web 2.0) to perform its media-oriented UI and RSS aggregation services.

One company trying to bridge the divide and reach a living room audience is the BBC, which has launched Nintendo Wii support for its iPlayer TV catch-up site. Game platforms, such as the Wii and Sony Playstation, support small Internet browsers. This does not allow them to access typical PC-websites such as, since these sites make use of too much Web 2.0 technology or methods for the small browser to handle (Opera -- in the Wii case). The Wii can access websites which have reduced complexity and are tailored for the Wii – I think Nintendo calls them ‘Internet Channels’.

Maybe this is the future of Internet video browsing – the establishment of some simpler-formatted TV-website standard? However, there is also push to add widget support and social networking to TV-websites which conflicts with broad adoption of simpler standards. In any case, it is easy to see how the task of adding TV-website support into TVs will stretch TV developers – and they typically have less software development skills than game platform developers. In contrast, the active-TV technology approach results in relatively easy engineering tasks.

To dwell on the Wii’s Opera browser a little longer, it does not support the latest Flash video formats or permit access to video utilizing advanced encoding -- a big restriction to extensive browsing hopes. To get the iPlayer to work with the Wii the BBC has to re-encode its video library in the older Flash 7 format. Separately, Scendix Software, known for its development in MCE TV-web applications is also now retargeting some of its applications to the Wii. These carefully crafted projects will bring an audience to the Wii, but it is not clear if it will provide anytime soon a broadly accepted integrated-TV solution to Internet video browsing...

Escaping the PC?
On the BBC blog, I read Anthony Rose’s (head of digital media technology) comments: “Today, most people watch iPlayer programmes on their computer. That's great - you can watch your favourite BBC programmes curled up in bed with your notebook PC”. He goes on to suggest that it is easier to connect the Wii to the TV than a PC to the TV. This of course is true. But the harder task is connecting anything to the home network.

Any video browsing device must be connected to the home network, be it a Nintendo Wii, a networked-STB, or an active-TV technology-enabled TV. This is proving the hardest task for the home installer who typically prefers to use a wireless network rather than a high-speed wired connection. The option to utilize PC-assist is largely irrelevant to the complexities of this installation task. With few exceptions, a person installing a video browsing platform has already connected a PC or notebook computer to their home network – this is the path taken to reach any broadband service. Any network-enabled TV, therefore, is in a position to access personal media stored on other devices within the home network, including a PC. Given the existing reliance on the home network and attached PC, why not also ‘borrow’ the PC’s browser to help the TV with some Web 2.0 video browsing, in a way most likely invisible to the PC user?

In so doing, you can curl up in bed and watch Internet video on your new active-TV enabled TV (rather than the notebook PC), without ever thinking about TV browser upgrades or browser obsolesce. In other words, you can think of the PC-assist approach as similar to attaching a networked printer to the TV. The TV can be used without a ‘printer’, but it is sometimes useful to have it attached (for example, in the case of the attached PC, when Internet video browsing). In other words, the TV works without the networked PC, but when available, the TV can do so much. Best of all, this is accomplished without adding any hardware cost to the networked TV.

The market has not yet decided which approach is the "correct" solution. What portion of the market will use PC-assist? What portion will use an embedded STB browser? Will STB buyers accept ‘walled garden’ portals or demand open Internet browsing? To be sure, the PC-assist approach solves many problems for the TV supplier: it affords the lowest cost, provides for ‘tuning’ to any Internet video broadcast, and ensures the longest TV life – these seem like pretty compelling arguments to me.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Views and habits of the Amercian pay-TV consumer

The Issue: Will the lingering business models of the US Cable TV service providers be reapplied to the internet connected TV?

Solutions: With no broadly accepted solution to TV digital convergence, the Cable TV service providers are looking to expand their systems to satisfy their users’ demand for new digital services. They bring with them the business models of the US Cable TV industry.

Behind the scene: Active-TV technology combines the best of the TV industry (longevity, reliability, openness) with the best of the PC industry (computationally power, web 2.0 software technology, openness). By enabling the use of web 2.0 methods, active-TV technology is ideal for low-cost TV developers who wish to improve upon or circumvent US Cable TV business models.

Many analysts and developers anticipate mainstream TV users will have their TVs connected to the internet via residential broadband service, thereby enabling browsing of internet-delivered video or web pages formatted for the TV (i.e. TV-web). The success of the internet, added to US consumer familiarity with paying monthly fees for cable TV service, has contributed to speculation about what new revenue-generating services can be enabled by networked TVs.

An ABI Research report, “Pay-TV and the American Consumer” examines what new service may be offered (see "chart 1.6" below):

There seems much more desire to do a better job at “monetizing” (as the MBA’s say) the application of internet technology at the TV than was apparent when the PC first connected to the internet. For example: currently TV suppliers do not share in the revenue produced by video or ads consumed at the TV, they make their money from the retail purchase of the TV. Similarly, laptop computer suppliers don’t make any money from the owners’ viewing of advertising on webpages accessed by the laptop. However, there are some TV developers and US pay-TV suppliers, exploring how they can “share” in the video and ad revenue produced by an internet-connected TV.

PC and laptop users are already familiar with unrestricted PC-web browsing. However, to enforce these new monetizing strategies, it is usually suggested that the TV function with a portal service rather than have freedom to browse the internet. Video aggregators play a key role in the proposed portal strategy. These aggregators provide the video for the portal. If a networked TV is ‘locked’ to a portal then the TV supplier is in a good position to negotiate revenue sharing terms with the aggregator. The aggregator supplies the TV UI and hence via pre-run, or other display methods, is ideally able to also inject advertising.

Unproven is the TV buyer’s willingness to purchase a TV tied to portal service. Traditionally, a Set-Top Box (STB) could be tied to a particular service, but not a TV, which was expected to “tune” to any channel. Perhaps this is why Apple has not introduced an integrated Apple TV, assuming that like the current Apple TV box, the TV would be restricted in the internet URLs it could ‘tune-in’. Likely only Apple’s TV portal would be accessible (TV-web pages have a URL network address just like PC-web pages).

Turning to the ABI Research report: “Perhaps the truism that Chart 1.6 supports the most is that pay-TV providers have only a tenuous hold on the vast majority of their subscribers, and they are vulnerable to churn. Several respondents voiced their frustration with their service providers’ pricing. The following comments reflect customer discontent:

‘I feel that cable prices have become outrages.’ ” [ABI Research report]

The ABI analysts asked US TV users if they would pay for new features such as accessing email, communication features, interactive services, transferring content from a PC, viewing personal content, and much more. For example the report states, “an additional $20 might bring communications features such as instant messaging and the ability to read e-mail on the screen.” I think they mean for an additional $20 per month. I am surprised at their willingness to pay for TV features which are generally regarded as free when accessed from a PC or notebook computer. Possibly unknown to some of the survey responders is that today the purchase of an active-TV technology enabled box, such as the D-Link DSM-520, will bring many of these features and without the monthly fee. This is because the TV user is provided with unlocked web 2.0 technology.

All of the ABI suggested features can be enabled with widgets, Flash, HTML, AJAX and other familiar Web 2.0 methods; such as TV widgets which support social network communication at the TV. Given that TV developers are currently integrating active-TV technology which will shortly be available at retail, unless they all enable URL filtering, portal locking or some legal device, the TV purchaser will be able to choose a freer form of internet-video browsing and new TV feature selection. If my analysis is correct, the business models applied to the networked TV will be similar to those applied to the networked notebook computer rather than the US cable TV service.

The ABI report would be even more interesting if they had included in their survey questions about selecting new TV features via the monthly service fee STB-approach, versus the choose-your-own website laptop-approach. Some in the TV/STB industry suggest the TV user may prefer the familiarity and quality of the single TV UI provided by the closed portal service. They suggest the TV user will become confused and dissatisfied with the varying nature of websites. By that they mean PC-websites or TV-websites do not have to conform to any standards, anyone can build them and web 2.0 methods can be applied as desired by their developer and not the TV supplier. I look forward to what is produced by this chaos. I think the TV user will ultimately appreciate and benefit from this openness.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

French language internet-video for TV browsers

The Issue: Internet video browsing and viewing at the TV is particularly useful for those trying to access video from outside their geographical location.

Solutions: Several start-ups and established media companies around the world are distributing Internet video feeds viewable on the PC. Some also offer TV-web formatted video, while almost all offer RSS feeds, which can easily be accessed via a TV-web page. This makes it possible to reach a living room TV audience with vast amounts of Internet video, or reach any TV around the home for that matter.

Behind the scene:
Active-TV technology enables low-cost internet video browsing at the TV. With active-TV technology built into the TV, or integrated into a set-top conversion boxes, it is possible to access video channels from around the world.

Some developers have used the Windows Media Center (WMC) SDK during TV-website construction. The WMC SDK extends the familiar website development software with the addition of the MediaCenter Object. The methods or procedures supported by the MediaCenter Object provide controls for playing media on a networked TV. The PC’s browser uses the extensions provided by the MediaCenter Object to correctly process TV-websites features which do not appear in PC-websites. Microsoft initially supplied the MediaCenter Object with the MCE PC. Media Mall provides an alternative yet compatible MediaCenter Object, which can be used with Windows XP or any Extended-PC using a recent version of Windows.

Below is an image of a TV-website from the BBC. The TV-website software makes use of the MediaCenter Object. The BBC site can be accessed by any active-TV technology enabled TV or STB, such as the D-Link DSM-520, via use of the Media Mall-supplied extensions to the supporting PC’s browser.

Using a different approach, a great many internet-video broadcasters are making use of RSS to distribute their video. There is growing demand for reaching a networked TV audience around the home via RSS distribution. This demand is partly satisfied by tools such a TVersity. But there is also interest in a quick way of ‘converting’ RSS feeds to a TV-web page which already contains the necessary MediaCenter Object support. The active-TV technology blogspot has been providing template code for accomplishing this.

The French language site WAT (avec TF1 networks) has a range of interesting videos grouped into themes. Members can produce their own playlists, but unfortunately (unlike YouTube) there is no RSS feed for playlists. The TV-web version of WAT along with other TV-web channels are available for download. Below is a 4x3 TV image of the WAT channel.

BBC News also produces a generic RSS video feed. Below is a 16x9 image of the TV-web channel providing access to the BBC News feeds. The BBC channel and the WAT channel are accessible on any TV.

The examples above are merely demonstrations of what is already possible. Browsing TV-web format sites, or channels, from the TV is just ‘taking off’. Active-TV technology is just one method being developed to accomplishing this; but it is in operation now, is based on open standards, and has little impact on TV cost or stability.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Social Networking and other Widgets delivered to the TV

The Issue: Widget use on the TV has become an increasingly popular topic. Constructing mini-programs in the form of “widget” chunks allows a user to select and assemble them according to individual preferences.

Solutions: There are several companies offering tools for widget construction. These tools make it easy to use the same widget on the PC desktop, website, social networking homepage or other location. Now these same widgets, when appropriate, can be used on the big TV screen by embedding them into a TV-web page.

Behind the scene: Active-TV technology delivers web 2.0 methods to the TV without requiring that a PC be embedded into the TV. This way, the TV remains an inexpensive, low maintenance, and long lived device; and by making use of a PC somewhere on the home network, widgets and other web technology are made fully available to the TV user.

In the past, widgets have been available to those TV users who connect their TV to the video-out port on their PC. But there has been little demand for a PC in the living room and hence little widget presence on the TV to date. Active-TV technology uses a PC-assisted approach to enable internet video browsing at the TV. Working with the yourminis company (recently acquired by AOL), I have enabled their widgets to appear on the TV browser and therefore on the TV. For example, see the bottom images (for weather and time) on a YouTube TV-web site (or internet video channel) below.

I have expanded the menu system to gain access to an RSS feed for widgets. Yourminis already has RSS feeds for widgets, but I had to expand these feeds to support embedding the widgets into TV-web channels. This is because there is no one currently serving TV home pages - A TV home page is a bit like Google’s a iGoogle PC home page, but for the TV. Yourminis supports embedding widgets into iGoogle, but there is no equivalent mechanism for embedding them into a TV-web page.

This problem is solved via a TV-web page having access to an RSS feed for widgets. Any personalization of the widget, such as colour, time zone or address codes, is stored in the form of cookies associated with the widget. As shown below, the menu normally used for video or photo access is also used for widget selection.

Widget information is available for preview before widget selection, as shown below.

The menu “Settings” page is used to select the widget RSS feed. In the example below, menu entry 3 is used to select yourminis widgets for screen position “widget 1”. This mechanism enables different widgets to be positioned at each widget location. Because each family member can have their own TV-web page setup, each user can have their own widget preferences, based on relevant cookies.

Navigation of the PC-web is via the TV IR remote, not the keyboard of mouse used by PC-web pages. Widgets which require keyboard or mouse interaction are not appropriate for TV-web use. Widgets also have to be larger and clearer, in case they are used by a TV with simple composite video cabling rather than high resolution video using an HDMI cable.

Video channels or individual videos can have click-to-view video advertising links; this is also true for widgets. Not released yet are widgets which interact with the menu system, such as a widget which supports “yes” or “no” voting, or other selective feedback to a video supplier or advertiser. Using the TV IR remote, a user can send a response via the TV’s internet return path.

Widgets associated with social networking interact with PC-web widgets and also support social network communication. One combination is using a laptop PC in the same room as the TV. A TV-web widget can receive messages, but without the support of a keyboard, its response is limited.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adding a Video RSS feed or Torrent-Video to TV-web Browser

The Issue: Turning an RSS video feed, or a feed for torrent-based videos into a TV-web page for browsing at the TV has been made easy. In the interest of keeping up with the demand for new channels, the notes below provide a step-by-step implementation guide for the engineer with some JavaScript knowledge.

Solutions: The example code is available for download. When you complete a new TV-web channel and publish it, send me a link so I can help spread the word.

Behind the scene: The growing use of RSS distribution for video via torrents or streaming can be easily expanded from PC users to TV viewers. In hardware terms, what is needed is a TV that supports browsing of TV-formatted web, i.e. TV-web. An active-TV technology enabled TV or Set-Top Box is just one such device.

If you are not interested in torrent support, skip the following section and start reading from the Adding an RSS Feed section.

Configuring uTorrent Support
(Please see updated blog entry on this topic) uTorrent is a tiny bittorrent client-engine for the PC. The uTorrent TV-web page contains JavaScript which communicates with the uTorrent software running on a networked PC. If, for some reason, the TV-web page can’t communicate with the uTorrent software, then the message below appears on the TV. This usually indicates that the uTorrent engine has not been started before the TV-web page was accessed. (Before using the bittorrent TV-web page, uTorrent should be downloaded and installed on the supporting PC.)

There may be other reasons the TV-web page can’t successfully communicate with the torrent engine and require a little diagnostic work. The uTorrent software can be controlled via a browser interface. This enables remote browser access to a PC running uTorrent. The uTorrent “Preferences” must be correctly configured for this to work. The remote TV-web page assumes the “incoming connection” is set to the default port, 12060. See the setup option below.

The uTorrent Web UI interface enables remote login to the torrent PC. The remote login ID must be set to “active-TV” with password “pass”. This is the initial password. It can be changed to your own preference; however, make sure the ID on the uTorrent TV-web Settings page is set to the same value.

After a torrent is complete, uTorrent can move the downloaded files to a “completion directory”. The TV-web software does not care if this option is used, or what directory is identified, but it is best to use a directory which is accessible by one the media servers used by the system.

Media Servers currently popular with active-TV technology are provided by D-Link, TVersity, Microsoft and Media Mall. The D-Link server is included in basic install-software for the DSM-520. It enables access to a networked PC’s file system. The server software on the PC must be set to indicate what part of the file system is to be shared with the DSM-520. Use of the D-Link server does not require active-TV software to be in use by the DSM-520.

Similar to the D-Link server, the TVersity server can also work with the basic UPnP-DLNA services of the DSM-520 or other networked media players. This means the TVersity server can give a networked TV access to the PC file system without active-TV support software running on the PC or TV. Additionally, TVersity can give a basic UPnP device access to RSS feeds; But in this case the TV UI is determined by the local device and not by an associated TV-web page. However, TVersity also has an active-TV conforming TV-web page which supports access to the PC file system, but this time via a TVersity TV-web page.

The MediaMall server is another option when remotely accessing the PC file system. In this case there are only TV-web page interfaces to the PC’s file system. These are found under the “More Programs” – “My video”, “My Music” and “My Photos”.

PC media servers are programmed to scan the shared portion of the file system at regular intervals. In this way they find changes to the file system and the arrival of new files to be shared. After a torrent download has completed it is not available at the TV until after the next media server “scan”. When doing so, the uTorrent TV-web page ‘asks’ the torrent engine for the location of the completed torrent. In this way the torrented video is immediately available for viewing via access from the uTorrent TV-web page.

Take care with the access permission applied to torrented files. The DSM-520 logs into the PC just like any other PC user. If a torrent is started from a TV-web page, then downloaded files may have access restrictions imposed on other PC login IDs.

Adding an RSS Feed
The uTorrent TV-web channel, or any RSS- fed TV-web page, has a link to a setup page, partially shown below. Each of the 3 menu entries consists of a left or A-part, which generally selects the torrent or video source. The right or B-part is used for further selection from within the chosen A-part source. Those planning on extending RSS video or torrent feeds must know how to make the simple changes to the HTML file for the channel’s TV-web page.

For the menu-3 entry above, the source is “BitTorrent” and the sub selection is “TV”. The list of possible entries for A-part selection is defined by the Torrent_A array in the uTorrent_16x9.htm file. To add a new A-part entry, corresponding to a new RSS feed, a new identification-string must be included in the Torrent_A array

var Torrent_A = new Array("Democracy Now", "torrents”, "BitTorrent");

The support software calls the getMenuB() function to determine the possible B-part selection – given a chosen A-part. This function must be expanded to include any new RSS feed. The getMenuB() function need only return an array of part-B options; such as returning the array BitTorrent_B shown below.

function getMenuB( A_choice) {
if (A_choice == "BitTorrent") {
return BitTorrent_B;

var BitTorrent_B = new Array("TV", "Movies");

Once a user of the settings page completes final selection for each of the 3 menu entries, the setAB() function is called to establish the RSS URLs to be used with each menu entry. Adding a new RSS feed would require corresponding expansion of the setAB() function. The logic is quite simple, as shown below.

function setAB( column, A_choice, B_choice) {
if (A_choice == "BitTorrent"){
if(B_choice == "TV" ) {
column_url[column -1] = "";
else if(B_choice == "Movies" ) {
column_url[column -1] = "";

Parsing the RSS Video Feed
Using the RSS feed’s URL, an XML documented is downloaded from the RSS server. To study an XML layout, it can be saved to the PC as an ..xml file and examined by opening with Microsoft’s IE7 browser. There are differences between the formatting of each RSS feed. But typically, each video entry in the XML table or listing looks like the example below. In this case the start of each video entry is marked with the <item> tag. The “Willie Nelson” entry below is from an RSS feed from

- < item>
< title>Willie Nelson: Austin City Limits< /title>
< link>< /link>
<>Songwriting legend (and biodiesel proponent) Willie Nelson performs live at the Austin City Limits.< /description>
< pubdate>Tue, 08 May 2007 22:17:28 -0000< /pubdate>
< comments>Seeders:0 Downloaders:0< /comments>
< enclosure url="" length="38718489" type="application/x-bittorrent">
< /item>

The TV-web page’s support code uses JavaScript to exact the relevant date for each video entry. The fillVideoArray() function is used for this task. It must be expanded to include support for passing a new RSS feed.

function fillVideoArray ( column, first_video, quantity) {
if(menuAB[column -1].A_choice == "torrents" ) {
return torrentsFillVideoArray(column, first_video, quantity);
else if( menuAB[column -1].A_choice =="BitTorrent") {
return bitTorrentFillVideoArray(column, first_video, quantity);

The fillVideoArray() function is used to produce an array of menuEntry , know as the Video array. Each entry has a title, description, rating and so on. All that is required is ‘walking’ thought each XML entry and extracting the relevant data for entry into the Video array.

function menuEntry ()

The essential part of the parse routine is below. There are two important routines to understand: getElementsByTagName() and getAttribute(). For example, the tag-name “enclosure” contains the URL for the video. Some tag-names don’t have attributes and getElementsByTagname() is used alone to access the required Video entry – such as “title” in the example. In the case of the video URL, the URL is an attribute of the “enclosure” tag. This requires use of the getAttribute() to exact the URL data.

video_index =0;
for (var i=0; i<(xmlElement.length + skip) & video_index < entryitem =" xmlElement[i];" image = "BitTorrent.png" rating=" 0.0;" titleitem =" entryItem.getElementsByTagName(" title =" titleItem[0].text;" descriptionitem =" entryItem.getElementsByTagName(" description =" descriptionItem[0].text;" enclosureitem =" entryItem.getElementsByTagName(" duration =" Math.floor(" url = "torrent@" dateitem =" entryItem.getElementsByTagName(" date =" dateItem[0].text;" date =" date.substr(0,">

Note in the above example there is no per-video image data or rating. In such case an empty string ( “” ) or 0.0 value can be used for the corresponding Video entry, or some more useful value can be created or inserted. The “duration” entry has been filled with the size of the torrent file, this entry normally contains a string indicating the run-time of the video. It is important to note that in this bittorrent example the video URL has the string “torrent@” prepended. This is only required for torrent videos. When parsing an RSS feed for normally streamed video, which are to be viewed immediately, “torent@” should not be added to the video URL.

The TV-web is used to display the Video array information for each video menu entry. The image above shows the information extracted for the “Willie Nelson” example.

With menu settings: “torrent” – “active torrents”, information about the progression of video torrents is reported. This is only provided for torrents containing video or other media file. It is possible to torrent, say, an .exe file; but the torrent progress would not be reported, as the file is not for TV access. So, perhaps RSS filtering above should exclude .exe files.

As this proof-of-concept is further developed, more features and support for additional torrent engines will likely be added. For now, however, it has been proven that torrents listings can be viewed, selected, download and watched -- all from the TV, a welcome step towards making the pleasures and ease of 'catch-up TV' viewing, heretofore only available on the PC, now available directly on the TV. The steps outlined above, show how to add addition RSS video sources to a TV’s channel listings.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How many TVs in a home network can simultaneously surf internet video

The Issue: Internet video viewing is popular with PC users. As active-TV technology brings viewing to the livening room TV, what limitations may be imposed on simultaneous video access around the home?

Solutions: Active-TV technology pushes the software support burden onto a networked PC, so as to mostly eliminate the cost and maintenance burden at each TV. Synchromesh Computing has benchmarked the load the TVs place on the supporting PC. Processing TV-web requires the support of complex software, but the processor burden is typical very small.

Behind the scene: As TV System-on-Chip (Soc) devices offer increasing support for advanced video codecs, it is clear that the most restrictive component of an active-TV technology home-network is the broadband service to the home. Currently, the PC can be used to transcode non-native video into a format decodable at the TV. Support for this feature appears to be the biggest processor burden placed on the supporting PC.

Synchromesh Computing used a system of up to 5 D-Link DSM-520 Digital Media Adapters (DMA). They were connected by wire to a home router. The home PC or laptop was also connected to the router, but by either a wire or 802.11g wireless connection. Each of the active-TV enabled TVs was simultaneously viewing YouTube video. Synchromesh told me that they did not think wirelessly connecting all of the DSM-520s would effect YouTube viewing at the TV. They did not test a completely wireless network as their primary interest was in determining the load on the home PC or laptop rather than the home network.

Three different PC systems were used for the test (see table below). These supported greatly different computational power levels.

The test was to determine if the PC had the computational power to support all of the 5 TVs, or some reduced number. Technically it is possible to support more than 5 TVs, but an upper limit of 5 seems adequate for home use.

The chart below shows the number of active-TV technology clients (D-link DSM-520) supported by a PC using Windows XP, while the PC assisting the TVs is also being used simultaneously to surf the web and view YouTube video.

( © Synchromesh Computing )

The chart below shows the number of active-TV technology clients (D-link DSM-520) supported by a PC using Windows Vista, while the PC is assisting the TVs and is simultaneously being used to surf the web and view YouTube video.

( © Synchromesh Computing )

The results indicate that a dual-core PC or Laptop computer can support 5 TVs while still being used to browse the web. A single-core low-end PC restricts the number of TVs supported to 1 or 2, depending on the PC operating system on type of home network used.

The use of YouTube video is interesting as it is currently available in Adobe Flash video (FLV) or H.264. Neither of these are natively decoded by the DSM-520. In the benchmark case, the video was accessed in FLV and transcoded to MPEG2. The use of MPEG2 results in relatively high bandwidth consumption but good video quality.

When the internet video is available such that no video transcode is required, then the burden on the PC is obviously dramatically reduced or eliminated in terms of the video trancode load imposed. This will increasingly be the case, but for now, it is good that the PC can ensure that the TV user is not restricted.

But what if the PC user is placing a heavy load of the PC’s CPU, such as running a complex game. How does this limit the TV’s ability to access YouTube? The chart below shows the number of active-TV technology clients (D-link DSM-520) supported by a PC using Windows XP, while the PC assisting the TVs is simultaneously used to play World of Warcraft – a 3D PC game.

( © Synchromesh Computing )

The results indicate that when playing a complex game, a low-end dual-core PC is only able to “spare” enough “CPU-cycles” to support 3 or 4 TVs requiring YouTube-quality video transcode. As with the lightly loaded PC tests, a high-end dual core PC is able to support 5 TVs -- even when it is heavily loaded with other activity.

The results are interesting to the engineer. But in practice, unless you have a relatively old or slow PC, the biggest restriction imposed on multiple TV access to internet video is the bandwidth available through the home connection. “Better quality” internet video can use more than 0.7MBps of bandwidth. Supporting 5 channels might require 3.5MBps bandwidth; which is certainly more bandwidth than currently available to many home users in the US. It would be best to first test your ISP bandwidth to determine if it has the capacity to support so much TV-web browsing.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Monday, January 28, 2008

Complete torrent control from living room TV

The Issue: Outspoken industry experts report that internet-delivered video to the living room TV is in desperate need of platforms which are open, low-cost and conform to a standard. Are such platforms technically possible? And who are the winners and losers if such an objective was achieved?

Solutions: Dominance in the delivery of video and advertising to a living room TV audience is such a great price, that many are reluctant to collaborate for fear of reducing their share of such a prize. As well as an uncooperative business environment, there are software-complexities and hardware-cost obstacles that prevent the emergence of open-platform solutions.

Behind the scene: The PC, with its browser support, has set a standard for open PC-web development. Using networked PC-assistance, the existing and open software infrastructure can continue to support open access to TV-web. Via technologies such as active-TV, a TV can be free to openly browse TV-websites, including those with supporting the latest Web 2.0 features. This is achieved while adding minimal cost to the TV and without burdening it with maintenance or feature-longevity complexities. Moreover, this approach produces a much more interesting experience for users than more expensive and un-assisted TVs, which have less Web 2.0 support and are tied to business deals involving limited video portal access.

An industry problem ?
No doubt you have been following recent announcements from Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp,and likely others, that they will add access to internet video on new networked TVs – sometime in the first half of 2008. Many reporters are now saying 2008 will be the year in which Internet-delivered video reaches a large living room TV audience.

The technical approach by and large involves integrating support software to enable the TV to access a video supplier’s portal or tailored RSS feeds. This portal styled approach, however, does not enable the TV to access any video feed or even easily keep pace with the rapid changes in web technology. Maybe these TV suppliers are hoping customers will just buy another TV when they all too quickly discover that the features supported by their TV's integrated software are increasingly inferior to next month’s model...

The problem of building a STB or TV capable of dealing with all Internet video sources and variants was recently discussed by Amino’s marketing VP (the number one supplier in IPTV boxes): “... Simply offering our boxes in retail wouldn't work: there's just not enough consistency and standardization out there to make doing that a proposition that would be satisfying to consumers”. Note that the lack of standardization is not a problem for the PC, which has the support software to deal with it; it is a problem for a low-cost, low-maintenance and longer-life TV.

Jeremy Allaire and Adam Berrey of Brightcove, have published an open letter to the CE industry requesting a joint effort to bring standards to internet TV appliances. The letter states: “An even greater limitation than complexity is the fact that today's strategies are fundamentally closed”. They go on to say:

Each device has a different set of standards and requirements for using online video content, so there is no consistency of formats and user experience.
Most devices don't provide open access to any video service that is hosted on the open Web, and instead require direct deals and relationships with the device vendor.
Related to the above, none of these devices offer a simple and open development model for web service developers to create and deliver custom content and services.

Unlike the PC-based web and the mobile-web, which are both built on open standards, the consumer electronics ecosystem offers no consistent set of open standards for online media to reach televisions. [end quote]

The letter proposes some very good solutions, such as standardizing on an XML format for video RSS feeds. But without a dominant TV hardware platform leading the way via an all-pervasive application software standard, there is no coordinated effort to date to build a TV software infrastructure conforming to a single standard.

Consequently, likely accompanying each of the new networked TVs or networked Set-Top Boxes (STB) is a Software Development Kit (SDK), which application developers would have to use to build video portal interfaces or screen widgets. Given the endless possibilities for variants, this is likely to add 'SDK fatigue' to the growing DMA fatigue.

CE developers don’t feel equipped to take on an effort to drive some kind of Web 2.0 technology standard for the TV. The task is difficult, to be sure. Comparable projects from Microsoft, Intel Viiv and AMD Live!, have all met with failure. There are also large differences in the capabilities of TV Systems-on-a-Chip (SoC) used in the CE industry. It would certainly be possible to build a standard around something like Apple TV, given that it is basically a headless PC without the problems of the Windows operating system. However, a $15 TV SoC cannot replicate the software support of an Apple TV. If this were possible, the market would be awash with $15 integrated-PC browser systems. I could suggest that the home PC user would greatly appreciate such a device, but the PC industry is not yet capable not interested in supplying such a solution.

Maybe the networked TV buyer must factor in a low-end, PC-like cost adder to their TV purchase or be content with the meager video offerings and low-end features available in first-generation networked TVs? Buyer’s enthusiasm for adding, say, $250 to a TV appears weak. Hence, the recent Apple TV price reduction from $299 to $230. Sharp has suggested it will charge $200 more for its networked TV models, which have limited portal support. Maybe Apple will offer Apple TV integrated into a TV, once it clears unsold Apple TVs. This may motivate an industry response, but it is not the establishment of a standard...

The Brigtcove letter states that “closed” is a greater limitation than “complexity”. I think “complexity” refers to system configuration and maintenance rather than cost. I am not sure I agree with this part of an otherwise excellent letter. The PC-in the living room was an open solution, but more significant to its downfall than 'too-much-noise' or 'too-much-cost', was 'too-much-maintenance support'!

Web 2.0 technology for PC-web continues to develop rapidly, with new 'must-have' features continually emerging. We should expect web 2.0 support for the TV to show a similar development pattern. It is hard enough, maybe impossible. for the CE industry to standardize on a reduced set of Web 2.0 features, all supported by a $15 TV SoC today; it would be even more difficult to keep pace with PC-web 2.0 developments, without the added hassle of TV maintenance and compatibility problems.

I think an unalterable requirement for TV buyers is reliability and 'zero TV maintenance'. New TV buyers might be prepared to reconfigure their file sever or home network router, once; but they are not willing to maintain TV plug-ins and drivers. It would remind them too much of their Windows PC. They may have accepted the maintenance cost of PC-web access, but they don’t want to double this burden by adding similar PC-like TV maintenance.

I submit that active-TV technology frees a TV from dealing with the lack of simple Internet-video and Web 2.0 standards. Via PC-assistance, a networked TV presents web pages formatted for the TV. These TV-web pages (or channels) are easy to build and can come from a great many sources. The system is flexible, easily upgradeable, maintains TV reliability, is universally accessible and keeps the TV-side costs down. By maintaining a PC’s access to TV-web, a networked TV user can utilize this cost-effective resource to support browsing of TV-web.

A networked TV connects to the internet via a home router or gateway. A home PC also connects to the internet via the same router. Active-TV technology requires a PC be left in standby mode, in case it receives a request from the TV, via the home router, for temporary assistance in processing Web 2.0 software. The energy costs of keeping the PC in standby mode are less than the energy costs of a large plasma or LCD TV. Anyway, the PC may be simultaneously and invisibly used by another person who is also accessing TV-web or PC-web pages or channels.

Internet Video Broadcaster support
DivX officially launched its active-TV technology-styled “DivX-Connected" DMA at CES 2008, having first seen demand for this product in Europe. With the goal of continuing to expanding support beyond Stage6, DivX announced that they will add video from the popular Internet Broadcaster Veoh. Not surprisingly, there is already an active-TV technology supported TV-web channel for Veoh (see below).

Clearly, Veoh is showing enthusiasm for reaching the living room TV on platforms other than the living room PC. However, if TV manufacturers continue along a 'please-use-my-SDK path', then a video broadcaster’s ability to reach a living room audience will be constrained. This may result in a shake-out of internet video broadcasters.

As internet video providers are under pressure to make money from PC-web or TV access, the greater freedom of PC-web access may not be easily translated to TV access. For example, YouTube may allow free access to its PC-website, but it may become more restrictive in granting a standalone-TV access to its video. YouTube and other Internet broadcasters may prefer a TV portal to an open TV-website. This would enable them to better control deals with TV builders and advertisers, and monetize their video on TV. If this is the case, the industry would not be driven in the 'open' direction proposed in the Brightcove letter; instead, the establishment of open TV-web browsing -- similar to PC-web browsing -- using technology such as active-TV, would be delayed.

It is easy to build a TV-website or channel using familiar PC-web browser technology: HTML, Javascript and Flash. Below is an example: a TV image of a TV-web channel for videos available through Internet video broadcaster, ROO. The video menu shows three options: “World News”, “Travel Europe” and “Entertainment News”. These are selected from the ROO “setting”s page, which offers about 170 menu choices. The video, like Veoh video, is of a much higher visual quality than YouTube video.

The advocates of a standalone TV approach, that is a TV operating without any PC assistance, do not expect the TV to replace all PC-web functions. They don’t expect triple-tap entry via the TV remote to be used to search for and organize all video. Everyone agrees that this is still a job for the PC. This is similar to managing an Apple iPod from its iTunes PC or Mac interface.

Networked TVs will also have to solve the problem of filtering video for ‘family’ viewing. Many parents will not allow their kids to use a networked TV to freely search and access video from YouTube. It is easier to define video search criteria, manage video playlists, and control video filtering from the PC than a simpler networked TV. This better enables the user to enjoy the relevant video at the TV without continual interruption and excessive TV interactivity.

I think portal restrictions, lack of open internet-video access, and failure to keep up with the latest Web 2.0 technology experienced on the PC, will prevent first generation stand-alone networked TVs from widespread adoption.

TV access to shared photos
Several of the networked TV announcements indicated they would have support for internet photo sharing. One such popular site is Google’s Picasa. A prototype TV-web channel for Picasa has already been built. There is a menu button which enables photos to be viewed full-screen in a slideshow sequence. The familiarity and productivity of TV-web or TV-web development tools greatly simplify this kind of development. It will be hard to for an array of TV SDK users to keep pace with TV-web development.

For those less familiar with Picasa, the PC-website below is used to upload photos for sharing with other web users.

Using the menu-settings page of the Picasa TV-web channel (see below), a photo album can be selected. A user must first enter a Picasa User ID (this is stored for future use). Photos can be viewed individually, or as a slide show. This is a great way for a PC user to “send” photos for someone else to view on their internet connected TV.

Torrenting from the TV
Another industry leader, the BBC’s Ashley Highfield, has also been blogging about the lack of industry standards. Like Brightcove he is hoping for “a simple, elegant, cheap, open standards box, that easily allows streamed or downloaded, free, rented, or bought programmes”. Importantly, the “cheap” requirement has not been overlooked.

Maybe the networked TV user does not need the Web 2.0 features of PC-web. If this is the case, then when the business conflicts are finally resolved, the industry can provide a cheap solution. Maybe TV users will step-up to paying the additional cost of Apple TV-like hardware. However, there has been strong evidence indicating that they are not yet ready for this expense. If Web 2.0 is required at the TV, then the problems of unwanted hardware cost, too much TV maintenance and networked-TV feature-longevity, are all resolved by using a PC-assisted approach.

The Highfield blog goes on to say, “mentioning this to a very tech savvy colleague this morning, he replied that he downloaded programmes through BBC iPlayer [on a PC], stripped the DRM (hence his anonymity!), re-encoded the file, burned it to DVD from his PC, then took it to his DVD player connected to his TV in the lounge. Hardly a solution for my mum either.”

It is quite easy for active-TV technology to greatly simply the practical steps being taken by Ashley’s “tech savvy colleague”. No doubt there are a great many PC-web users who torrent (peer-to-peer transfer) video to their home PC. This video is typically provided in MPEG4 variants such as DivX. If the user does not own a MPEG-4 enabled DVD player, they mostly transcode the video to MPEG-2 format for playing on a ‘normal’ DVD player. The whole process of going to the PC to initiate a torrent (P2P), transcoding the video, writing a disc and 'sneaker-netting' it to the living room DVD player can be replaced by a simple TV-web site which supports torrents.

I have built support for the popular uTorrent engine into a demonstration TV-web channel. Now using only the IR remote of an active-TV enabled TV or STB, such as the D-Link DSM520, I can control all the necessary steps from the TV, without ever visiting the PC.

For demonstration, I added support for video torrents offered by and The torrents are provided by RSS feeds. BitTorrent has feeds for “TV” or “Movies”. This explains the “TV” entry in the menu entry below. Selecting the “Amy Goodman” menu entry, enables selection of “Democracy Now” news and analysis programs.

By simply clicking on the “Willie Nelson” menu entry at the TV, the networked PC-assisted TV will start the associated torrent.

Using the “active torrents” menu entry, it is possible to manage torrents and monitor their progress. Not shown are additional menu entries for pausing, restarting and removing completed torrents. As torrents progress, their percentage-completion is reported. Below is a snap-shot of a torrent for the 'Democracy Now' show from January 23. When “100% download'” is reached, the show is available for viewing. The “share ratio” refers to the torrents upload-to-download ration. Naturally, it is possible to have several torrents running at the same time and at different stages of completion.

So there we have complete torrent access by a living room TV, without ever visiting the PC or having a PC attached to the TV. There is no need to write an intermediate DVD. This is accomplished without adding complexity and cost to the TV as it relies on networked PC assistance. Conveniently, if a torrent is alternatively started from the PC via PC-web selection, it is still reported and monitored on the TV-web page. Interestingly, the '”Democracy Now” video is in H.264. The D-link DSM-520 supports DivX but does not natively support H.264; however, the PC invisibly transcodes the video before sending it to the TV for viewing. Another benefit of PC-assist,

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann