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Olivier Ezratty, one of France's top TV technology bloggers and digital media consultants has penned an excellent piece on France's first broadcast of HbbTV - and was fortunate to be invited to the first live demo of HbbTV and the new technical infrastructure for the platform of France Télévision. This first 'test' using HbbTV at Roland Garros was rapidly put into place in a mere three weeks with various partners pushing hard to make the first real step with the new platform.
Somewhat similar to the Red Button services in the UK, HbbTV in France uses a single button to allow for enhanced viewing, data, and interactivity on new internet-connected, HbbTV-capable TVs in the market from Sony, Samsung, Philips, LG Electronics, Loewe, Panasonic, Toshiba as well as (soon) Chinese Haier models (Vestel) as well as from manufacturers of set-top box and satellite such as TNT and Humax.
According to Ezratty:
User side, it allows a single button on a TV remote compatible HbbTV access to a "dress up" the program you are watching with associated interactive content. It's the red button for the remote LG below. Knowing that a small pop-up logo will be displayed on the image of the program to indicate service availability HbbTV the current program.
Ezratty also gives some solid insight into the architecture:
Demonstration of Roland Garros (Images from Olivier Ezratty)
The demonstration at Roland Garros is very appropriate to the new service - noting it was easy to obtain information about the current match with the broadcast stream being resized and narrowed to allow augmented data display around the image (below).
We can then browse the list of players of the tournament:
Learn more about a player or a player, both generally and in the context of the competition at Roland Garros
We can go to a news feed via an RSS stream, repackaged for the program:
Get the layout table of the tournament matches:
Watch a slide show of players:
See excerpts from videos of matches:
And even watch in 3D (even though France is not making much 3DTV at the moment). If the speed of your Internet connection permits!
The TV channel can also run online surveys:
The choice of Roland Garros to start testing the HbbTV is entirely appropriate because it is the very type of TV program for which access to information is relevant and for the full duration of the program. If only because at the beginning of the tournament, there are up to seven games in parallel in the playoffs.
Here's the architecture diagram for the project:
Click here for full image.
The editorial workflow of HbbTV required for creating pages for the screens shots above was directed by appmarket.tv's old friends at WizTiVi - headed by WizTiVi president Daniel Scolan and technically by CTO Jean-Noel Gadreau - whom we refer to as one of the Godfathers of HbbTV for his large part in helping define the new HbbTV standard in the Franco-German effort to bring broadcaster-controlled interactive TV to the next level.
Wiztivi built the user interface and collects data via IBM servers that manage the sports information of the competition, and then injects the data on Internet pipes (via Wiztivi's scalable cloud platform at Amazon) as well as the broadcast signal.
As appmarket.tv wrote about earlier, Wiztivi were the architects behind Toshiba Places, launched in late 2010, as well as a number of TV apps on Connected TV including one of the world's largest and most popular UGC video websites - DailyMotion.
Ezratty also reveals what's in the pipeline for HbbTV and their roadmap:
Aside from France and Germany, HbbTV tests are being initiated or planned in other countries with European DVB standards such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain. Germany was the first to deploy HbbTV on ten channels in 2010 via satellite (DVB-S) and it's currently used mainly for "teletext" service, sending content via the DVB digital channel to provide enhanced program guides (EPGs) and information.
The UK has chosen it's own path and more elaborate solution to HbbTV, choosing not to work together with the French and Germans and launching their own project called Youview (formerly Project Canvas). YouView will allegedly be deployed in 2012, but the delays have been so problematic and critical that The Apprentice star Sir Alan Sugar, known best for bellowing, "You're Fired" to his reality show contestants, was pulled in to try and get the project off the ground. Sugar has a long history in consumer electronics.
The ambitious project, funded to the tune of £115m — backed by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, TalkTalk, BT, Talk Talk and Arqiva has certainly had it's challenges. At one point, Sky along with Virgin Media, IP Vision, Six TV, United For Local Television and the Open Source Consortium protested the new platform and actually delayed the final report.
As for the labyrinth of solutions and inevitable disruption of the TV and industry - Ezratty is as perplexed as I am in on how this will all play out.
It's a big bazaar reminiscent of the PC market before the IBM PC or current balkanization of the smartphone market. Very clever is the one who can predict the future of this industry!