Comcast Shows Interactive App for 3D TVs

According to Comcast, the growing quantity of 3D programming in the marketplace presents a challenge for video programming that is not produced in 3D, such as program guides or tickers. To address this concern, HITS, a business unit of the Comcast Media Center (CMC), used The Cable Show 2010 to unveil its first EBIF (Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format) - a new 3D interactive application designed to run on 3D televisions.

HITS allows 3D and 2D content to be viewed simultaneously by ensuring that visual elements such as text or buttons can be delivered in high quality, viewer-friendly feeds to their growing 3DTV subscriber base. The technology can be employed by cable MSOs (Multiple System Operators), which should help lead to wider adoption of popular 3D technology throughout the industry.

"We have successfully integrated text, images and video feeds into a seamless viewer experience. This technology enables more rapid adoption of 3D programming and promotes the continued growth of interactive television in the future," said Gary Traver, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the CMC.

HITS actively develops and advances interactive television through the HITS Advanced Interactive Services (AxIS) centralized suite of solutions for the development, launch and support of EBIF. HITS is operated by Denver-based Comcast Media Center (CMC), a subsidiary of Comcast Cable, which provides centralized content management and distribution solutions for cable systems, video content providers and advertisers. Currently, the HITS AxIS interactive platform is deployed in beta to five MSOs and supports 30 EBIF applications from 23 different vendors, including Caller ID and T-commerce. Comcast says that HITS AxIS is the first platform to create and support an EBIF application specifically designed for 3D television sets.

EBIF is a cooperative OpenCable effort, undertaken at the direction of Cable Television Laboratories, for the benefit of the cable industry and its customers. The specification was developed for use in interchanging, decoding, and rendering ETV (Enhanced TV) applications, and is optimized for direct, in-memory processing by a decoder without further interpretation or compilation. According to the specification, special attention has been given to optimizing both static and dynamic memory requirements to enable practical decoder implementations on legacy terminal devices that have limited memory and processor resources.

Another key feature of the format is the ability to segment application data into common and platform-specific sections: a decoder needs only to load the common constructs and the platform-specific constructs that apply to the decoder platform in order to decode and render an application. An ETV Application allows a cable operator to define an application once for use by multiple platforms and, further, allow this set of platforms to be extended over time without modifying the original application resources.

With the growing interest in TV widgets and Internet connectivity, the EBIF spec will allow the vast universe of cable-connected TVs to enjoy enhanced features-such as integrated 2D/3D graphics-without the need to have cross-platform TV-resident compatibility. Although developed as an OpenCable spec by and primarily for the cable industry, the DBS (direct broadcast satellite) service providers would be wise to deploy a similar (or derivative) application format (according to our contacts, EBIF doesn’t seem to have any underlying IP that needs to be licensed). After all, while the content flows over different media, much of the content itself (together with its enhancements) is inherently the same-so why duplicate the production effort?

On the other hand, DBS deployment of EBIF might require extra development work, as it would have to work with DBS STBs. Also, the DBS providers are motivated to provide differentiated services, without the need to coordinate thousands of individual systems. This could result in a different, but competitive, format.

Either way, expect more "apps"-currently the rage on handheld devices-to find their way to the bigger (and 3D) screens in your home.

By Aldo Cugnini, Display Daily