Video software

CableLabs Plugs 'n' Plays With Enhanced TV

Heads up, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)! The cable industry is getting ready for its big enhanced television (ETV) closeup.

CableLabs hosted a tru2way/ETV interop last week at its Louisville, Colo., facilities, giving more than 20 companies the chance to plug in and test their apps and software components with a wide range of set-tops and hardware configurations.

A good portion of that work centered on Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), an emerging platform that will allow MSOs to run relatively simple interactive applications across cable's entire spectrum of set-tops. Although the cable industry developed EBIF, one of its primary competitors, Verizon, was among the first to deploy applications based on the spec.

Among recent U.S. cable activity, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) expects to have EBIF in front of 10 million subs this year. Canoe Ventures LLC , the big cross-MSO advanced advertising consortium, expects to roll out an interactive ad campaign in the second half of the year. (See Canoe Rows Toward Enhanced TV .)

"Much of the momentum is with EBIF now because of Canoe and the fact that ETV works on all set-tops, not just powerful tru2way boxes," an iTV vendor exec tells Cable Digital News. "It's the biggest target to hit."

A Canoe spokeswoman confirmed that the JV was on hand as an observer at last week's interop. Overall, 21 different companies participated. "We had a good turnout," said Phil Bender, senior manager of vendor relations for the CableLabs tru2way project. "It's a good way for developers to come together."

Although EBIF is a big industry priority, apps developers have lamented that there are several (some might say too many) EBIF user agents (the software "players" that reside on the set-tops) on the market today. If user agent makers each interpret the EBIF specs differently, the apps that run on them may not behave properly, meaning they'll have to drill through yet another layer of integration work. (See TV Apps Teams Face Cable Conundrum.)

Those with their own EBIF players include Verizon, BIAP Systems Inc. , Zodiac Interactive , Navic Networks (now part of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)), and TVWorks LLC (a division now wholly owned by Comcast). Cox Communications Inc. is also said to have developed an EBIF player.

Bender said last week's interop enabled ETV application makers to test their software on five different user agents, but he declined to name them.

A cable software vendor familiar with last week's event said the following companies were among those participating in the EBIF work: BIAP, TVWorks, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), HSN, S&T, UniSoft Corp., Softel-USA Inc. , Vidiom Systems Inc. , Starz Entertainment LLC , and Flashlight Engineering & Consulting LLC, a startup based in Portland, Ore.

Speaking at a cable event in Denver last week, Starz Entertainment senior director of advanced services Rebecca Lim said the interop featured more than 30 applications. Starz has developed an EBIF app of its own called "Enteract Now" that, among other things, enables viewers to quickly call up the on-demand version of a movie that's being shown on the live network feed with a click of the remote control. (See Starz Demos EBIF.)

In a follow-up conversation this week, she said the interop allowed Starz to test and refine its app for multiple user agents and set-top boxes in a "safe" environment. Another takeaway: Starz discovered some ways to optimize its application and even reduce the app's file size.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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