Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (or “HbbTV”) is a global initiative aimed at harmonizing the broadcast and broadband delivery of entertainment services to consumers through connected TVs, set‐top boxes and multiscreen devices. The HbbTV specification is developed by industry leaders to improve the video user experience for consumers by enabling innovative, interactive services over broadcast and broadband networks. The specification uses elements of existing specifications from other standards including OIPF, CEA, DVB, MPEG-DASH and W3C.
In June 2014, the activities of the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF) were transferred to the HbbTV Association. This broadened the HbbTV Association’s mandate to include defining specifications for service providers and technology suppliers that streamline and accelerate deployment of IPTV services.
A hybrid terminal has the capability to be connected to two networks in parallel. On the one side it can be connected to a broadcast DVB network (e.g. DVB-T/T2, DVB-S/S2 or DVB-C).
Via this broadcast connection the hybrid terminal can receive standard broadcast A/V (i.e. linear A/V content), non-realtime A/V content, application data and application signalling information. Even if the terminal is not connected to broadband, its connection to the broadcast network allows it to receive broadcast-related applications. In addition, signalling of stream events to an application is possible via the broadcast network.
In addition the hybrid terminal can be connected to the Internet via a broadband interface. This allows bi-directional communication with the application provider. Over this interface the terminal can receive application data and nonlinear A/V content (e.g. A/V content streaming on demand).
The hybrid terminal may also support non-real time download of A/V content over this interface. The broadband interface may also connect to Companion Screen Devices or other HbbTV® terminals on the same local network as the hybrid terminal.
Viewers with a HbbTV capable TV and builtin satellite tuner, can point a dish at the Astra 1 group of satellites at 19.2° East.
There are many TV and some radio channels using HbbTV, most are German, these include Das Erste, ZDF, RTL and Sat1. Spanish public service broadcaster rtve also provides interactive services via their Botón Rojo (Red Button).
As well as helping consumers/viewers, the introduction of the HbbTV standard is of benefit to both equipment manufacturers and content providers who at the moment have to produce hardware or content specific to each country to meet the de facto standard in that country. The establishment of a unified European HbbTV standard means “content owners and application developers can write once and deploy to many countries”.
The HbbTV specification was developed by industry members of the consortium and is based on elements of existing standards and web technologies including the Open IPTV Forum, CEA, DVB, and W3C.
The European Broadcasting Union General Assembly has given its support to the HbbTV initiative and described the technology as “one of the most exciting developments in the media today”.
The standard specification has been submitted by the end of November 2009 to ETSI, who published it under reference ETSI TS 102 796 in June 2010. There is an accompanying Test Suite that provides a set of test material to test HbbTV device implementations, suitable for manufacturers of devices, including software and hardware components that implement the HbbTV specification (ETSI TS 102 796 v1.1.1). In November 2012 Eurofins Digital Testing (then Digital TV Labs) became the first Registered Test Centre.
The applications for HbbTV are HTML-based, making use of HTML5 and the CE-HTML user interface language, but utilise only a sub-set of standard web standards, developers have to use specialist validation tools.
How It Works
HbbTV brings a range of new possibilities to consumers. There are a number of ways that HbbTV technology can be used, but a typical use case is as follows.
When a viewer’s TV supports HbbTV and the broadcaster makes available a “broadcast-related application”, the viewer will see a “call-to-action” in a corner of the screen. This might, for instance, be a logo showing a red button, informing the viewer that an app is available for launch at the press of that button. When pressed, the app – that was already resident in the TV – will be displayed.
The app may provide extra information on a program (e.g., sports statistics), show a program guide with the option to switch channels, or provide a menu with access to additional video programming. Other options include real interaction, for example multi-user quizzes where the user plays against other HbbTV viewers.
The user interacts with the screen using a variety of buttons on the remote – the coloured buttons, the cursor buttons, and the numbered buttons. The newer, version 2 release of the specification also supports interaction through a mobile device such as a smart phone or a tablet.
HbbTV in the UK – Freeview Play
Freeview Play was the first service in the world to implement HbbTV 2.0, the latest international technical standard for interactive television. This has required Digital UK to work closely with manufacturers and content providers to support the introduction and testing of several important new technologies.
One such case is enabling the near-seamless insertion of dynamically scheduled advertising, a feature which is essential in allowing
commercial broadcasters to offer consumers free access to their content.
During 2016, Digital UK, the BBC, ITV and Arqiva have also worked with industry standards bodies (HbbTV and the DTG) and manufacturers to plan the introduction of some small though vital additions to the HbbTV specification. HbbTV 2.0.1 was developed and agreed over a period of only six months. This adds functionality designed to replace legacy MHEG and MHP interactive systems currently used on DTT for applications such as on-screen ‘pop-ups’ and viewer information screens, and represents a critical step in enabling the UK to transition all new interactive services to HbbTV, delivering benefits to all.
Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive of Digital UK, said: “The DTG’s D-Book has been vital to the success of digital terrestrial TV in the UK. The inclusion of HbbTV in this latest edition will allow us to streamline the specification for Freeview Play going forward and drive future innovation on the platform.”
Subtitles for on-demand services
Digital UK is also working with ITV, Channel 4 and manufacturers to support the introduction of subtitling for these broadcasters’ on-demand services using the newly introduced EBU-TT-D
technical specification (which forms part of the HbbTV 2.0) during 2017.
Again Freeview Play will be the first or one of the first services to actively use this technology, and will be supporting manufacturers and standards bodies in the development of test materials and applications.
BBC statement on the future adoption of HbbTV standards
The BBC, working in collaboration with Freeview, DUK and the DTG, intends to accelerate the adoption of international standards around interactive TV in the UK market. The BBC has developed an innovative plan to move beyond legacy MHEG technology to industry-wide adoption of HbbTV 2.0.1 in time for equipment manufacturers to build HbbTV into 2018 product cycles.
As part of this, the BBC will remove the MHEG requirement from the ‘BBC Interactive HTML application’ specification, and work with industry partners to align other specifications such as the D-Book owned by the DTG, and the Freeview Play specification and Trade Mark Licence framework managed by Digital UK and Freeview.
Working in close consultation with manufacturers and other affected parties, a plan will be developed by the BBC, Freeview, Digital UK and the DTG by September 2016. It will then be shared publicly in relevant industry forums. The plan will include, among other things, the development and sharing of test applications to enable manufacturers to ensure correct behaviour of the new HbbTV-based services.
The BBC believes this approach addresses the feedback received to date from manufacturers while balancing the needs of audiences to drive the industry forwards and provide a better environment for UK free-to-air services.