Smart TV Alliance
The Smart TV Alliance (STA) was founded by LG Electronic and TP Vision (Philips television manufacturer) in June 2012. The Toshiba company soon joined the alliance, as did the Panasonic company (the latter joined at the beginning of the year 2013 at the CES 2013 conference in Las Vegas).
Therefore, four out of six largest manufacturers of Smart TV products are represented in the alliance (in terms of the quantities of products sold in Europe). The remaining major manufacturers who have not joined so far are Sony, Samsung and Sharp. In addition, members of the alliance include numerous other companies in the field of hardware and software development (e.g. OperaTV, TechniSat or VESTEL). The joining of other new members will be announced in a few days, at the IFA 2013 fair in Berlin (Samsung may join as well, as it seems to have big plans with its Tizen OS).
The aim of the organisation is to create a unified system for the creation of TV applications. The system includes the specification of application interface, as well as the definition of mandatory and optional technologies which must be supported by Smart TV manufacturers, or the creation of the SDK and emulator and a unified system of application approval. The goals for the year 2013 include the implementation of the MPEG-DASH protocol, the continuing standardisation of the use of DRM or the communication among multiscreen applications.
The Smart TV Alliance has wisely accepted and acknowledged the current situation on the Smart TV market and promotes HTML5 as the standard for application development, i.e. not the native development or NaCl (https://developers.google.com/native-client/), Flash or HTML-CE. Being developers, we do not think fragmentation is a problem in the case of smart television. That said, any effort to unify and facilitate the development is a good step towards faster development and distribution of applications for smart television. Plus, if the Smart TV Alliance manages to ensure that less extensive tests are necessary on the target hardware and the application approval procedure is simplified prior to the placement to the application store, or if some smaller manufacturers of televisions and set-top boxes join the alliance, these goals are definitely worth the effort. Of key importance is also the fact that the alliance does not aim to create new standards. Instead, it picks the existing ones which can be used pursuant to an agreement among the manufacturers represented in the alliance who will implement the support of these standards in their Smart TVs.
Smart TV Alliance Specifications
The alliance regularly issues specifications describing the standards which must be supported by Smart TV manufacturers. The current version of the specifications is 2.5 and SDK 2.5 is expected to be introduced shortly. SDK 3.0 will be introduced in January 2014. The specification defines the parts of the HTML5, CSS3, W3C DOM levels and XMLHTTPRequest specifications which must be supported, as well as the resolution of applications, image format support, built-in font support etc.
For the purposes of OTT we appreciate the most the support in the area of video streaming and the use of containers, codecs and DRM. Smart TV Alliance requires support for:
- Range http headers, to be used for seek in progressive download
- HLSv4 (http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-pantos-http-live-streaming-04)
- MPEG DASH
- MP4 and MPEG-TS containers
- H.264/AVC, HE-AAC, MP3
- PlayReady (support of Widevine is not mandatory)
On the other hand, the specification does not address the issue of the use of captions and their format (it only refers to an external library) or automatic display setting change in the case of 3D contents or other issues, such as trickplay support.
Due to the impossibility to install additional root certificates we appreciate a detailed list taken from HbbTV: www.hbbtv.org/spec/certificates.html (for more information on this issue, seehttp://www.mautilus.com/troubles-with-https-on-smart-tvs/.).
Smart TV Alliance’s plans
The new specification 2.5 (so far without SDK) extends the support of the current standards and is finally coming with a unified value of the User-Agent header. It may be a small detail but it should please all providers of application servers. More importantly, the new version of the specification improves the features of televisions in the area of multiscreen via the mandatory support of the DIAL protocol (meaning Discovery And Launch) developed by the Netflix company. DIAL enables the running of an application on a television from a second screen application environment (mostly a phone or tablet) using the SSDP protocol and simple DIAL service implemented as REST http. In addition, the specification 2.5 defines optional support of the AllJoyn framework for peer2peer communication between devices on a local network and adds a short recommendation how to use Web Sockets and cloud server for the communication between a second screen application and television.
Smart TV Alliance SDK
SDK will install a copy of Eclipse and VirtualBox with an image of the current browser for the running of applications. Similarly to all other development environments which simulate real hardware, video streaming does not work in Smart TV Alliance. The simulation will be affected by the speed of the application, as it will be very different from that of the actual television, i.e. you will not avoid the hardware test. The simulation of the environment of the television is relatively simple; the home screen shows an application user interface; when they are started, remote control buttons appear at the bottom of the screen. Once an application has been started in a virtual machine, it can be debugged, Eclipse can process logs sent. The environment is suitable for the detection of functions used by the application which are not supported. However, experts who use Chrome for development will probably dislike the emulator…
Equipment support and application approval (QA)
Smart TV Alliance has not yet issued a list of products and product ranges of individual manufacturers which support the 2.0 specification. According to the information we have at this point, it should happen “any time soon”. It seems like being a member of the alliance is one thing and being able to ensure the compatibility of the existing equipment, test streaming functionality, ensure DRM support and upgrade firmware is another. Our estimate of compatibility includes Philips NetTV 4.1+, LG NC4+ and Panasonic SmartViera 2013. However, nothing is for sure yet and we do not take it into consideration in the course of development. There is no reason to do so yet because we generally have to support older equipment as well.
With regard to the aforementioned information, it is interesting that LG is planning to replace the current smart television platform, NetCast, with the WebOS system in 2014. Everything is expected to be 100% compatible with the specification of the Smart TV Alliance.
In our opinion, a unified approval procedure seems like a good idea.
- First of all, the application in question must be registered (at this point registration takes place via e-mail). Similarly to the registration for individual manufacturers, the required data include the URL to the hosted application, name of application, icon, permitted IP addresses of testers and a document describing the functioning of the application (a similar one is required by LG or Samsung).
- The application must first be approved by STA QA.
- Then it will be sent to individual manufacturers for their review.
- All manufacturers will provide their comments on the application and its aspects.
- STA will collect information from individual manufacturers and draw up a report to be sent back to application developers. This process will take place via the relevant website in the future. For the time being, it is taking place via e-mails.
- Once the application has been approved, its documentation, marketing materials, screenshots and other information must be uploaded separately via the websites of individual manufacturers.
- We cannot wait to have the entire process online.
Good luck to SmartTV Alliance!