The Open IPTV Forum and the HbbTV Consortium will be sharing the connected television device-testing burden, with a view towards reducing the cost and increasing the speed of getting both standards integrated as widely as possible.
The two groups have worked together before: the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF) specifies support for HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV) in its standard, but this extended collaboration will see testing of HbbTV dropped into the next version of the OIPF Test Suite, due early next year, and scripts for the more-expansive Open TV features added to HbbTV's own testing tools later in 2013, bringing the standards much closer together.
Both groups are interested in getting us doing more with our televisions, but while the HbbTV Forum provides APIs for internet-delivered apps and content, the Open IPTV Forum is concerned with the broader picture. The combined testing tools will include the OIPF-derived Declarative Application Framework, as well as media formats – which can prove so difficult to standardise.
The two groups' joint efforts are aimed at turning television into an on-demand platform capable of hosting applications – even if most of them are geared towards providing video content. Today's internet video providers – like NetFlix or LoveFilm and the BBC – have to provide client software for a range of devices, which makes the mobile app business look settled and the desktop one positively simplistic. LoveFilm, for example, runs on Sony Blu-Ray players, but NetFlix will run on a Nintendo Wii, neither of which is suited to quick app development, not to mention the MHEG video-streaming spec.
MHEG is specified by the Freeview HD standard, and the BBC has a version of its iPlayer which works well enough, though its unlikely to last long as more-flexible (and web-based) alternatives emerged. In the UK the only one pushing MHEG, technically and commercially, is Connect TV, which is providing various IP streams from within the Freeview EPG and just got bought by Arquia.
Connect TV isn't using MHEG to deliver true video on demand, not yet, but the BBC has worked with the Arts Council to create just such a channel: The Space. The new MHEG channel may be populated with Shakespeare in Urdu and similar, but it proves that true video on demand can be delivered to existing Freeview HD boxes. And Arqiva plans to use its ownership of Connect TV to create more such channels – primarily as a way of learning what the TV of the future will be like without having to wait for YouView to get its collective act together.
Arqiva has an effective monopoly on TV broadcasting in the UK; it makes no content and owns no channels, but it is the company which broadcasts everyone else's stuff and thus has the most to lose if broadcast transmission is replaced with narrowly cast IP. Bringing the Open IPTV Forum and the HbbTV Consortium closer together will only hasten that day, though hopefully we'll get the mobile-platform war done and dusted before we embark on a battle for TV app dominance. ®