BBC R&D

Posted by Matt Hammond on , last updated

At TV Connect we will be showing some of our engineering prototypes running on a real implementation from Opera TV of some of the key technology components that go into a TV. This is part of our ongoing efforts to collaborate with industry in the Companion Screens project.

A modern connected TV is a complex device, including not just impressive display technology but also hardware for receiving and decoding the TV signal, interfacing to the internet, hardware and software decoders for many types of media and web browser engines that run the interactive experiences (such as iPlayer or our Red Button services).

Much of our work has been focussed on contributing to the technology standards, such as HbbTV 2 which is being adopted in the UK through Freeview Play and the DTG’s D-Book 9. Where we can, we also offer to work with colleagues across the industry to ensure that their implementations work reliably and well. Opera TV specialise in the middleware that provides the HTML and JavaScript environment in which HbbTV 2 applications run and their solutions are used by a variety of manufacturers who create products for the UK. Working with them is therefore a step towards ensuring we have a consistent and reliable platform on which to deliver our services. Preparing for this demonstration at TV Connect also benefits us by giving us access to an implementation we can test our applications and services on, and also gives an opportunity to show some of the possibilities for what a user experience can offer.

BBC R&D - Companion Screen developments in 2016

BBC R&D - Measuring the Accuracy of Synchronisation

Opera TV have been working on implementing HbbTV 2 and so the demonstration will be running on a set-top-box provided by them. We are supplying the content (both broadcast and streamed) and have been building the HbbTV and companion applications and supporting back-end services (more on that below). Working together has helped both of us to better understand the standards and how to implement and use them correctly.

The demonstration has a couple of new features compared to what we have previously shown.

First, we will show synchronisation with an adaptive bitrate MPEG DASH stream playing on the TV. This shows that the same synchronisation technology standard works for not just broadcast TV but for programmes streamed via the internet too. Our companion app shows how precise the synchronisation can be by playing the same video as on the TV or playing alternative sound, such as the Audio Description. Having the option to use a companion device in this way can create a better experience for our audience:

  • Are you the only person in the room who wants the Audio Description? You could listen to it on headphones plugged into your phone or tablet.
  • Watching iPlayer on your TV but want to switch to your tablet? The app could synchronise with the TV, allowing you to seamlessly transition without a jarring gap.

Second, our companion app can now understand the schedule for a broadcast channel and know exactly when each programme begins and ends. It even knows when a trail is being shown between programmes. This opens up many possibilities to help our audience get more from our services:

  • Who starred in this show? What was that recipe? The app could take you straight to the information without you having to search for it.
  • See an interesting trailer for a programme? The app could offer to bookmark it and remind you when the programme is broadcast or becomes available on iPlayer.
  • What to watch next? The app could know when the programme is finishing and proffer suggestions to you. It could even tell your TV to start playing the programme you choose in iPlayer.

Underpinning this is more than just a broadcast. The broadcast signal does not contain all the information needed and so the companion application also consults a Material Resolution Service (MRS). The MRS takes information about the BBC’s broadcast schedules including exact timings of when programmes are broadcast, and provides this information to the companion. The companion can then match this up against the timeline information it receives from the TV.

A flow diagram showing the movement of data around the MRS and broadcast systems.

The data from the MRS provides the linkage between the world of a broadcast signals and the very different data model and identifiers we use for our internet delivered content and services. This is still very much a work in progress for us and we are continually refining the algorithm needed to combine these sources of data.

Our prototype MRS connects to live BBC systems. For our demo we are using a capture of this data and a recording of one of our channels so we can show this in action without needing an aerial on the roof!

If you are visiting TV Connect, be sure to drop by and see our demonstration at the Opera TV booth (Stand B10) at the ExCeL London, March 28 - 30, 2017!

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BBC R&D - Companion Screens

BBC R&D - Adaptive Bitrate Technology

BBC R&D - MPEG DASH Test Streams

This post is part of the Broadcast and Connected Systems section

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