It comes down to DVB-I versus HbbTV OpApp, right? Wrong!

Peter MacAvock, Chair of the DVB Project

The emergence of DVB-I has prompted discussions regarding its compatibility with HbbTV. The latter is often regarded as DVB’s interactive layer, in that it facilitates an app-like user experience combining DVB services with personalized broadband-delivered data on a connected TV. Since DVB-I first appeared, we have regularly stressed the fact that it complements HbbTV, with both systems working together to provide an enhanced, internet-centric approach to the connected TV user experience. Let’s see how they are being implemented in different territories.

Different approaches

TV operators are today focused on seamlessly integrating a hybrid broadcast–broadband user experience in an appealing package for consumers. The German DVB-I pilot and the UK’s recently announced next-generation hybrid free-to-air TV platform – branded Freely – illustrate different, but not necessarily incompatible approaches. While the German pilot is based on the DVB-I specification, Freely will use
HbbTV’s Operator Application (HbbTV OpApp). The former relies on a TV set’s native user interface, while the latter is based on privileged access to the connected TV’s user interface and other sub-systems.

First showcased as an operator user interface on some TV sets for the HD+ service from SES in Germany in 2019, the HbbTV OpApp has been around for a while. The specification itself has been heavily updated of late, with significant input from UK colleagues like BBC and EveryoneTV (the entity formed by the free-to-air broadcasters, previously known as DigitalUK, and that is behind the launch of Freely). A recent HbbTV webinar on Freely revealed that the service’s OpApp is launching with two TV-set vendors. HbbTV OpApps require bilateral agreements between operators/ platforms and manufacturers, and some vendors are less willing than others to facilitate platform customization.

A plausible scenario combining DVB-I with a HbbTV OpApp envisions a TV set supporting both DVB-I service discovery and HbbTV OpApps. In such a scenario, DVB-I provides a list of channels and related applications (which could be HbbTV OpApps) with the consumer choosing whether to install them.

Soft launch in Italy

Looking at Italy, DVB-I has moved directly to what is effectively a ‘soft launch’, with support from a prominent TV set vendor and support from the large commercial operator Mediaset. While there is still much to be worked out in terms of how the thorny issue of prominence is addressed in the Italian market, DVB-I is out there and working for those who wish to use it.

The choice between DVB-I and HbbTV OpApp is characterized not as an either/or comparison but as addressing separate functions required for a coherent user experience: service discovery, presentation of IP-delivered linear media, and linear channel user interface. Freely has chosen to stick with existing service-discovery mechanisms deployed in the UK, at least for now. Importantly, DVB-I has partially adopted these same mechanisms.

One key element is how operators can access usage information related to their content to facilitate recommendation engines, etc. With the HbbTV OpApp, such information is part of the application environment. DVB-I includes some basic information, and more enhancements are in the pipeline, but this may not be seen as sufficient for some operators to finetune their personalization services.

In summary, television operators can have different approaches to deploying integrated hybrid TV user experiences using open systems like DVB-I and HbbTV OpApps. The decisions depend on various factors, including existing infrastructure, user experience goals, and agreements between operators and manufacturers. As the industry evolves, the balance between broadcast and broadband services on connected TVs continues to be a focal point for innovation and collaboration.

Peter MacAvock is the Chair of the DVB Project.

This article first appeared in issue 63 of DVB Scene magazine.