Thursday, March 27, 2008

MHEG-5 headed for India

This post originally appeared in Pradeep Chakraborty's Blog!

MHEG-5 is an open standard middleware solution, an application program interface (API), designed specifically for low-cost memory constrained devices — particularly suitable for digital interactive TV (iTV) services and is platform agnostic. Simply put, MHEG-5 is a simple object-orientated programming language.

MHEG-5 was initially adopted in 1998 by ONDigital in the United Kingdom (rebranded as ITV Digital) for use in the world’s first pay-TV digital terrestrial television (DTT) network. ONDigital lead the industry wide specification and development task of the first MHEG-5 profile, which subsequently (after the collapse of ITVDigital) formed the basis for deployment of interactive services on the UK DTT platform (Freeview).

Developed by the ISO-MHEG group and DAVIC in 1995, it is intended as a UI for DAVIC interactive services and VOD. MHEG-5 has been standardized in ISO 13522-5 and adopted by the UK DTG in 1997.

Going by its history on IMPALA (The International MHEG Promotion Alliance), MHEG (Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group) originally developed and standardized by Working Group 12 (WG12) of the ISO — officially known as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC29/WG12. It was developed in the mid 1990s as part of the DAVIC (Digital Audio Video Council) standardization effort to support interactivity and navigation of multimedia services on various small footprint devices.

WG12 issued a suite of documents (MHEG parts 1-8) as part of MHEG standard covering extensions for scripting language (MHEG-6), testing and interoperability (MHEG-7) and support for encodings in XML format (MHEG-8). Part 5 of the standard, officially known an ISO/IEC 13522-5, or more commonly know as MHEG-5 that is of primary relevance to interactive DTV.

So what’s hot about MHEG-5? Well, the standard’s profile evolved to UK Profile 1.06 (current); ETSI standard ES 202184. And now, new international profiles extend the UK profile. These include: New Zealand — extra Maori characters and EPG key; Hong Kong — Traditional Chinese font; Singapore/China - simplified Chinese font. Certain other extensions are said to be under development within DTG for possible deployment in 2008. These include IP interaction channel (return path), improved graphics, HD compatibility and support, and PVR support.

Heading for India?
What’s more significant is that MHEG-5 is said to be launching in India and in Hong Kong in 2008! Trials and evaluations are reportedly ongoing in Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, India and Russia. There is said to be interest from other countries in Europe and Asia as well.

MHEG-5 has no known essential IPR. The MHEG middleware software is typically less than US$1 per receiver. It has had wide integration into iDTVs in Europe. Finally, MHEG is proposed as the UI for new Common Interface spec (CI+), as well.

I hope to be speaking with IMPALA sometime soon about its plans for India and update you appropriately.