Market Watch

GEM Goes Over-the-Top


Display Driver IC Forecast


The Globally Executable MHP (GEM) middleware specification has been upgraded to support the delivery of over-the-top (OTT) content. GEM v1.3, developed by the DVB Project, includes a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) which allow pay-TV operators, OTT providers and broadcasters to deploy hybrid broadcast/IP applications.

To date, GEM has been implemented both on broadcast devices (such as cable and terrestrial set-top boxes) and packaged media devices (such as Blu-ray Disc players). The largest deployments have been in Italy, South Korea and, as part of the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) specification, in the US.

Whilst GEM is platform independent, there is a DVB-specific variant used in Europe called the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP).

Analysis
In Europe, the technology and middleware behind hybrid set-top boxes (STBs) is far from uniform, and the latest announcement that MHP will be joining the fray is unlikely to significantly improve the situation. However, the wider GEM specification is likely to be more significant, particularly in the US.

MHP has already been combined with hybrid STBs on a vendor-by-vendor basis. For instance, ADB supply a hybrid STB based on Osmosys MHP v1.2 to Belgian cable operator Telenet. In order to move away from a vendor-by-vendor approach to hybrid, a number of standards have emerged. The UK is pushing ahead with YouView (set to launch in early 2012) and, in mainland Europe, the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) specification is seeing steady uptake, particularly in France and Germany. In fact, it was also recently announced that the HbbTV specification will make an appearance on the UK direct-to-home (DTH) platform Freesat.

HbbTV itself can run on MHP v1.2 and so the addition of MHP v1.3 will induce a form of quasi-competition: vendors and operators will be able to choose between sticking with HbbTV (with MHP 1.2) or moving over to MHP 1.3. In any case, there will be at least three hybrid specifications operating in some form in Europe.

Given this, the impact of MHP v1.3 is at risk of being minimal, particularly in Western Europe. A switch from v1.2 to v1.3 will require upgrades and various practical considerations which may seem superfluous within a given market. For instance, Italy has a sizable MHP v1.2 deployment (9.5m boxes) and may prefer to stick with vendor-specific solutions. Equally, the uptake of HbbTV in France and Germany negates any real need to upgrade to MHP v1.3.

Therefore, the biggest opportunity for MHP v1.3 is in markets which have yet to develop a hybrid strategy, particularly where the transition to digital is still ongoing, such as Eastern Europe. However, without demand for MHP v1.3 in Western Europe, vendors are unlikely to promote the specification: preferring instead to stick with either proprietary solutions or the HbbTV standard (both running on MHP v1.2). By sticking with v1.2, vendors will be able to reduce the number of specifications they work with and so cost.

With this in mind, the biggest opportunity for the specification is with the wider GEM variant. In the US market, GEM v1.2 is incorporated into the OCAP specification, representing 7m STBs. Cable operators such as Comcast have been supporting OCAP across their markets to ensure that consumers who purchase STBs via retail channels can access their electronic programme guides and video on demand services. In light of this, there is potential for the v1.3 revision to be ported to OCAP. This would allow operators to incorporate IP, OTT content within the managed, branded interface of the STB.

Even more importantly, GEM is part of the Blu-ray Disc specification and so v1.3 could provide a standard for connectable Blu-ray Disc players. This represents the biggest opportunity with 67.5m Blu-ray Disc player households in 2011, 28.2m of which are connectable.

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