Tuesday, 13 November 2007

All About Set-Top-Box

“Tremendous revenue opportunities exist in driving interactivity between the 60 million digital set-top boxes, 175 million personal computers and 210 million mobile phones in the U.S...” said Michael Rivkin, CEO, Develop-On-Box, parent company of Zodiac Gaming. (April, 2006)
Set-top Box - (STB) - May be known as set top, Set-tops, set-top box, set top box, STB, Receivers, Converters, Decoders, Intelligent Set-top Boxes, Set-top Decoders, Smart Encoder, Digital TV Converter, DTV Converter, Voice-enabled Set-top Boxes, Digital Decoder, DTV Tuner, Descrambler, Digital Set-top Box, Addressable Converter, Demodulator, Smart TV Set-top Box, ITV enabled Set-top Box, Internet-enabled Set-top Box, ITV enabled Set-top cable box, Satellite- enabled Set-top Box, Cable-enabled Set-top Box, Low-end Boxes, Thin Boxes, Thick Boxes, Smart TV Set-top Box, Super Box, All-in-one Set Top Box, Integrated Set Top Box, Hybrid Cable Box, Media Center. - It’s ancestor is often considered the Nintendo game box, as those ancient 8-bit game boxes had data ports. When the functionality of a set-top box is built in to the TV, it’s often known as a “Built-in” like the one launched by LG sometimes back. Do note that just because a TV has set-top box functions built in to it, that doesn’t mean it’s a digital TV. In that case it’s just an analog TV with set-top box functions built into it
. Set-top boxes may be associated with these major categories.
1. Broadcast TV Set-top Boxes - (a.k.a. Thin Boxes) The more elementary level set-top box with no back channel (return channel.) These might come with some memory, interface ports and some processing power. 
2. Enhanced TV Set-top Boxes - (May be known as: Smart TV set-top box, Thick Boxes) - These have a back channel (return channel), often through a phone line. These may be capable of Video on Demand, e-commerce, Internet browsing, e-mail communications, chat and more.
3. Advanced Set-top Boxes - (a.k.a. Advanced digital Set-top boxes, Smart TV Set-top Box, Thick Boxes, All-in-one Set Top Box) - A fully integrated set-top box. These have good processors, memory and optional large hard-drives. They’re often used with high-speed connections. Features could include high-speed Internet access, iTV, digital video recording & gaming. Instead of this, a “sidecar” might be used in tandem by the subscriber’s original set top box and/or TV. Advanced set-top boxes are more likely to be integrated with DVRs and high-definition TV. 
4. Sidecar - This type of set-top box provides an additional transport stream of data from the network operator (content provider,) to compliment the original stream that’s being received by the subscriber via their original set-top box. 
5. Hybrid Digital Cable Box – A specialized and often more expensive cable TV set-top box with high end functions like home theater system.
A typical set-top box is a type of computer that processes digital information. Set-top boxes (STB) can act as a gateway between your television or PC and your telephone, satellite, terrestrial or cable feed (incoming/outgoing signal.) The analog STB receives encoded/compressed digital signals from the signal source (satellite, TV station, cable network, telco, terrestrial, etc.) and decodes/decompresses those signals, converting them into analog signals displayable on your analog television. (Digital TV’s set top boxes in various ways operate differently.) The STB also accepts commands from the user (often via use of handheld remote control, keypad, voice recognition unit or keyboard) and transmits these commands back to the network operator, through some sort of back channel (which may be a separate phone line.)
STBs can make it possible to receive TV signals, connect to networks, play games via a game console (which might be built-in to your set top box,) browse networks including the Internet, interact with Electronic Program Guides (EPG), virtual channels, electronic storefronts and walled gardens, send e-mail, and videoconference. Many STBs are able to communicate in real time with devices such as camcorders, DVDs, CD players and music keyboards. Some have huge hard-drives and smart card slots to put your smart card into for purchases and identification.
Generally put, to provide interactive services, the set-top box could need:
i> The network interface: This enables the users to communicate with the server in a manner that it can understand.
ii The decoder: In order to save storage space, disk bandwidth, and network bandwidth, programming is usually encoded (compressed) before being sent over the network. Thus, the end-users (subscriber) needs a decoder to decode (uncompress among other things) the incoming stream’s data before it’s viewable. This is part of what a modem does. The decoding process may sometimes be known as Demodulation or Heavy Lifting. H.264 (MPEG-4) compression technology utilises up to 40 percent less network bandwidth than the MPEG-2 compression used in most systems to date.
iii The buffer: Due to delay jitters in the network, the arrival time of a video stream cannot be determined exactly. In order to guarantee continuous consistent playback for the viewer, the stream is often received one or even a few seconds before it’s actually seen by the end-user. This way if there are fluctuations (even those measured in milliseconds) in the transport time of the video stream to that receiver, the viewer won’t know the difference as their buffer has a bit of time to spare.
iv Synchronization software/hardware: As the movie (or whatever one watches via a set-top box) consists of both video and audio streams. They must be synchronized with each other before being viewed. Other streams may be added including those related to enhancements (such as metadata.)
a) Middleware
b) Platform
c) Any additional software
d) Back channel
Internet TV (Broadband TV) - (May be also known as (or is associated with): InternetTV, Slivercasting, Web Channels, Internet Channels, Broadband Entertainment, Niche Programming, Narrowcasting, Online TV, Net TV, Internet TV, Internet on TV, Internet-over-TV, High Speed Internet on TV, Internet-connected TVs, Web-over Television Services, WEB Enhanced TV, TeleWeb, TV-based Web Browsing, TV Internet System, Web Over TV, TV Internet Access Device, Web TV, Terrestrial-based Internet-over-TV service, Online Video, TV-over-ADSL, TV-based Internet, Broadband-based TV, ITV-over-DSL, Broadband ITV, ADSL-based VOD, Interactive Broadband Television, Interactive Online TV , Web TV, Terrestrial-based Internet-over-TV, IP VOD, IP VOD Channel, IPTV) - There are 2 main types of Internet (Broadband) TV:
1. Internet (Broadband) content (often in the form of video) delivered to the viewer via Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) or Broadband-enabled TV systems. A set-top box or related device may be utilized. 
2. Receiving television programming over the Internet via other electronic appliances, such as mobile phones and PCs. IPTV might also be used for this.
The evolution of web sites could be Internet Channels. People are adding video (among other things) and turning their web site into an Internet (TV) channel
Many expect television’s future to be Internet TV and the countless millions of channels and Internet TV stations it could offer. Imagine, you want to watch a particular actor/actress, or a type of programming theme, lets say car crashes, you enter that into your video search engine. (Yahoo, Google and others are involved with this,) and it comes up with shows and/or video clips concerning that subject. Probably you would have already programmed your Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or computer to have searched for and recorded on it’s hard drive, that particular type of programing. Your DVR or computer could of course check regularly, automatically seeing if any new related programming is available, recording it and alerting you to that. With the convergence of broadband and a mandated digital TV infrastructure, the possibilities are extreme. Tools used to create content for Broadband TV include Flash and Shockwave. It’s expected that in the future more TV shows will premier first on the Internet, and then appear on broadcast, telco, cable or satellite TV.
Broadband TV (IPTV) - There are those that also use this term in regard to IPTV as IPTV has broadband functionality. 
The immediate growth of IPTV will not be driven by a replacement for traditional television but as a customized platform focusing on the needs of professional groups and organizations. 
Broadband enabled TVs - Televisions systems, set-top boxes, media centers etc. that provide Broadband (Internet) TV. In the same way that the Internet on a PC is interactive, TVs that receive Broadband Internet can be interactive. Using your voice to change the channels (interactive voice response {IVR}), do video searches etc. may be an option.
Digital Interactive TV/Broadband IP Convergence – Digital televisions and digital set-top boxes, in conjunction with digital programming, offer greatly increased potential for interactive TV. When adding to this the increasingly faster broadband and the interactivity and spatial design offered by the Internet, you get a powerful scenario for ITV. Problems associated with using different iTV platforms can be greatly lessened when the iTV medium is the Internet.

Source:
http://cablequest.org/articles/broadcast-technology/item/1296-all-about-set-top-box.htmlSource: http://cablequest.org/articles/broadcast-technology/item/1296-all-about-set-top-box.html

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