Increased support for Android TV is also a priority consideration for many developers of STB-related products and technologies.
Thanks to the rise of UHD and HDR, as well as the expectation of increased personalisation in terms of UI (user interface) and voice control capabilities, the last few years have witnessed a tremendous uptick in STB (set top box) innovation. But although specific broadcast trends are continuing to have a marked influence on STB design, so too are broader technological shifts.
Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, senior director of product marketing at Nagra, remarks: “Ultra HD is still rolling out, as is HD-DVR, but regardless of the technology inside the box, the form-factor in the consumer device worlds tends to follow what we might term ‘technology fashion trends’. Hence we see that the STB forms are presently looking to embrace simple, cost-effective construction that does not burden the purchaser with additional costs.”
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Development of devices to support Android TV appears to be especially dynamic at present, while some companies in this space are also increasingly engaged with next-generation direct-to-home services that effectively take traditional STBs out of the picture.
The Sky’s the limit
The extent to which the latest STBs facilitate the access of content of an increasing number of sources and types is underlined by the latest upgrades to the Sky Q STB. Announced in July 2020 and described as the biggest update since the service was launched, the upgrades are headlined by an expanded HDR offering that now includes Disney+. Sky Nature programmes and Sky Cinema films are expected to be available with HDR via Sky Q by the end of the year, while Sky Sports content is set to follow suit in 2021.
But there have also been multiple changes in terms of the look, feel and usability of the STB. An updated UI exchanges the previous static menu bar with a dynamic collapsible menu, enabling viewers to view and search for more content more quickly. Each Sky Q show also now has its own ‘Centre’ – with schedules, episodes and links all collated in one place – while improvements to the Voice Discovery facility mean it is easier to search for content by multiple fields.
Fraser Stirling, group chief product officer at Sky, highlights the increasingly multifaceted content aggregation role that STBs are now playing: “We’ve redesigned Sky Q to make it even smarter, simpler and better at aggregating all of the TV and app content you love into one place. A new-look UI, improved voice search and more intuitive navigation make everything easier to find without having to search around, so you can get to the next episode of Succession, a brilliant football podcast, or choose from the most popular British dramas easily.”
‘Widest gamut of solutions’
From Nagra’s perspective as a technology provider to a wide range of pay TV and OTT service providers, Smith-Chaigneau is well-positioned to identify a market that remains extremely broadly-based and in need of “the widest gamut of solutions”.
“We are focused on supporting the wider market for consumer devices that are required for the consumption of video and work with a long list of STB partners through our STB partners team to ensure support of the Nagra technology portfolio,” he says. “We have been particularly active in enabling STB manufacturers to be ready for the market with a pre-integrated, pre-certified secure Android TV device through our Android Fast Track Programme.”
Recent customers include Euskaltel, whose 4K Android TV STB has been integrated with Nagra Connect (for content protection) and the OpenTV platform to deliver a range of live and OTT content packages. Elsewhere, for India-based digital cable, IPTV and OTT operator Fastway, Nagra has secured the broadcaster’s IPTV solution on ZTE boxes to deliver services including live TV and VOD.
Judging by Nagra’s current roll-call of projects, the market for STB-related technologies will remain diverse for a long time to come. Notes Smith-Chaigneau: “As the transformation to all-IP continues, hybrid STBs are still in vogue, [although] there are still the pure-play Internet streaming devices that are part of the mix. There are even dongles looking to add plug-in DVB functionality to existing Android streaming devices. Right now, we are also testing next-gen ATSC 3.0 services on a BitRouter STB in our offices in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of the roll-out testing of a brand new phase in the history of American over-the-air TV. This will mean a huge market deployment of STBs in the USA from 2021 onwards.”
Nagra has also been working with Samsung on the development of TVkey Cloud, a direct-to-TV solution that “in effect takes the STB out of the equation”. All in all, it’s evident that the TV and video market is now “at different stages of evolution across the globe, and we have to ensure that we cover the widest gamut of solutions while recognising that the CPE/STB/streaming device market is here for many years to come.”
‘Faster to market’ for Android TV
Humax is also highly engaged with Android TV-related technologies, with its newly announced H7 Android TV STB incorporating the latest Broadcom solution with 24K DMIPS CPIU, which enables high performance and fast data processing. The box also applies the new multi-access environment optimisation technology, WiFi6 (11.ax), to provide an optimised environment for 4K video streaming and cloud gaming. In addition, Humax says the H7 is the first Android TV device to support both AV1 and HDR10.
As a market-ready product, it is designed to help Android TV services to achieve a “faster time-to-market”. Building on this concept, the company plans to further expand its product line-up to sound and voice integrated products, including IoT features.
Humax is also preparing to unveil E2E solutions intended to deliver all of the related features of the Android TV service to any operator in any region as a complete platform offering. Accommodating different market and customer requirements, the company will provide Humax HATS (broadcasting middleware), HAVIS (voice assistant solution), HAMS (back-end management and analysis solutions for operators) and Humax’s own UI/UX for an operator tier programme.
Jeff Kim, EVP of worldwide sales at Humax, says: “With this innovative Android TV product and our Humax E2E solutions, Humax can quickly supply products that offer a variety of content and services, paving the way to lead the Android TV OS market.”
By acknowledging that more traditional services will continue to be popular for the long-term alongside the emergence of innovative OTT and direct-to-home offerings, STB technology providers are remaining commendably responsive to the evolving needs of broadcasters and other service providers. This can-do mentality, be it in the form of market-ready STBs or more bespoke solutions, will surely serve them well as the televisual landscape becomes even more diverse over the next few years.