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March 2019

HYBRID STBS DELIVER LIVE TV & OTT SERVICES


By DHIMANT BHAYANI
Founder & CEO of iRevo Multimedia
The Article Provides an Overview of Android & Linux Hybrid STBs, Their Features & Prices


During the past 5 years, under the DAS initiative, we saw deployment of Digital Set Top Boxes (STBs) for Cable TV which support several hundred channels, a TV Guide, High Definition broadcast TV and some high-end devices also offering TV program recording.

During the same period, many cable TV operators deployed their own internet services and in past two years there has been a massive internet infrastructure built with Fiber and 4G based internet services. Internet connectivity today is ubiquitous with significant price drops and faster speeds compared to what was available couple of years ago.

This availability of low cost & high-speed internet services makes it technically possible & economically viable to deliver Ad driven, Transaction or Pay Per View and Subscription based Video on Demand (xVoD) services.

Content delivered can be consumed as On Demand, stored content streamed as a linear TV channel or streaming of live events and broadcast TV channels. Today, there are a plethora of OTT services like Hotstar, Zee5, Jio, Sony Liv, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. These OTT services are largely consumed using Apps on mobile devices or Android and Fire-TV OTT devices, Apple TV and Chromecast or some of the Smart TV devices. However, one of the most natural device to use for watching internet video is the TV set, via a Cable TV Set Top Box. This new generation of Internet Enabled Set Top Box devices are also referred as Hybrid Set Top Box or Hybrid STB.



HYBRID STB

A typical Hybrid STB has a cable TV input connection that is same as a typical Cable TV STB but it also has either Ethernet or Wi-Fi or both, for connecting to the Internet.

Just a connection to the internet is not enough to provide viewing video streams from internet. A Hybrid STB must also include proper middleware and application software to be able to playback video from internet. A simplest form of middleware and application would be support for an internet web browser. If a Hybrid STB has a web browser, a user can type (assuming there is an onscreen keyboard) www.youtube.com/tv and watch YouTube videos. However, it is not practical to type URLs and search videos using a typical TV remote with D-Pad (directional keys with up, down, left and right keys). The good news is that a variety of Hybrid Set Top Boxes with different middleware and applications are available and they are driven by OTT services and apps that makes it easy to access and watch videos delivered over the internet.



A Hybrid STB Must Also Include Middleware & Application Software to Playback Video


ANDROID & LINUX STBS

Today, the trend is for Android based Hybrid STBs. However, many operators use Linux based Hybrid STBs due to their lower cost, easier to deploy with existing infrastructure (CAS, etc.), lesser technical complexity and restricted but easier use.



LINUX STBS

A Hybrid STB with Linux typically runs a custom web browser that supports HTML5 and connects to an OTT server which is delivering HTML5 Apps from cloud. These HTML5 apps are TV friendly and enables OTT service selection and video browsing and viewing using basic TV remote control. Apps running on these Hybrid STBs do not require much typing or searching and hence a basic remote-control device with D-Pad keys can be used.

The overall user experience is acceptable as Apps are delivered over the network continuously. Performance & user experience can vary. A Hybrid STB that is Linux based, requires less memory and can use a lower performance CPU resulting in a lower cost for the STB. Typical cost for a Linux Hybrid STB can range between $15 to $25 depending upon quantity, and other features, remote control and middle ware licensed. One benefit with the Linux based Hybrid STB is that existing CAS implementation can be used, though this depends upon operator’s CAS supplier and STB manufacturer.

A Linux based Hybrid STB has an advantage of fewer malware issues as there is no real open App Store like Google Play. This also is its biggest drawback. Consumers do not get easy access to the plethora of OTT Apps available in the Google Play store. Today, consumers are used to downloading various OTT Apps on their mobile phones and they may want to use these same OTT Apps and Games on their TV. The good news is…


ANDROID STBS

There is a new generation of Android based Hybrid Set Top Boxes. These are powerful devices, running the Android OS, enabling access to the Google Play store from where, users can download Apps for watching videos, playing games and more.



There are 3 flavors of Android implementation available on Hybrid STBs. These are

  1. Android AOSP is an adaptation of Android for tablets for use with a TV display.
  2. Android TV AOSP is an Adaptation of Google Android TV without the Google Certification, and
  3. Google Certified Android TV which provides access to apps that are specifically written for Android TV devices.

Android TV Does Not Run Typical Android Mobile Apps. Some Android Phone Apps May Not Run on Google Android TV STBs.


Of late, Google has made it easier for operators to customize the Android TV home screen and operator Apps. Furthermore, Google and TV SOC (System On a Chip) makers have enabled several new Android TV ODMs and OEMs. This has made Android TV a viable option for operators who want to provide a Hybrid STBs that goes beyond handful of OTT video services.


GOOGLE CERTIFIED STBS

A Google certified Android TV requires a Remote Control that supports voice input. Needless to say, a Google certified device would offer certain quality and compatibility along with guaranteed access to Google Play store for accessing Android TV apps that are optimized for T V experience.



It is important to note that Android TV does not run typical Android mobile apps so some Apps that you are using on Android phones or Android AOSP OTT devices may not run of Google Android TV STBs.


STB PRICES

A Google certified Android TV with a voice input Remote Control can cost between $35 and $45 in OEM quantities.

Non-certified Android TV devices or Android AOSP based hybrid set top boxes are available from several suppliers & their cost ranges from low $30s to $40s in OEM quantities. Please note that these prices are for Hybrid STBs with TV Tuner and not just run of the mill Android OTT devices. These prices are ex-factory or FOB and do not include shipping costs and import duties.



TIME TO INTEGRATE

If you are planning to adopt Android based Hybrid STBs and plan to deliver Live TV channels that require CAS support, please be prepared to spend extra upfront costs for CAS integration and license fees as well as 3 to 6 extra months to your schedule, unless your supplier has already integrated the CAS you are using with their newer Android based Hybrid STBs.



The table above is a non-comprehensive summary of 2 solutions from Operator’s and User’s perspective. All Live TV and OTT offering, for maximum benefit to operators and consumers, should be delivered via AN OTT platform and custom Apps that are optimized for your target demographics.



GET A COMPLETE SOLUTION

If you are building a Hybrid STB, besides choosing a right OEM/ODM partner, it is important to partner with a company that will provide you an OTT and Live TV platform and custom Apps for TV, phones and PCs for a differentiating, sticky and profitable service delivery. iRevo Multimedia (https://ott.irevomm.com) is one such company that offers complete end to end solution for Android or Linux Hybrid STBs along with apps for phones and PC. iRevo will customize the solution to your STB hardware for optimum performance and for your brand identity. Furthermore, iRevo’s PlayCast app supports content viewing on mobile phone and playing from the mobile phone to your TV, similar to Google’s Chromecast. Our ready to customize platform and apps can save operators time and money and extend service reach to platforms like Amazon Fire TV and other Smart TV platforms in addition to Android and Linux based Hybrid or OTT STBs. n

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mr. Dhimant Bhayani; Founder and CEO of iRevo Multimedia, Inc.; is a 35+ years veteran of Silicon Valley with experience ranging from an engineer who developed Image Processing Systems that were used in creating animated cartoons like Tom & Jerry to starting and successfully exiting a semiconductor start up that made video chips; used in popular Video Blaster products; in mid 90s. He has been an executive officer of a listed company in Silicon Valley and was amongst the handful of second generation entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Mr. Bhayani has invested in over 50 companies as an Angel Investor and from a Venture Capital fund he cofounded which generated positive returns for investors.

Mr. Bhayani founded iRevo in Silicon Valley with a vision to build a single software platform to aggreagate and a single application to deliver OTT, Live TV, Personal Media and Social Media content on all screens. Today, the company is leading provider of Live TV and OTT platform and apps, Digital Signage and Channel Playout solutions to cable operators, ISPs and content owners. Some of the customers includes Sony America and a leading Smart TV brand in India. iRevo's busniess model is to license platform and apps with customization and solutions architecting. Mr. Bhayani holds a B.S. in Electronics from SUNY College at Buffalo and M.S. in Computer Engineering from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is also a TiE Charter Member in Silicon Valley.