The Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group (MHEG) is set to provide the global middleware standard for interactive IP-based TV services, at least over DVB-T, following strong support across Asia. The standard, itself referred to as MHEG, has been included in the draft receiver specification for the Malaysia DVB-T2 rollout expected to start in 2012 and is also forming a key part of the DVB-T2 technology workshop and transmission trial held just before the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Digital Broadcasting Symposium in Malaysia.
The trial and associated workshop will themselves be broadcast via an MHEG application, which will highlight for broadcasters the standard’s effectiveness as a foundation for interactive-TV middleware, according to the International MHEG Promotion Alliance (IMPALA). The transmission trial and workshop were held March 4-7, with the ABU Symposium immediately following in Kuala Lumpur.
MHEG was developed by the ISO Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group (MHEG) and the Digital Audio Video Council (DAVIC) in 1995 and standardized in ISO/IEC 13522-5 “Coding of Multimedia and Hypermedia Information.” But MHEG owes its current success in the digital terrestrial arena to UK efforts, following its adoption by the UK Digital TV Group (DTG) in 1997 and its subsequent deployment on the country’s Freeview digital terrestrial platform. This was done with a UK profile covering video, text, graphics and the DSM-CC broadcast carousel system, along with a conformance test suite, which have been adopted elsewhere, including by Freeview New Zealand and Freeview Australia. It is being promoted by IMPALA, whose founder members are Echostar Europe as well as UK companies Strategy & Technology (S&T) and Cabot Communications, which both specialize in interactive-TV and MHEG middleware.
MHEG-5, the latest version, incorporates an object-based programming language that allows control over the presentation of content made up from audio, video, text and still graphics, supporting user interaction and real-time audio/video presentation. A recent extension by the DTG in the UK has led to the development of the MHEG-5 Interaction Channel (MHEG-IC), which enables broadcast interactive services to be delivered via an IP connection. MHEG-IC is designed to give broadcasters full editorial control of the user experience over services delivered via IP connections alongside or instead of traditional channels.
Although MHEG has gained recent publicity in the terrestrial arena, its impact could be greatest for cable operators by enabling them to deliver third-party interactive services and compete more strongly against IPTV and OTT providers. In this capacity, MHEG will often be deployed alongside the CI Plus specification, which adds security, copy protection and a browser to the widely deployed DVB Common Interface Standard. MHEG is an integral part of CI Plus, providing support for browsing, which will be widely used to access interactive services.
CI Plus will allow pay-TV providers to deliver services to a greater number of devices, with enhanced security for HD content, and has already been deployed or trialed by several European cable operators, including Ziggo in the Netherlands and Kabel Deutschland in Germany.