Tests are ongoing at three sites around the country of a new method to update DTV set firmware using a system based on the ATSC A/97 standard.
If chosen by the DTV set manufacturers for their 2007 model year, the UpdateTV system from Update Logic, located outside Boston, will be the first in the United States to use the datacasting capabilities of PBS stations nationwide to transmit firmware updates, I/O device driver support and other software revisions to digital television sets in the homes of U.S. viewers.
Hitachi, Sharp, Samsung and Sony are conducting field tests of the system in Boston, Indianapolis and San Diego. Additionally, Update Logic is working with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Media and Insight Communications on a cable television test of the system.
UpdateLogic went to NAB2006 in Las Vegas to spread the word about its new service and what can go wrong in the increasingly complex world of digital television. In the DTV Hot Spot in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the company discussed the ongoing tests and how its system can benefit DTV manufacturers.
For example, Sony announced to its Bravia and Grand WEGA LCD TV customers last year that certain models shipped with a software glitch preventing them from being shut off. Bravia customers could correct the problem by requesting a software fix via Sony’s tech support web site. Owners of the affected Grand WEGA models were offered a visit from a technician to come to their homes to correct the problem.
With UpdateTV, this sort of problem could be repaired with a simple firmware update distributed via Update Logic’s network of secure servers and PBS datacasts.
UpdateTV relies on support for signaling that is built into the A/97 specification. In the signaling information transmitted as part of the datacast, identifiers specify the television make and model as well as the software make and model targeted for an update. The DTV, looking at the broadcast signal, can determine whether or not it is the subject of the update.
If so, an intelligent agent loaded onto the set before it leaves the factory understands the identification and when the update will be transmitted. At the appropriate time for the download, the tuner portion of the set will wake up and download the update.
In this way, not only can firmware revisions can be transparently sent and delivered on consumer sets, but also allow other software capabilities to be added. For example, a driver for a newly introduced peripheral that connects to the DTV can be automatically sent and loaded.
According to company CEO Tripp Blair, the need for UpdateTV will only grow as the DTV transition gains momentum. He points out that the amount of code needed by today’s DTVs can approach 20MBs compared to perhaps 200KB required by an analog set. Given that what’s considered good, solid code will have an average one bug for every 1000 lines of code, the ability to update DTV sets in field painlessly is only likely to grow, he said.