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THE TOP TWO THINGS ABOUT EBIF I06

3/23/2010 11:11 AM Eastern

LAST FRIDAY (FEB. 26), CABLELABS WAS SET TO RELEASE TECHNICAL DEtails
for the latest version of the EBIF specification, known as I06,
where the “I” stands for “issued.”

Recall that EBIF’s blessing and its curse is its reach: It was designed,
five years ago, with a single intent: To trigger interactive
elements into TV shows and ads, across the widest possible base
of digital set-top boxes. For that reason, the many features within
I06 deal mostly with lowest common denominator issues, most
notably the substantial lack of processing power, memory and
graphics abilities in those (very) early, DCT-2000-era set-tops.

This week’s translation highlights two improvements, of
about 10, within EBIF I06.

First is “support for unbound applications,” meaning a way to interact
with things not correlated with whatever show or ad is airing.
Think buttons on the remote, to invoke the guide or fetch an ondemand
title. Ask lots of questions on this one, because it all ties
back to the big lowest common denominator issue that is the
out-of-band signal path in those older set-top boxes.

Short version: “Out of band” is the inverse of “in-band,” and refers
to a spectral location uncorrelated to the frequencies that carry
video. In general, it’s a control path, used to shuttle guide data,
software updates, and security information to and from set-tops.

Doing unbound apps in EBIF is tricky because the two main
brands of fielded boxes (Cisco and Motorola) use two different
ways of moving data to and from boxes, out-of-band. So, even
though I06 “supports” EBIF, extra care and feeding will assuredly
be required, on an MSO-by-MSO level.

The second big thing about EBIF I06 is the notion of the “well-behaved
app.” This is less please and thank you and more about what
happens when everything happens at once. Picture a slice of time
that includes a “bound” trigger appearing on screen at the same time
a viewer invokes an unbound app. Which gets priority, and how to
manage both without glitches, is what makes for “well-behaved.”

CableLabs is calling I06 a “candidate spec,” which leaves wiggle
room for revisions before it’s final. Watch for a final version in
the summer timeframe, with gear and trials in 2011.

September