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Nokia Joins the Set-Top Business

10/01/2000 8:00 PM Eastern

Establishment of a global standard for interactive-TV content moved a step closer to reality at this month's International Broadcasting Convention, when Finnish telecom giant Nokia said it produced more than one million set-top boxes that support the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) specification.

Created as the open standard for all ITV applications, the MHP software interface was developed within the Digital Video Broadcasting Project by a consortium of 730 organizations from 51 countries on five continents. MHP adoption in the U.S. remains doubtful.

Nokia developed the MHP set-tops for cable and satellite ITV reception in the German market, and is exploring distribution elsewhere in Europe and overseas, said Helmut Stein, Nokia Multimedia Terminal's chief technical officer.

MHP product and application previews were common at the IBC this year, he said. Offerings included MHP-compliant electronic programming guides, interactive sports and games, personalized advertising, and home-shopping systems. A popular MHP tutorial workshop introduced the uninitiated to the new technology.

Using a common API (application-programming interface) and the Java programming language, MHP supports a standard hardware interface, so that content written for the specification can be displayed on all DVB set-top boxes, integrated digital-television sets, multimedia computers, and even DVD players. MHP advocates claim the open standard is "future proof."

Nokia's MHP box is intended solely for Europe and other international markets that have adopted DVB rather than the U.S. ATSC digital-TV specification.

"It would be great if ATSC would support MHP, because that would benefit everyone, but we don't see this happening yet," Nokia vice president for strategic marketing Miika Kuoppamaki said.

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. made its own move toward adopting standards on Sept. 14, when it said Sun Microsystems Inc., Liberate Technologies Inc. and Microsoft Corp. would be primary authors of the new OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), its middleware specification. That move is supported by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.

Sun is licensing Java and JavaTV as the programmable API's execution engine, and Liberate and Microsoft are developing an ATVEF-based presentation engine, which is similar to an Internet browser that uses standard Web markup and scripting languages such as HTML and ECMAScript.

The bridge between the two engines will be a Document Object Model that allows the Java EE access to all of the HTML and JavaScript objects in the PE environment.

"We are purposefully trying to find where our approach can overlap the DVB-MHP developments, but MHP will not be a formal part of OCAP."

CableLabs vice president of advanced platforms and services Don Dulchinos said.

There may be some Java-based applications that run on both OpenCable and MHP platforms, he added, "but I don't think there will ever be one global standard for interactive-television content."

One ITV content developer was unhappy with that situation.

"I'm really frustrated by the split between the DVB-MHP and OpenCable standards," said the developer, who asked not to be identified. "We want to create our content once and have it playable everywhere in the world. Instead, it seems we'll have to create multiple versions of every application, like having to make separate Macintosh and PC versions, which will drive production costs through the roof."

Said Canal Plus Technologies vice president of marketing Arthur Orduna: "Content owners naturally would love to see one universal interactive TV content standard. But for that to happen, the content itself must drive the evolution of a global standard.

"Persuading all elements in the value chain-content creators, network operators, equipment manufacturers-that it's in their own best interest to adopt one global standard is not going to be easy," he said.

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