The Top Two Things About EBIF I06


CableLabs has released 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 — the details of the most current iteration of the EBIF specification were posted Feb. 26 — 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 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 on-demand 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.

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