The Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) was defined and developed by the DVB Consortium. It provides the key to drive fast adoption of interactive digital television. It is an open standard for digital TV receivers that provides a universal, open interface for the development of multimedia-added-value applications for digital TV programs and services.
The MHP enables broadcasters and network operators to provide content to viewers via interoperable STBs, iDTV sets and other receiving devices of any brand. The standard introduces viewers to a wealth of new interactive services, including personal TV applications, home shopping and home banking.
In addition, the MHP standard seamlessly integrates the advantages of digital television, including outstanding picture and sound quality, with the connectivity of the Internet, using advanced Java technology to give a superior TV-centric interactive experience. The MHP works both separately or simultaneously with cable, satellite and terrestrial, and it is not dependent on whether the return channel is telephone modem, cable modem, DSL or satellite. It enables the end-to-end delivery of unified, global content within a secure, open and extendable framework employing scalable architecture, and it is proving to be the only interoperable solution.
Several companies are active members of the DVB Consortium. Major players include Canal+ Technologies, which is developing MHP support for its MediaHighway stack; IRT, Tality and Alticast, with MHP middle-ware components for integration into existing DTV stacks; Panasonic with an MHP middleware implementation that has been licensed to OpenTV; and Philips, with MHP-compliant middle-ware and an MHP navigator, complete iDTV extensions and DVB functionality, and Resident Applications.
In addition, several consumer electronics (CE) companies are developing products based on MHP technology, including B&O, Grundig, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp and Sony.
Finland is the first country to have launched the MHP, and this will be closely followed by Germany, where a declaration of broadcasters and media authorities was agreed and signed in September 2001 by the public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, the private broadcasters Bertelsmann Group and Kirch Group, and by the German regional media authorities that regulate the licensing of private broadcasters. The declaration covers free and pay-TV and supports the rapid and coordinated migration to the MHP.
It will be complemented with a detailed Memorandum of Understanding that will embrace all players.
Even though the current release of the MHP standard is MHP 1.1, development and, more importantly, interoperability efforts are focused on MHP 1.0.2.
The next version, MHP 1.1, has been defined and released as an ETSI standard, but interoperability tests are currently unavailable for it. MHP 1.1 includes the so-called Internet Access profile, which essentially states that an Internet Access MHP should include a Web browser and e-mail client, along with ways to go to and from iTV.
The DVB Consortium does not attempt to define what the Web browser and e-mail client should be, merely that there should be one of each and that they should interact with MHP xlets in the defined way. This means that a broadcaster can send a URL for the Web browser to go to, but it has no guarantees as to what the page will look like, just as with any Web site on the Internet today.
Given that the MHP is an extendable specification, anyone can build an MHP 1.0.x product with an HTML browser and e-mail client. More importantly, given that the return channel for MHP is designed as an IP connection, it is feasible to write xlets that use any ISP as the return channel and connect directly into the Internet, regardless of whether the return channel is dial-up, DSL, cable or other.
From a consumer perspective, the Internet can be accessed with MHP 1.0.x. From a content provider perspective, using these xlet-based methods allows control over the way in which content is presented and effectively makes concerns about waiting for the DVB Internet access profile and DVB-HTML redundant. It is, therefore, necessary to differentiate between actually accessing the Internet and the so-called DVB-MHP Internet access profile.
The next generation of MHP technology, MHP 2.0, is under discussion and definition by the DVB Consortium. This specification is intended to include intelligent PVR, home networking, mobility and broadband content capabilities. Further implementation is progressing rapidly, but testing MHP interoperability is essential before products are brought to market. It is carried out in a workshop environment, and some 78 different companies have brought MHP applications, implementations, receivers and different items of broadcast equipment to a massive plugfest to iron out the bugs.
The DVB-MHP will roll out across Europe and Asia in the next 18 months, and with the adoption by CableLabs in its Opencable standard, there is likely to be a successful roll-out in the USA.
Paul Bristow is strategic technologist, and Ursula Soritsch-Renier is senior product marketing manager, Softworks business group, Philips Digital Networks.