It was clear from IBC 2016 that open source set-top box software is gaining momentum. In one notable development, Ericsson is integrating its MediaFirst platform (which provides an advanced UI, among other things) with RDK, which strictly speaking is shared-source rather than open source but provides the same kind of benefits. Elisabetta Romano, VP and Head of TV and Media at Ericsson, hailed RDK as a very strong initiative that her company is happy to collaborate with. “There are SoC vendors and CPE providers from all over the world [working in RDK] and that is very important to us and we want to actively contribute into RDK,” she said at the Amsterdam event.
Ericsson serves the cable market and this will be partly driving the support for RDK but Giles Wilson, Ericsson TV & Media CTO and Head of Portfolio & Architecture, believes the RDK market could expand to telcos. Other vendors have told us to expect telcos and even satellite operators to adopt RDK; this announcement certainly increases the chances of that diversification.
Ericsson is also integrating MediaFirst onto the Android TV OS, providing another open source solution for its customers. Sascha Prueter, Head of Android TV at Google, says consumers are starting to expect the kind of apps and experiences they enjoy on smartphones and tablets on the television, and that this can be enabled with Android TV.
“We have built an ecosystem that we think can benefit the TV market greatly, but we rely on partners who are experts in TV and who we can work with to bring modern consumer expectations to market quickly,” he declared.
Romana said of the Google agreement: “We think service providers will benefit from this collaboration and the reach of the Android TV ecosystem and we have the traditional relationship with services providers [that will give it traction].”
Giles Wilson notes that both consumers and service providers gain value from the user experience and applications on a television and not from the ‘plumbing’ that you find underneath. “If you are using an open solution, whether RDK or Android, you are removing what used to be a fairly significant contribution [developing the lower software layers] to the cost of the set-top box.”
Meanwhile at IBC, Jim Henderson, SVP & GM for International CPE at ARRIS revealed that his company is looking at the possibility of supporting Android. “As more operators embrace Android, we will embrace that,” he confirmed. “Lots of developments are either underway or in the dialogue stage with customers.”
The agreement that sees Espial take ownership of the ARRIS Whole Home Solution (WHS) platform, which is a managed UI and back office (provided on a software as a service model) also has intriguing possibilities for RDK, given the influence that Espial could now have on the STB roadmap for approximately 40 service providers (mainly North American and mainly Tier 2 and Tier 3) who are customers of WHS.
Espial is dedicated to RDK so it is hard to imagine that an RDK solution will not be offered, at some point, for this Whole Home customer base. The Whole Home offer, which includes an advanced multi-room DVR capability with Wi-Fi, currently runs on a number of ARRIS devices including the DCX-3635 Gateway and uses the MOXI software stack.
In another interesting development, Amino has unveiled a 4K/UHD set-top box that will run on both its Enable STB software and Android TV. This provides Pay TV operators with a migration path from Enable-only devices to hybrid Enable-with-Android set-tops (where Android apps can be run on the box) to Android-only. This is an Android TV GMS (Google Mobile Services) implementation so will come with various popular OTT apps from day one. This dual-mode STB will arrive next year.
A few years ago, Android for TV was viewed as a seriously niche solution for smaller platform operators. There is no question that it is now a serious option. Swisscom is one of the high-profile operators already using Android for its set-top boxes (with an Android Open Source Project – AOSP) implementation.