A closer look at Google’s new standardised Broadcast Stack reveals numerous benefits set to accelerate the reach of Android TV OS worldwide, which is good news for the larger technology provider community.
The release of the Broadcast Stack, and the consequent ripples that will emanate from it, will mean that more TV viewers will get the next-generation app-rich services they crave. But at the same time, OEMs, software and other tech providers now have much better clarity, roadmap, and direction as to how advanced hybrid services can more rapidly and economically rolled out.
First let’s take a look at what Google has actually done. At the end of October 2020, it was announced that Google has released a new, clearly defined yet-future-looking Broadcast Stack to support hybrid Android TV services. A Broadcast Stack is the software designed for set-top boxes (STB) and other TV devices that enables playing and recording of digital TV broadcast signals.
As of October, Google began to make its newly-standardised Broadcast Stack available to all Android TV ecosystem partners. While not making the Stack mandatory, Google is welcoming these many vendors to adopt it. The Google Broadcast Stack will become a component of the Android Ecosystem, similar to ExoPlayer, which is also available for free, customisable and completely optional.
The aim with the new Broadcast Stack is to support increasingly popular hybrid Android TV OS+DVB offerings worldwide. The Stack supports DVB-x/ISDP-T/IPTV protocols, and it includes PVR and broadcast media player functionalities.
The results of adopting the Stack are reduced technical complexity and easier integration for developing Android TV OS devices which have hybrid and Pay TV features, and it will reduce overall TCO.
The operator can be much more future-ready since porting and/or migrating to new hardware platforms – or new form factors, such as smart speakers or soundbars with HDMI, for example – is dramatically easier. Introducing new SoCs is also easier. Additionally, the STB will have assured security more rapidly, with less integration time needed, and without the requirement for custom CAS integration. And the STB will always be primed to deliver the latest features from the Android ecosystem, and be capable of supporting all the hottest new consumer apps using the latest APIs. Importantly, the Stack reduces the risk of much-dreaded ‘technology lock-in’ as it makes the Android TV OS Launcher even more OEM- and middleware-agnostic.
The October 2020 launch of the standardised Broadcast Stack did not come out of the blue. In 2019, Google advised the vendor community that a standardised Stack was coming and that it was evaluating the offerings in the marketplace in order to choose the technology on which to base the Stack. Google’s ultimate decision to base the common stack on Technicolor’s is not really very surprising, given that its hardware and middleware dominates the hybrid Android TV OS service segment right now.
We at 3SS ourselves are part of many of those hybrid Android TV OS projects, successfully integrated with the Technicolor Broadcast stack. In our six projects underway, we are working with several additional OEM partners on the Stack, including KAON and Skyworth, among others.
The Stack remains open for development
The Broadcast Stack is owned and maintained by Google and is now available for free to anyone in the Android TV OS ecosystem. These technology providers can use and modify the source code to integrate it with their own devices and services, as long as they have a licence agreement, either directly with Google or indirectly via the Android TV licensed operator. OEMs also need to sign an addendum to their Android TV Application Distribution Agreements.
Partners are able to do customisations on top (e.g. adding HbbTV capabilities, etc.), but the Stack itself will also evolve further. Google is leading maintenance on the Broadcast Stack to ensure alignment with the Android TV OS, and full compatibility with Android version releases. Technicolor has committed to supporting Google over the next few years to develop the Broadcast Stack further. But Google is also encouraging all partners to upstream new core functionality, feature and software enhancements.
The path is cleared for new devices, new experiences, more operator revenues
Overall, the release of the standardised Broadcast Stack, based on high-quality, tried and tested technology, is very good news for our industry, and for the customers we support. With active participation, contributions and improvements from the Android TV OS ecosystem community, in time the overall technology quality will be far higher than would otherwise be possible with each tech vendor working in isolation. This community approach will also yield efficiencies in processes and costs which will benefit all stakeholders.
Moreover, relieved of the worries, risks and obstacles surrounding basic technical compatibility and integration complexity, and assured of reliability and interoperation with other key things that make a TV service work properly, all parties are freed up to dedicate more of their energy and focus on the ‘excellence’ parts.
Launcher and user experience customisation can top the agenda when the most essential technical challenges are removed, which the standardised Broadcast Stack makes possible. Extra new devices can be more easily introduced, which gives the subscriber a more advanced experience and at the same time offers new business opportunities for the service provider. We at 3SS firmly believe that the enablement of intuitive voice control is a very big part of this, via STBs and other form factors with built-in far-field and near-field microphones and speakers.
One outcome of the enablement of all these new devices may be that the job of Stack integration will increasingly fall on the SoC vendor’s shoulders, the chip being the nerve centre of the subscriber’s system, needing to connect with each and every driver and tuner.
As the Broadcast Stack evolves and disseminates, less and less time will be taken up dealing with basic service function and operation. More time, instead, can be spent on the overall service firepower: the quality of streaming, 4K, HDR, and critically, the navigation, UI, customisation and other high-value-giving service elements – the things that are directly monetisable. Product launches and upgrades will take place earlier and will be more cost-optimised.
Service providers and their subscribers can be ever-more confident of a superior, next-level Android TV OS viewing experience, something ultimately in the interest of all of us in technology.