Open Letter: What does EC "support" mean?

Alex Hudson home at
Wed Aug 11 15:13:25 UTC 2004

On Wed, 2004-08-11 at 15:43 +0100, MJ Ray wrote:
> I note with interest the publication of "Interactive TV : Commission 
> reiterates its support for open and interoperable standards, but says 
> implementation should not be made legally binding" 

Market forces are a crock for standards.

> Please note that I don't really understand what this support entails, 
> if it does not (for example) require public-funded broadcasters to 
> implement an open interactive TV platform before any closed one. In 
> the UK, the BBC has interactive TV on DVB-T which I think might be 
> MHP-based (I can't receive it, being outside the coverage area), but 
> the DVB-S domestic service on Astra2 uses the dominant proprietary 
> Sky/OpenTV platform. The BBC hasn't even implemented a full DVB-SI EIT 
> (7-day electronic programme guide) or DVB-TXT (teletext) on DVB-S, as 
> I mentioned in 
> and elsewhere, so users wanting programmable Personal Video Recorders 
> (PVRs) are almost forced to purchase Sky's + system instead of a 
> DVB-standard set.

I think you probably ought to talk to some BBC engineers before saying
too much bad stuff about them. I have little idea about interactive TV,
but I did think the BBC used an open standard (maybe MHEG though). As
for the 7-day EPG, I'm fairly sure that is being broadcast in Wales and
Crystal Palace, and that the problem is one of end-user hardware, not
willingness to support standards. That would mean that two 7day EPGs
would be being broadcast - 4TV (proprietary) and the new 7day (actually
8, IIRC) SI. Or are you saying that the full DVB-SI they're testing is

I don't think the problem is initially that the BBC or other public
broadcasters don't want to make the information available, or not use
open standards, but that hardware people use is terrible. The list of
PVRs which cope with 7day EPG is *3*, according to I don't know
of any DVRs which cope with it. I seem to remember stories of people's
units going titsup occasionally with over-air updates, which is why
manufacturers are fairly reticent about making new changes.

I don't have much idea about the constraints the BBC works within on
DVB-S, but I know some Globecast uplink engineers who probably would
know. I will try asking if you're interested in the answer, but I would
imagine it will be something along the lines of "downlink don't support
it after recoding" or similar.

> Basic DVB-S equipment retails from around 80 pounds sterling, 

£40-50 if you know where to look. TopUpTV are coming out with some new
deal at some point soon with Argos to shift DVB equipment at £20 or
something ridiculous too, IIRC.

> Will the commission act against the UK Department of Culture, Media 
> and Sport's failure to ensure the BBC supports open and interoperable 
> standards for its DVB-S services, under Article 18 of Directive 
> 2002/21/EC?

It's possibly more a question for those making the equipment not
adhering to broadcast standards, rather than the BBC not wanting to
support open/interoperable standards. I know from past experience too
that there are often quite sensible reasons that they don't do something
"to standards", but they will also avoid proprietary tech when they can
(Dirac being a good case in point, I think). Whether or not it's
possible to regulate the receiver hardware to ensure it supports open
standards, I don't know, I suspect the authorities would be reticent to
try though. But, in summary, I don't think the problem would really be
the broadcasters, but the manufacturers.



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