i3 | November 08, 2017

Connecting Content and Tech

Mike Bergman
smart tv

More than 160 engineers are working on improving Smart TV with CTA. The WAVE Project brings together many major players in commercial over-the-top (OTT) video, all seeking to improve interoperability. But if you own a smart TV and have watched a movie using Netflix, Prime, Starz or other online services, you might wonder why all the fuss? Doesn’t OTT video already work pretty well?

A smart or connected TV contains a pretty amazing suite of media technologies. Simply making a connection to the internet requires quite a bit of code. From there, add in handling of many audio and video codecs; building interfaces to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime; figuring out some way to authenticate the same TV each time you want to watch Game of Thrones and you realize there is quite a bit going on in Smart TVs.

If this wasn’t already a challenge for the development teams at your preferred TV brand, consider the challenge of getting all of this to actually work across the board. It’s one thing to build a Smart TV that does all of these things with one service, say, Netflix. It is quite another to also make it work with Amazon Prime. And Hulu, YouTube, Crackle, etc.

Each of these services faces many options for how they compress, package, encrypt and ship a multimedia service to consumers. Four major media streaming technologies can ride on top of internet services and adapt to the speed of the connection. There are also multiple video codecs, audio codecs, encryption schemes and closed-caption technologies. It is easy to build up to thousands of possible combinations that could be inbound to that poor smart TV. At this point you have to hope it really is extremely “smart.”

Actually, the companies making devices — phones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs, “sticks” (like Chromecast or Fire) — cannot test every combination. Instead, they estimate which combinations are most important or likely to be used, then test for those. Manufacturers discuss the technical specifications with content providers, then engineering teams integrate and test for the most necessary combinations. These are the ones that light up the screen when you turn on the device.

The result is that the devices cannot be entirely consistent in how they support the many possible services. On the content side, service providers know that target devices have these inconsistencies, so they create multiple versions of the same content for multiple “platforms.” Imagine a version of Wonder Woman that is formatted to work on iPhones, another version set for Samsung TVs, and yet another version for those Android phones. It’s a bit of a nightmare.

In between the content companies (sources) and devices (destinations), more elements to this infrastructure deal with getting from the source to the destination. Software companies, chipmakers, content delivery networks, transcoding services, the list goes on. And all of these companies are struggling with their role in this fragmented OTT ecosystem.


The WAVE Project is working on a common, interoperable approach that can work on all devices to make everyone’s OTT life easier. The WAVE Project will lead to solutions that are tested, interoperable and predictable. A consistent approach will lower development costs, raise reliability, and enable new products and services to come to market. WAVE is about consistently using the best standards and providing usable test suites to verify those standards. The WAVE Project is global and working with the regional and international standards bodies that are critical to OTT, including broadcasting groups like ATSC and HbbTV.  Participants in WAVE are seeing the future, in terms of the requirements, procedures and test suites under development.

The Underlying Tech of OTT

The WAVE Project doesn’t create new “core” standards for things like video compression or delivery. Instead, WAVE is specifying how to use the best — and best supported — modern standards. The core standards for adoptive bit rate streaming are Apple HLS and MPEG-DASH. MPEG, Common Encryption, MPEG-CENC, is used to pass critical information about the encryption used, from the source to the device. Streams are packaged in MPEG-CMAF format. On the device side, WAVE uses an HTML5 API framework as a reference (handy for providing test suite materials) but doesn’t require it; HTML5-MSE and HTML5-EME are the W3C  Recommendations key to this functionality along with the rest of the HTML suite.

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