Hamid Ouddane, Electronic Program Guide leader at Orbit's Broadcast Operations & Technology department in Rome, thinks the world of Orbit's new STBs and heralds a "new era" of interactive services.
In recent press releases, Orbit Television & Radio Network, one of the main players in the Pay TV arena in the Middle East & North Africa, announced the start of a new era of programming, with new channels and interactive services to come that will enhance the viewing experience and give more control over the what-to-watch question.
This comes as a logical continuation of the successful deployment of Orbit's new generation of Set Top Boxes* (decoders), and the switch to the widely adopted broadcasting standard DVB** or Digital Video Broadcasting. Even though Orbit has transmitted in digital quality since its inception, the move to DVB will allow the platform access to a larger market of hardware manufacturers since DVB is an international standard that has become the de facto industry standard. It will also offer a better image and sound quality as it is based on a more advanced technology than the one used in the past.
On the other side, the new Set Top Box allows for interactivity with the viewer. Dedicated services will receive input from the viewer via different means, such as the remote control, interpret his commands, and provide him with the desired information. And yet again, Orbit is taking advantage of its new decoder, since it stands to benefit from a bigger choice amid the offers in the fast growing market of interactive applications.
The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is one of these new services, with a set of interactive applications providing very powerful means to browse the myriad programs Orbit is offering. Through one of them, the viewer can access instant information on the program being aired at the time as well as the following one. Program information varies from start time and duration to a detailed description of content. The application keeps the viewer tuned to the channel being watched while consulting other channel programming. This is made possible by an on-screen layer on which information is displayed while video continues to play on the background layer.
For a wider time-scale, the user would launch the EPG application, which gives him a global 7-day view of the programming on all the network's channels. The viewer can browse through a 7-day calendar starting with the current day. Not only does it help the viewer decide which movie to watch the following evening, or look forward to next weekend's football match, but it notifies him when the program is about to start, thanks to a program-specific reminder that the viewer sets just as he would an alarm clock.
The Mosaic application reinforces this trend and consists of video feeds from a number of video channels simultaneously presented in a grid along with the audio feed of the selected channel. Changing the selection from one channel to another will set the audio to the newly selected channel. Additionally, the viewer can decide to watch the selected channel and tune to it by pressing a button on the remote control. Not only is there a Mosaic application to help the viewer watch his preferred programs but another Mosaic application helps him listen to his favorite music. This works in the same way as the first, with no video (yes, it's a radio!).
Pay Per View is another of Orbit's new services, packaged and branded as "TV Max"***. It allows the viewer to purchase access to pre-scheduled premium programming, such as exclusive sport events, and big-hit just-released movies. A press release indicated that one way to access "TV Max" would be from the decoder's remote control.
Orbit has announced other soon-to-come interactive applications. Electronic games are on the agenda as well but further details, such as the kind of gaming experience they will provide, are yet to be disclosed.
With a state-of-the-art Set Top Box, the adoption of an international standard such as DVB, and a set of viewer-centric interactive applications, Orbit has definitely repositioned itself on the Pay TV scene, and is playing a leading role in driving market trends.
* A Set Top Box (STB) is a hardware device for receiving transmitted signals and converting these to a standard type of frequency for display on a standard analog TV set. Commonly called decoders, they represent a central piece in the Digital TV architecture by deciphering the broadcast and providing a place to run interactive applications.
** "The DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting Project) is an industry-led consortium of over 300 broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators, software developers, regulatory bodies and others in over 35 countries committed to designing global standards for the delivery of digital television and data services", from the www.dvb.org web site.
*** More information on "TV Max" can be found at:
www.orbit.net/TV Max/TV Max.htm