The Future of Screens

December 28, 2020


The Future of Screens

At the end of 2019, Apple, Amazon, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance announced they were joining forces to develop and promote the adoption of a new IP-based connectivity standard for the smart home.

At the end of 2019, Apple, Amazon, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance announced they were joining forces to develop and promote the adoption of a new IP-based connectivity standard for the smart home. Since then, the focus on a unified, open source platform has attracted more stakeholders from a wide range of categories in the smart home market. This includes HVAC, lighting, appliances, locks and TVs, which some experts predict will eventually serve as the hub of home connectivity.

There is no question the TV screen has become a focal point of the home. It's not surprising, considering the abundance of entertainment, news, and information available round the clock today. Arguably, it was cable that brought TV to a whole new level and consumers to a new era of choice in what they could consume.

But, while the multitude of viewing options for consumers has expanded dramatically over the decades, cable platforms historically have offered a poor user experience. Most everyone with cable—or anyone who has stayed in a hotel room—has had the displeasure of scrolling through guides and channels ad nauseum to find something suitable to watch. That's because the platform was sold by manufacturers as one big monolithic solution, which included the backend, hardware, and the software that runs on that hardware and the user interface (UI). Things began to change in 2012, however, when Comcast introduced RDK (Reference Design Kit), which started out as a cable-focused platform for video set-top boxes.

Essentially a middleware, RDK allowed Comcast to build an open source platform enabling an innovative consumer experience on top. In the process, it has enabled other manufacturers, vendors, software developers, system integrators and service providers to customize their UIs and apps—as long as their hardware is compliant with the software development kit (SDK). With more players and competitive pricing, this not only drives down cost but also enables them to create a singular, innovative UI.

RDK also paved the way for Comcast's Xfinity X1, a TV and entertainment service set up through a set-top box with DVR. The interface allows users to consolidate whatever they want to watch—from news to sports and everything in between—making it searchable with voice controls from one place. It can also connect to home security systems. Comcast is now syndicating that product to big multiple-system operators (MSOs), such as Cox and Rogers Communications in Canada, allowing them to multi-source their vendors, buying from Arris, as well as Broadcom and Technicolor, for example.

How the tech stacks up

Currently, hardware manufacturers are creating devices with on-board cameras. The cameras feature bi-directional voice and video capabilities, which could enable RDK-powered solutions like home video conferencing to keep family members connected from any device. Because the SDK is not tightly coupled to the middleware, experiences could potentially become more flexible to include things like gaming, as well as cloud streaming and eventually being able to control everything connected in a smart home from the largest device.

Undoubtedly, companies in the hardware space are struggling to stay competitive with industry disruptors like Google and Android TV. This has created pressure to reach "super aggregation," where as many over-the-top (OTT) services as possible are folded into one platform that can bubble up the best recommendations and live feeds for the subscriber. Whether it's a Hulu or Netflix movie, real-time updates for a specific sporting event, news or a twitter alert. Voice activation and identity is a big part of this. Imagine multiple users in one household able to voice their preferred content or experience on whichever screen or device they are using, with personal preferences and recommendations recognized instantly when using Bluetooth.

RDK for video helps manage complex video functions such as stream management, tuning, conditional access, and DRM. With a common framework for developing STB software, RDK-V incorporates features such as IP video and media streaming/DLNA while allowing for the operator's UI control and development. When it comes to next-gen video products and services, RDK not only accelerates the deployment of these products but also simplifies any customization of the application and user experience. RDK for video distinguishes itself in multiple ways, including:

  • Transparency: RDK-V offers MVPD full transparency for the source code.
  • Design Specifications: Within the application and service layers, RDK-V enables the MVPD to focus, innovate, and  differentiate. Open source components and standards include Linux kernel and drivers, Busybox, OpenSSL, WPE, OpenGL, Gstreamer, UPnP libraries etc.
  • Large community user base: Used and supported by major MSOs, OEMs and SoC vendors, RDK-V is licensed under Apache 2.0 and available free.
  • Vast device management capability: While it supports features like SNMP, TR-069, WebPA, Feature Control ,Telemetry, Log upload, each component of an RDK-V build can be easily added or removed for varying target builds.

Today, while RDK has evolved into an open source software solution that standardizes core functions used in broadband (RDK-B), smart media devices and video services (RDK-V) and connected cameras (RDK-C) present a challenge. Multi-channel video programming distributors (MPVDs) retain the UI. To stay competitive, however, they will need to offer flexible services. That's where RDK bridges the gap. It not only gives them the ability to create a more immersive user experience that brings subscribers in and keeps them but also accelerates time to market.

The need to create a fluid consumer experience is clear, but with the home currently command central for millions working, learning, recharging and unwinding, there has never been a better time to rethink and determine how devices, screens and applications can be integrated with open-source, RDK-based solutions enabling better experiences that make life easier and more enjoyable for everyone.