Biting The Bullet

Ah, so this week I've bitten the bullet and decided to work my way through the Project Canvas (now YouView) specifications.

On an initial read through they seem to be a sensible, if somewhat wide ranging and vague set of documents whose main weakness is, perhaps, in trying to encompass too many technologies and standards (although it is strangely prescriptive in areas such as DRM). Indeed, the documents read a little bit like an O'Rielly 'How To Do IPTV and OTT' rather than being a set of prescriptive standards.

Perhaps the most glaring absences at present are those of a System API and of a coherent metadata schema. Naturally, these are the most contentious of any specifications, but without these the danger is that there will be lots of different flavours of data interfaces that will mean that content owners will be forever chasing their tails in trying to comply with different platform devices.

One area where the specifications are not only vague, but hopeful, is that for the delivery of Flash video, whether over rtmp or http. At present hardly any STB chips can cope with this (although this situation is clearly poised to change), but it does render the vast majority of web video irrelevant to this initiative, resulting in significant additional work by content (or more likely, platform) providers.

The inclusion of an Application platform seems somewhat 'tagged on' to follow the prevailing trend in the industry. I personally believe that what the industry needs is a better approach to the definition of a 'channel' rather than taking this Apple conceit and creating yet more diverse platforms to add to those already developed by Apple, Nokia, Yahoo! and Sony, to name but a few.

Overall, I'm failing to see what two and a half years of work has achieved. This looks like a decent specification that anyone with good cross format knowledge could have put together in a few months.

What is most disappointing is the sheer lack of ambition to try and formulate a better way of doing things as opposed to throwing everything that's current common knowledge into the same pot and to try and mould it into some form of coherency.

For TV Everywhere it's something of a relief: with existing support for formats such as MPEG2 transport streams VidZapper can easily be adapted to deliver on demand and live channels to YouView. The rights management piece, such as it is, fits directly into the work we've been doing recently at Rights Tracker on rights marketplaces.

But perhaps the biggest winner is Vidiactive, whose technology can deliver the vast majority of the functionality for IP based content already available by doing little or no software integration.

** Has anyone else there worked their way through these documents, or is involved in specifying them ? We'd appreciate hearing your views and responses.