E VRT: Interactive television pilot in Flanders
A set top box with a local storage capacity of 80GB: 60 GB is reserved for VRT
pushed video content and 20 GB for Personal Video Recording (PVR), able to
display about 12 hours of recorded video.
The set top box includes a DVD/CDRom player and a Smart Card Reader. The
latter is not functional at the moment.
The set top box has a retour channel, i.e. an ADSL modem provided by the
Belgian telecom operator Belgacom enabling Internet surfing, e mail, chat,
SMS, video on demand, etc. (via an infra red keyboard).
A user friendly Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) with, for instance, a one
push button recording function.
Support of an open middleware standard for interactive TV applications
operating on DVB platforms, i.e. the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) standard,
adapted by the European Telecommunications Standards Unit (ETSI). It is an
Application Programming Interface (API) that is gaining worldwide support in
competition with proprietary operating systems. By the beginning of next year,
the VRT DHP pilot will migrate to MHP.
Not only is all the hardware provided for free to the test panel households, but also
the wireless broadband ADSL connection offered by Belgacom and the basic services
provided by the VRT. Belgacom however, is planning to introduce charges for some
of its new services in the future (e.g. video on demand).
VRT staff argue that the DHP project is unprecedented in Europe because of the
combination of a set top box (with PVR and DVD player) with a permanent high
capacity connection to the Internet. It enables Internet access via the television for
instance, which has clear implications for the digital divide policy concern. The
Flemish government instructed the E VRT to address this issue.
The VRT strongly believes in this new mission and wants to achieve it in two ways.
Firstly, by bringing its rich audiovisual content and related services to as many
people as possible, by as many distribution channels as possible, to as many
technological platforms as possible. This is what is called a multi channel philosophy.
Secondly, by using the extremely high penetration of TV sets for bringing digital
services to people who have no access to other digital platforms such as the
Internet. Public broadcasters should not be marginalized in the digital era, quite the
contrary , argues Peter Goyvaerts, VRT project advisor and co ordinator Innovative
The DHP project intends to offer more virtual channels
, especially thematic ones
(e.g. special news dossiers); provide new services (e.g. on line voting, gaming) and
increase the control of viewers over the broadcast programmes. The latter is
possible via pausing live TV , the PVR and personalized news items. The objective
of the pilot is to gather experiences and build innovative knowledge on technologies
and their use, content and applications, and the reactions of the end users.
A few months after the initial launch of the pilot, technical problems with the set
top boxes forced the E VRT to downgrade their ambitions temporarily. Multi tasking,
i.e. running different applications at the same time, especially when video fragments
were part of it, caused the boxes to crash. Also difficulties with the Windows XP
operating system were encountered. In September 2002, the project was re
launched and after one month of operational running, no major technical problems
have been encountered.
2. As opposed to supplying traditional new TV channels.