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The IBC 2011 summed up in two words - ''Angry Birds''
The ability to download and play this simple game represents a very important change, the move towards an open platform and consumer choice, a move that could invigorate life into the set top box

20 September 2011
Tony Combe at IBC 2011

The IBC 2011 experience can be summed up in two words - “Angry Birds”.  It would appear that on the face of it that over seventy years of television development has culminated in the ability to play “Angry Birds” on a 50 inch television. However it’s my belief that the ability to download and play this simple game represents a very important change, the move towards an open platform and consumer choice, a move that could invigorate life into the set top box.

The set top box is, let's face it, not that exciting. It doesn't have the same mass market appeal as say the iPhone, iPad or a 50 inch television.  It’s either a box provided for free by your pay TV provider or something you buy from a shop in order to watch Freeview. There are of course exceptions such as Tivo and Boxee, but in the vast majority of cases it remains a utilitarian box, (even the name of which is far from inspiring).  It’s the service that the box offers which generates the excitement.

Back at the IBC “Angry Birds” is important because here is a game that can be downloaded to a connected Android television or even a set top box from an open market place, “wow so what” you might say!  Well, in an industry that has thrived on walled gardens and self-interest, the ability to develop for an open platform such as Android, is a game changer. Just as Apple opened up the smart phone market to developers and innovators, Android has the potential to open up the television market. In the old paradigm, new services or applications needed to be compatible with a particular chipset and middleware and would only see the light of day if the innovation met with the Broadcaster or operators’ view on the market and fitted within their business model, which ultimately meant that any innovation has been slow. The number of Android devices on show at IBC certainly provides hope that there is movement towards an open platform that will encourage greater innovation and a consumer market place where entrepreneurial zeal can flourish.  An example of the excitement generated by Android was seen on the Echostar stand.  On the back wall was the most incredibly slim PVR (personal video recorder) and alongside it was the much praised, but now a little jaded, Sling story.  However, the device that was gaining most interest was their Android box developed in just few weeks and running, you guessed it “Angry Birds”. The same story was played out on Sagemcom, LG, Trident, ST and many more, with Android taking centre stage.

IBC also saw the launch of Horizon from UPC (the cable gateway to the home) combining access to Cable and IP, as well as the re-distribution of content around the home over ethernet and WiFi, a move forward to what we at Motive Television are calling the personal cloud. Horizon shows great vision but in many respects seems to be way over the top or a hammer with which to crack a nut.  From what I could glean, it has both Atom and Sodaville SoCs.  The box is clearly aimed at high end subscribers and requires additional boxes to connect to televisions in other rooms. It wasn't clear if there was any transcoding in the Horizon box or whether second screen content was being provided OTT from the head-end.  This is important, as the latter will restrict the content that is available on my beloved iPAD.  Netgen and ANT were showing a far more accessible mass market approach to the personal cloud that re-distributed content to iPADs via a MPEG2 stream to an iPAD client.  The next step is a more visionary move towards the personal cloud that includes transcoding to H.264 and the support of Android and Flash, and then I would buy it.

I’m sure they were also showing “Angry Birds” on a Horizon box on the Samsung stand, or perhaps the show was getting to me!

Tony Combe
CTO and VP Engineering Motive Television