Overcoming connected home challenges
Chris Forrester

The so-called ‘connected home' has been talked about seemingly forever, yet consumers continue to find it a huge challenge. The telcos have demonstrated their versions of the ‘home of the future' complete with us all wearing head-sets issuing voice-controlled instructions to run our bath, or order up 2 pints of milk! NDS, best-known for its Conditional Access and set-top box technology, has developed some sound advice - and solutions for overcoming what it admits are very real challenges.

NDS says their focus is very much on easy connectivity, discovery and access to content from any connected device on the home network. An important aspect will be the ability to access content recorded on a DVR from any STB on the home network, negating the need to have multiple DVRs in each home. Users will also be able to connect PCs and wi-fi-enabled devices to the home network. NDS will be showcasing their solutions at IBC this coming weekend.

NDS firmly says it is agnostic on the network's physical network, which can be wired or wireless, HPNA or MoCA-based ‘standards'. It can manage each or any. It highlights the key obstacles as:

1. One of the main challenges to accessing content from any device is the use of a shared catalogue. NDS will use industry standards like DLNA and, within this, UPnP, and facilitate close integration with the NDS EPG to access content and to act on this content (e.g. booking from one unified catalogue). Another example is of a DVR and two zapper boxes connected to an IP-based home network: a user could access and act on the same content via the EPG, even though there are no hard drives on the zapper boxes. A multi-room system like this would be good for service providers' CAPEX budgets, because zapper boxes are cheaper to deploy than DVRs. To make this happen smoothly, the set-top box software needs to incorporate an advanced feature set that enables ease of use and transparency across multiple devices on the home network.
2. CA/DRM: There is obviously a significant CA/DRM challenge to overcome when content is being moved around the home network. NDS has a mix of hardware and software-based CA/DRM solutions to ensure that content rights are protected when content is moved between devices. In a closed, vertical world where the home network comprises only a DVR and a couple of zapper boxes, content security is relatively easily achieved. The greater challenge arrives when you look at a horizontal business model where devices such as PCs and mobile phones (e.g. iPhone), which support wi-fi and multi-media rendering, are added to the network. The STB software, EPG support and DRM challenges suddenly intensify. NDS' task is to ensure the same user experience and ease of use, regardless of which device on the home network is being used to access and view content. This includes the need to ensure a transparent handover to other DRM systems.
3. Bandwidth optimisation is another challenge in a converged, networked world. When you have a lot of IP-connected devices on the home network, they are constantly ‘talking' to themselves and the outside world and using up valuable bandwidth. Network bandwidth needs to be optimised so that QoS can be guaranteed for the TV service, where people expect a flawless user experience. This is where Jungo, an NDS Group company and leader in residential gateway middleware comes in to the equation. Jungo's residential gateway middleware enables operators to define a set of priorities at the home gateway in order to guarantee QoS for pay-TV services over and above any other downloads.

Further to these core elements, NDS has a portfolio of advanced apps for operators, all of which will be on show at IBC, and include:

* Hybrid search and select, which exploits broadband access to hugely widen a STBs seach functionality.
* Social TV, which encourages access to social networking groups.
* IPhone application, which uses the iPhone to book content as if the iPhone were a remote control.
* LocateTV, which sees the DVR tapping into Locate TV's designated web-site, then finds the programme and records it.
* Home Network Extender, a software-only solution that takes a user's music and images that are stored on a PC on the home network and plays the content back on a TV.