Posted by & filed under Digital TV, Featured, Java DTV.

Sun Microsystems has released a royalty-free Java specification as an alternative to the royalty-encumbered “GEM” and “MHP” family of digital TV specifications developed by the European Digital Video Broadcasting group and associated groups.

“GEM” and “MHP” may not be exactly household words, but they are the backbone specifications of the interactivity layer of Blu-ray, US cable’s “tru2way” platform, and national DTV adoptions in Italy, Korea, and elsewhere.

The backstory to this seemingly minor announcement should be evaluated closely by anyone around the world interested in the still-emerging field of digital TV deployments — it will provide eye-opening insight into the techno-politics of royalties, and the alternatives.

This royalty-free/open source specification work, announced in March 2008, has been a collaboration between Brazil’s Digital Television forum (SBTVD), the Brazilian government, Sun, and leading DTV vendors in Brazil to provide a royalty-free foundation to Brazil’s Ginga interactivity specification for DTV.

Patent royalties have been a painful aspect of digital TV rollouts around the world and belatedly recognized as problematic in the US.

Brazil is leading the charge of developing countries that are rethinking the business-as-usual approach of the developed world to the nexus between patent pools, standards, and open source (the word “neocolonial” comes up not infrequently when one looks at efforts by patent pools from developed countries to charge developing countries royalties to “join the digital TV era”).

Brazil has applied this fresh thinking to its digital TV rollout.  In 2006, Brazil chose the Japanese ISBD digital TV and mobile broadcasting standard in an MOU with Japan to “allow Brazilian companies to use the technology without paying royalties” — much to the chagrin and nay-saying of the royalty-encumbered European DVB and US/Korea ATSC standards.  The move sparked ongoing techno-geopolitical debates, but nonetheless has helped to up (or more accurately lower) the royalty ante for future DTV adoptions — like the already royalty-free UK MHEG-5 specification dodging the patent-pool bullet and enabling more royalty-free options for digital TV deployments.  One might suspect downward price pressure and bargaining leverage may have been in the picture when the MHP patent pool quietly lowered its prices.

Congratulations to the many incredibly talented people that have brought out the world’s newest and most innovative (and royalty-free!) interactive specification for digital TV, and thanks for the opportunity to help!


6 Responses to “Royalty-Free Java DTV Specification Released for Brazil and the World”

  1. Luiz Maluf

    Bright article, Rob. It really describes most of the complexities and the exposure related to the adoption of royalty – encumbered technologies

  2. Eunsang Yun

    Very useful article. I see good biz opportunities with the technology. Thank you, Rob.

  3. Dimas Oliveira

    Excellent article… i couldn’t imagine to summarize the whole history in one article :) Well done.

  4. Alexandre Infante de Castro

    The work carried out in Brazil was a process of rethinking Digital TV in a way that it could actually become what everyone expects of it, without loosing what makes television great for viewers. This could only be done by addressing the barriers imposed to DTV implementation by royalties and licenses, while still respecting intellectual property rights.

    Your article is a good summary of the accomplishments made by the team responsible for designing SBTVD standards and regulations. It’s also proof that there might be something to gain when rethinking old solutions over the light of new ideas.

  5. Aldo

    Using ISDB still requires a royalty to be paid to MPEG-LA for the MPEG-4 video codec. The myth of a royalty-free DTV system is just that — non-existent.

  6. Rob Glidden

    I’d suggest a royalty free path to the TV might be shorter than might be apparent.

    Indeed, the article certainly doesn’t say or imply that the MPEG-4 video codec is royalty free, it most certainly is not — as described in the previous post on Sun’s OMS Video draft at http://www.robglidden.com/2008/12/oms-video-draft/.

    But Brazil has eliminated an even larger chunk of royalties in the transmission and interactive layers. Royalties on transmission (“$5.00 for each ATSC Receiver Product”, see http://www.mpegla.com/atsc/atsc-faq.cfm) and the interactive layer described in the article (MHP is $1.75 and $1.25 per subscriber household, see http://www.vialicensing.com/licensing/MHP_fees.cfm) can be more than an MPEG-2 codec ($2.50 per decoder, see http://www.mpegla.com/m2/m2-agreement.cfm) or lower-priced patented codec like MPEG-4, AVC, H.264 etc (see http://www.mpegla.com).

    So component by component, the path to royalty-free is clearer than ever, and Brazil has intelligently and pragmatically moved a significant way along it. A future deployment choosing one of several royalty-free (or significantly lower-priced) codecs, well that might be unthinkable to a certain patents-are-forever status-quo … but …

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