Recently in Austria (this is were I’m living, and no: we do not have kangaroos here) the public broadcaster switched on a series of digital video broadcasting stations to start the transition from analogue TV to the digital age using DVB-T. As I’m kind of multimedia guy, I bought a reasonable USB DVB-T stick to do some recording and watching (the TerraTec Cinergy Hybrid T USB XS).
The Austrian public broadcaster started with 4 streams: ORF 1, ORF 2, ORF 2 local and ATV+. All of these come with their own videotext and EPG (Electronic Program Guide, the main big thing about DVB). In addition the broadcaster sends some so called Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) multitext mixed up into the streams.
So what’s that? MHP is kind of sending web pages (kind of XHTML) and Java (just google for Java TV) to client browsers. This can be used to add applications (games, quizzes) and information (schedule, background, images) to the current and scheduled broadcasts. More information can be found in wikipedia.
So why write about it if its good and usable? At a first thought this is a good thing. Why not using XHTML and Java (or some other interpreted language with a small VM) to add some features from the web to TV? This can be considered as good idea. What’s not so good about is, that an MHP browser makes DVB-T receivers more expensive. There’s a gap of 40 Euros between the cheapest receiver without and the cheapest receiver with such a browser. Where does this gap come from?
The MHP.org homepage from the DVB-Project provides an answer: They write at their Conformance & Licensing page “[…] entitled to use the MHP Mark, for which it pays a â‚¬10,000 initial royalty and an annual royalty […]”. Well that’s quite an amount of licensing fee, isn’t it. This little and unimposing part of a sentence also provides an explanation why open source projects do not implement MHP.
However this shows that there is still a market for non royalty free standards and people obviously can gain some revenue from it. This practice is (or was) also common within the MPEG standardization group. But due to success of W3C royalty free standards they also established a subgroup for free and open standards.