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back to article WTF is... Project Canvas?

The BBC Trust announced on Friday that it had approved Project Canvas, the internet-connected TV specification that’s backed by the BBC along with the other public service broadcasters, plus telcos Talk Talk and BT, and transmitter overseer Arqiva. Project Canvas The Project Canvas partners The decision follows months of …

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Grenade

Bring it on...

Bring on Canvas, it sounds potentially great!

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Linux

MythTV

I want to know if MythTV will be able to fit into this picture. For many people, it may actually make it redundant. I'm undecided.

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TV manufacturers GUIs all suck

As someone who has used multiple freeview TVs and now has a panasonic PVR, can I state that these people should not be allowed to design their own GUIs. They may think they can add value by doing their own interface, but they all suck, really. With their inconsistent buttons in different screens, their confirmation dialogs -they must have hired the MS windows mobile team to design these nightmares.

The iPlayer app for the Wii, it is not only what an online TV experience should be, it puts every other UI in the living room to shame. No need for a controller with 50 buttons, just something even a small child can wave at the screen.

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Bronze badge

EPG

I agree that so many of the online EPGs and navigation on STBs are just hopeless.

I liked the TiVO interface when that was in the UK and a couple of others but on the whole they are pretty poor.

As for Virgin Media fighting this - well their interface is awful. Has some of the most roundabout ways of dong things and is a mish-mash of different services and areas. They've had many years to sort it out themselves and create a nice unified experience for viewing their content and failed.

I really dislike the "Sky style" of EPG where it is difficult to even tell what is on now on each channel. I prefer the style shown for canvas in the screen shot but it needs to show what is on now on each channel rather than have to scroll to each channel to see it.

I wonder also what this will mean for Google TV if it enters the UK market as these would be two competing systems with similar features.

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FAIL

Canvas is not just a system for online services

Canvas JV will control and be able to update the device user interface. This limits room for device differentiation competition.

E.g. Local network or USB features of products may not be possible to offer easily as top level features.

If you want something more similar to what you describe try HbbTV.

Canvas is a massive control grab and UK specific standard that is unlikely to attract the global players. It is also still secret in technical details.

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FAIL

Except

That the specifications have to be published.

That's more than Sky or Vermin do.

A number of the companies involved are what you'd call 'Global'. So how is it not going to attract Global players, and what's to say once implemented the standard won't be adopted elsewhere.

Personally, I'll never be happy to pay Sky or Virgin in order to _Still_ see adverts. BTVision does me fine, nice set of On Demand content, got the catchup features, a PVR and Freeview.

The last two I could have got with a Freeview+ box, but the extras are worth the ~£15 a month. It saves booting the PC I have attached to the TV to do a similar job.

Frankly, I don't care if TV in the UK is monopolised by the BBC. All I care about is whether they make decent content or spew out crap. If they have to completely exclude Sky and Virgin from the market in the UK, well that's a cost of business for those two companies. It's a state granted monopoly and generally creates far more 'good' content than the other two reprobates.

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Stop

oh no

The trouble with this is that the manufacturers of freeview boxes, such as Humax, are already incapable of delivering quality at the level of complexity you get these days.

Seriously, put your hand up if you have some kind of dedicated Freeview box., with or without DVR functionality. Now keep your hand up if it has never crashed in normal use.

Yeah, about three of you then.

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OSC

On Friday...

...Andrew Orlowski was wondering why (particularly Free Software and Open Standards types) were sitting on their hands over this great land grab

Today, you re telling us that giving the BBC the ability to define what will be sold as a consumer ICT device is a good idea.

Just wondering

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: On Friday...

Reg Hardware != Andrew Orlowski

Andrew has his own views on Canvas. Reg Hardware's editorial stance is that it's better to have the BBC sticking its oar in - as are plenty of others - but getting a workable, open platform than have umpteen vendors separately trying to build some of it for their own products.

Personally, I want iPlayer and all the other free-to-air catch-up services on my Sony TV, and Canvas looks to be the best way of getting it.

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Workable, yes. Open ... I don't think so.

Scroll back up to the guy asking whether MythTV will be involved, or even relevant. Ask yourself how they could get involved, even if they wanted to.

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@Evil Graham

Open standard != Open source

Learn the difference.

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Bronze badge

You are quite right

And my point is that Canvas will be neither.

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Stop

Re: You are quite right

No, your point wasn't that. And now you're backpedalling. Besides (and without reverting to semantics) how on earth do you know it won't be an open standard? Are you privy to some insider information beyond the reams of press stating that Canvas is an open standard? Or are you just too clever to believe the BBC propaganda?

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Bronze badge

What can I say?

Without descending into "yes it was, no it wasn't", that was exactly the point.

You should read Nigel Whitfield's post about the D-Book and DTG. He explained it really well.

The UK TV standards are closed already, you can't access them without being a DTG member. Now if you want to make a Freeview HD product for example, you have to sign a licence to get access to certain parts of the spec, which is effectively your promise to abide by the content management rules.

Since Canvas will carry all that content and more, the licensing rules are likely to be at least as restrictive. That's why the standards won't be open, and also why there can't be a legal open-source implementation of Canvas.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Not so open

I haven't spoken to anyone in TV who mistakes Canvas for an open spec. The Digital TV Group (DTG) sets standards for FreeView, FreeView HD+ and so on, and some Canvas specs will probably find their way into the DTG's D-Book 7. You could argue the DTG has been too slow, with some justification.

The BBC Trust has now set some interesting conditions for Canvas, but it remains a private consortium started and owned by the broadcasters. Hence the fuss - it's one of vertical integration.

This is really an old argument - should content providers control the hardware? Or should they concentrated on making better content.

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Hear hear

The mere fact that the principal naysayers all have their own vested interests at the heart of their opposition to Canvas should be enough to make it obvious that, on balance, it will probably be a good thing for consumers.

And it won't be another DAB either, despite what many seem to think.

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Anonymous Coward

Not a "cartel" anymore then?

I'm glad to see a relatively unbiased report on Canvas from the Reg at last. There have been several articles on the main Register site recently with a rather blatant subtext, referring to the initiative as a "cartel" among other things. Here's hoping the standard of journalism at the Reg maintains this level more consistently.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Actually...

See Evil Graham's comments above.

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FAIL

The test of an "open" standard...

... is that you can freely download it, preferably along with a reference implementation.

Can somebody post the appropriate URL?

Thought not...

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: The test of an "open" standard...

Give them a chance to finish the spec... *then* complain when they don't release it.

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OSC

If the standard is going to be open

Why not develop it in the open?

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UK specific ...

Being a UK-specific standard doesn't necessarily preclude global players; that, in my view, is an entirely spurious argument.

The D-Book (and if you don't like secrecy in specs, try getting a copy of that!) is a UK specific standard. So is Freesat. So is Freeview+. So too will be the Connected TV specification in D Book 7.

And guess what? You can buy equipment from lots of global manufacturers that works with Freesat's EPG, or the Freeview+ system, or that adheres to the guidelines (like logos in EPGs) laid down for FreeviewHD certification. You'll almost certainly find plenty in future that will support D-Book 7 (which is likely to have a lot of common ground with Canvas).

The idea that, somehow, we'll be bereft of cheap kit because someone's created a UK spec is bizarre. It hasn't happened with Freeview so far, and surely it's more likely that volume manufacturers like Vestel will think "We can take this more or less off the shelf system, and make kit at a decent price, without spending millions on R&D"

The Trust has said the bar has to be set pretty low for people wanting to do compliant kit.

Will it be lower than the minimum £5,000 membership of the DTG necessary before you can even get sight of the full Freeview specs in the D Book?

Who knows - but it's certainly not the case that every other spec in this area is just sitting there, ready for anyone to download and make a box without worrying or finding cash up front.

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Consistent UI

Make sure the UI is agreed by all the partners, but whatever happens, DO NOT ALLOW ADS!

I repeat: DO NOT ALLOW ADS!

The last thing we need is another Teletext Extra EPG invasion...

As for Virgin and Sky, IIRC they were invited to join the Canvas working group, but declined.

If manufacturers want customisation, how about allowing certain parts of the GUI to be skinnable? That way, the interface would be identical across different hardware models, but in one of the corners the logo of the relevant hardware company could appear.

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Bronze badge

No adverts? Dream on

Have a look at the partners involved - BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5. If there aren't any ads, 3 out of those 4 broadcasters can't make money.

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@Evil Graham

Sigh. He was talking about ads in the UI.

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FAIL

me too!

It seems to me that Canvas is going to be too little too late. I admit I havent read a whole lot into it yet, but it seems that all its offering is a unified interface to things that are already available - basically a shell with links.

Great, but without moving the game on and offering something new, it just seems like its out of date before it really gets off the drawing board.

Compared to Google TV, which is offering true smart tv functionality and integration to other google services. On top of that, Google already has sony on board with TVs from them on the way. Plus, Google TV will have world wide interest, Canvas seems very UK TV based currently.

I cant see how Canvas stands a hope of competing - and annyoingly I'm having to support this potential failure with the tv license!

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FAIL

Epic meh?

The thing is, the ISPs screamed blue murder after a couple of months of iPlayer, demanding that the BBC pay them money for the bandwidth and suggesting that the interwebs were on the verge of grinding to a halt due to this additional traffic. That's just from a web-based system - surely the additional overhead of a fully at-your-screen service is relying on a broadband infrastructure that is nowhere to be found yet, not even on any 'map' of future development.

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If it upsets sky...

A couple of thoughts:

1. I suspect if Virgin and Sky are strongly oposed then it is likely to be extremely beneficial for the consumer and increase choice.

2. This is a situation where the BBC can genuinely lead the world and produce something of real value from the license fee and are actually quite well placed to do so. The UK market is a fair sized market for technology and manufacturers ;if they see something that is well designed and reasonably easy to implement will look to roll it out into their hardware. After all much of the software will already have been written for them and it makes more sense to use someone elses R&D!

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Flame

Wait before complaining?

"Give them a chance to finish the spec... *then* complain when they don't release it."

Ah, I see, wait until it's a fait accompli and then complain.

As for the D-Book - quite. Exactly why this didn't go through ETSI I fail to see.

Even ISO standards usually get released in draft while they're being discussed, even if you have to pay for the finished article.

And regarding "the idea that ... we'll be bereft of cheap kit because someone's created a UK spec is bizarre" = how about the idea that we might have cheap kit that ACTUALLY WORKS? A lot of cheap consumer kit has had problems implementing the Freeview + specs properly, never mind getting playout equipment to actually stuff the right bits into the broadcast signal. That, I suspect, is something that can be layed at the door of a relatively small and closed marketplace which means that there aren't the economies of scale to test stuff properly.

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No, you don't see.

"Ah, I see, wait until it's a fait accompli and then complain."

The OP was complaining that this wasn't an open spec, because it isn't possible to download a copy of the spec for free.

As the spec has not yet been created it's a pointless argument at this stage - there is no spec to be made available.

It's like complaining that Android 3.0 is not open source because no-one can point you to somewhere it can be downloaded.

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This is a good thing

I want my canvas box, now. Actually, I want the 'Hackvas' version that will appear about a fortnight after launch that lets you run Canvas as an app on your PC.

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Dead Vulture

Compared to Freeview and other solutions

Very rarely would I write this but Andrew Orlowski may be right on this topic. I don't expect FSF to be happy. Hence the Reg tombstone!

iPlayer is already available on Sony Blu-ray players (and very nice too). Eric Huggers also mentioned it was coming to Sony and Samsung TVs: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/03/erik_huggers_at_the_guardian_c.html

Samsung is already promoting heavily although I don't think it has appeared yet, Sony seem to be in stealth mode and haven't announced or promoted.

Canvas on a Sony TV - I really wouldn't hold my breath!

If Canvas was just specifications for online services it might have a chance outside the IP and broadcast connected PVR niche it is aiming for but Sony, Samsung, LG and even Panasonic are unlikely in my view hand the complete UI of the devices they market with their brands on them to the Canvas JV.

Regarding comparisons to Freeview which is just some additional local signaling on global standards and a completely common product can be sold across Europe (and much of the rest of the world too) with only a different plug and some settings on a per country basis is not a realistic base for whether it will be adopted.

Canvas was also developed avoiding the DTG and providing minimal information while using them as cover for secrecy.

Freesat which is a bigger divergence and an attempt at greater control has had products from Sony and LG last year but this year there is only Panasonic remaining and they are focusing more of Freeview HD.

What Canvas is really about is BBC envy of Sky's control over its platform and ability to update software across all devices. BBC want to get this without spending the money on buying these devices. They are missing the very features that has made Freeview successful such as the ability to embed it into all TVs at a reasonable cost.

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Vermin Media

As others have said, if it means the end of that UI abortion that Virgin employ then bring it on.

While we're at it can we get some kind of 'standard' for the station idents in the corner of the picture.Yes I'm looking at you ITV2, that disgusting green colour for a start and why can't it be more transparent and not half-way across the screen? Oh sorry, got a bit off topic there....

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BBC and open standards

The *only* reason the BBC is pushing canvas is UK lockin. We stopped watching TV many years ago but looked at getting a TV licence again simply because we liked the idea of get_iplayer.

Then the day before we decided to join the couch potatoes, the BBC killed get_iplayer off via legal threats and moving to a more stricty authentication scheme (backed by more legal threats) put the kybosh on our use of mythTV.

The only reason the BBC does this is the commercial arm of the BBC makes megabucks selling DVDs - which funds major jollies for BBC upper staff.

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Coat

Understand business much?

"The only reason the BBC does this is the commercial arm of the BBC makes megabucks selling DVDs - which funds major jollies for BBC upper staff."

Yes, you're right. All that content that the BBC creates is paid for by the license fee, absolutely none of the money from commercial sales goes into creating new content.

And all of the content bought in from external production companies both in the UK and elsewhere is completely free of copyright and the BBC don't have any obligation to protect the content creators rights - even if the creator/publisher specifies DRM should be used.

In what way do you think Canvas will cause "UK lockin"?

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Silver badge

Does this mean

that soon I'll be able to pay several hundred quid for a telly that's nowhere near as good as my £120 computer monitor and I wont be able to record, and keep the things I want?

Guess its a £20 freeview card or loose loose loose.

To the BBC - you want to protect your suppliers copyright ? Dont transmit it to the world then! Its a model thats worked for 50 odd years.

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WTF?

Indicative Only?

Doesn't "indicative only" mean that it indicates something, like, maybe how something is?

In fact, without saying what it indicates, isn't it complete nonsense?

Maybe next time they should try "Serving Suggestion": at least that would make sense.

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Silver badge

Hm.

What's the betting this will be released, then accompanied by a lobbying effort by the Beeb to require a TV license for all Internet connections?

This does look like a nifty little project. I just don't trust the Beeb not to try anything to retain its "unique" traditional money source.

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leave the tech to others and get back to the content

Hi,

On all issues like this I think its about where is it best to allow businesses to compete and 'innovate', and where is it best to allow a regulator to set the standards and a framework of rules, within which, the commercial companies can then compete.

In a global market, such that we have, with the Internet, HDTV, Blu-ray, DVD, and now DVB, we need global standards and not BBC and co. local standards.

Take for example the interface (GUI) that we use to interact with the TV. Consumers don't want different and competing interfaces, they just want one that works well. The technology is successful if it is invisible and a non-issue to the user.

Rather they should competing on content, price and other aspects. The BBC and co. haven't yet delivered on giving us all our favourite programmes in true 1080p HD, to match up to the capabilities of the TV and other equipment we have all bought!

So I say to the BBC and co., stop wasting time and license payers money and get back to the content and pass the technology stuff to the EBU and similar organisations.

Content is king!

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But ...

You said consumers don't want different and competing interfaces, but that's exactly what happens when you let commercial companies compete with each other. And a single interface that works well for connected TV is exactly what Canvas will provide.

It's going to be a long, long time before anyone delivers content OTA in 1080p - there really isn't the capacity (nor, I suspect, beyond a few people who like the look of big fancy numbers, the consumer demand).

The EBU isn't an organisation that has the technical resources itself to do research and development of this sort - it's a collection of the member broadcasters. So when an EBU paper appears, you'll see it's authored by people who work for organisations like BBC R&D.

When world standards like DVB-T2 appear, again, a lot of the work has come out of places like Kingswood, alongside other people working elsewhere around the world.

And indeed, some countries do follow, or modify, standards like the UK D-Book in drawing up their own. So, the process may not be quite as obvious as when the BBC worked on ideas like RDS or Nicam, which found their way to many other countries, but their R&D team is still very much a big part of creating standards.

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But...but!

Hi Nigel,

To clarify and expand what I said/trying to say. I agree that leaving the commercial companies to come up with the interface is a bad idea, because they will all be different. The other point I am making is that in a global market it is not enough for the BBC and friends to decide and 'standardise' the interface, because they haven't - other global stakeholders have not been involved. It wouldn't even be a standard for the UK as the BBC has not got agreement from Sky. Sky's interface is the de facto standard in the UK. So I disagree that Canvas design provides a "single interface", and it runs a very high risk of never getting the global stakeholders on board and so never becoming a global standard, and therefore another waste of money. I think that the BBC is nowadays poor value for money (perhaps it always was). They need to be far more efficient and effective with the funds they are given in return for the tyranny of the license fee.

My understanding is that there IS the capacity to deliver true 1080p via satellite, and so Sky and FreeSat could do this. I am aware of the challenges and bandwidth limitations with terrestrial/Freeview transmissions.

I understand that the EBU is made up of the BBC and other national tv companies and indeed is largely driven by the BBC and others such as the German ARD etc. And I understand that the BBC plays a key part in inventing the technologies. But after this stage I think they should route their ideas for standardisation through international organisations such as the EBU, ETSI and CENELEC etc. And not build it first and try and force it on the other market players and presumably other national broadcasters.

By the way, thanks very much for your time and efforts on the toppy.org site and all your other contributions to the technology scene.

cheers

Stewart

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Boffin

Off topic but...

In these days of frame-buffers and digital TV panels, is there any reason why 1080p is likely to deliver a much better picture than 1080i. I know that you get a full frame at a time rather than the alternated scan lines per frame that interlace provides, but we are not using CRT screens any more.

With CRT's, it was necessary to display each set of scan lines as they were received, which led to a significant flicker due to interaction with mains frequency, and also an apparent vertical twitch of the picture on a TV with a fast phosphor.

With today's digital TV's, you will never draw the scan lines as they arrive, you will just write them into the frame buffer and then switch FBs. If you receive an interlaced picture, you wait until the alternate lines are drawn in, and then display the picture, avoiding the flicker and twitch. The only problem I can see is that the alternate scan lines may be coming from adjacent frames, which would account for the jaggedy look of diagonal edges if you freeze an interlaced picture from a DVD. But software deinterlace techniques appear to be quite good at fixing this.

Once you apply this, then the only noticeable effect will be a halving of the frame rate. As the motion picture industry has decided on 1080p24 (24 frames a second) as a digital mastering format, having a transmission frame rate of 25 rather than 50 or 60 will not gain you a better picture (you could claim that 1080p60 as a transmission frame rate would allow less noticeable frame adjustment (twelve extra frame every 48, rather than the 1 extra every 25), but this would be a trivial distinction, and anyway, you would just use 1080p24 (in the HD ready 1080p spec) to match.

I'm sure that I have heard it said that once you get beyond about 22fps, the human eye is not capable of detecting the difference. And I don't want people saying that they can detect flicker on their CRT TV's, as this is almost certainly them seeing the strobing interaction of the TV with the mains lights, or possibly them detecting the blanking interval of the flyback and colour-burst phases of a PAL TV signal, neither of which are present on digital TV's.

If anybody can see the flaws in what I am saying, could they please correct me.

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