ATSC approves DASE

Standard opens up new level of over-the-air interactivity

DTV and HDTV over-the-air broadcasts took another step toward offering interactive content last week when the Advanced Television Systems Committee approved the DTV Application Software Environment, or DASE standard.

"Broadcasters will be able to offer interactive television services and know that consumer electronics equipment will be able to receive and process the interactive content correctly," says ATSC President Mark Richer. "That's important for any medium but especially for broadcasters because they want to be sure the content will run correctly on TV sets from all different manufacturers."

DASE-capable receivers and set-top boxes still need to be designed and manufactured, but Samsung and LG Electronics demonstrated prototypes during the World Cup in Korea. During those demonstrations, statistics and player information were transmitted alongside the over-the-air HDTV game feed.

DASE will not be a mandated standard that must be included in all DTV receivers.

Richer says the standard builds on datacasting standards but defines the middleware that sits in the receiver or set-top box. That middleware processes HTML graphics, Java virtual machine-based targeted advertising or similar applications.

"Theoretically, if there was a Sears commercial during our HD football game, we could customize the commercial to let the viewer know the nearest Sears store they can go to to watch the game," says Bob Seidel, CBS vice president of engineering and technology. "If you take that a step further, you can target prices, products and all sorts of things."

The major advantage of DASE, Seidel says, is that it keeps the viewer right where the station wants them: tied into the TV signal. "We don't want to send them off to a Web site to look at something."

That goes double for advertisers who, while attracted to the potential of interactive advertising, fear eyeballs' leaving the tube.

Zenith has been one of the manufacturers involved with the development, and its parent company, LG Electronics, along with Samsung, Aircode and the Korean broadcasters, helped implement the first working DASE systems in the world during the World Cup in Korea this summer.

"It's like interactive television on steroids when you look at the amount of data that can come over the 19.4-Mb pipeline while you're watching full HD programming," says Zenith spokesman John Taylor. "You can layer on multiple pages of things like player information and statistics. Even in Korean, it was still pretty cool stuff."

The next step, he says, is for broadcasters to deliver some applications, which may hint at another possible "chicken-and-egg" HDTV and DTV scenario. Some technical issues still need to be worked out, but Taylor sees DASE as a step-up feature for DTV and HDTV sets. "The day may come when DASE-equipped sets are commonplace, but a lot of that will be dependent on the applications developed by the broadcasters."