Kick-starting enhanced DTV

Interactivity will get real-world test overseas during World Cup soccer coverage

To gauge the status of enhanced DTV, tech types will have to follow the bouncing ball—the soccer ball, that is. The new standard for broadcasters' interactive and other enhanced-television digital content will get its first major tryout in late spring, when South Korean networks and manufacturers launch a trial accompanying World Cup soccer coverage.

Although the service is being unveiled overseas, the U.S. industry will be watching closely because the same set of interactive standards is expected to be included in this country's digital standard, which is overseen by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

ATSC developed the DTV Application Software Environment (DASE) to standardize software used in DTV receivers and allow transmissions of ancillary data to be displayed in a consistent way.

DASE has been in the works for years and was designated an ATSC "candidate standard" in January. ATSC encourages industry players to implement candidate standards on a trial basis in order to obtain technical feedback. Information gleaned from the trials will be used to develop enhancements that will be incorporated into a formally proposed standard.

ATSC officials say a universal standard for all DTV receivers and set-top boxes is necessary if consumers are to accept interactive services. "This is critically important to furthering digital television," ATSC President Mark Richer said last week.

DASE is designed to allow interactive applications to run on all DTV receivers and at the same time allow manufacturers to choose their own platforms and operating systems.

Although a DASE test is a milestone for interactive-TV broadcasting, the lack of interoperability with cable remains a cloud that could darken prospects for ITV. ATSC has approached CableLabs, the cable industry's research consortium, to add DASE to the list of DTV interoperability issues. CableLabs has been developing its own interactive standards as part of its OpenCable initiative.

"We're hopeful that we can work to harmonize the two standards," Richer said.

The World Cup test will be sponsored by content providers Aircode and Alticast, along with receiver manufacturers Daewoo, LG and Samsung and South Korean broadcast network KBS.

All 64 World Cup matches, half of which will be played in Korea with the rest in Japan, will be broadcast in digital with accompanying interactive and data services.

Demonstrations of the equipment will be held in Korean department stores and other consumer electronics retailers.

After the World Cup, Korean broadcasters are expected to continue offering DASE-derived interactive services, such as traffic and weather updates.