Julian Clover finds the development of the latest user interfaces are very much close to home.
Quietly tucked away at the other end of the quiet Cambridge street in which Broadband TV News’ world headquarters can be found is a set-top box software developer whose work is increasingly seen on some of Europe’s major platforms.
Ekioh typifies the route taken by many of those who work in and around Silicon Fen. The careers of joint founders Piers Wombwell and Ben Laughton had intertwined through the 1990s through Acorn Computers, Broadcom, Pace Amino and ANT. Ekioh was founded in 2006 with Wombwell taking on the role of lead architect on Ekioh’s Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)-based user interface engine.
Another ex-ANT staffer, commercial director Stephen Reeder, joined the company in June having previously headed up ICTV’s European operations before it folded into Active Video.
Over the past two years, Ekioh’s SVG implementation has enabled partnerships with BeeSmart, Accedo Broadband, Ericsson, Motorola and the Kudelski-owned Quative. It is the Ekioh SVG engine that runs the TV Guide and accompanying mini guide on the Telecom Austria IPTV platform after being picked up by Ericsson, who chose to write on the Ekioh-developed platform, rather than go with html.
Wombwell explains that SVG spends its time in rendering, rather than the formatting that keeps html busy, and while it is possible to scale with html there is a loss of resolution.
Speed is important too, but as Reeder points out, although TV silicon is getting faster, so too are the demands on the user interfaces, as operators call for an Apple-like look and feel for their VOD libaries. “A large number of people are relying on HTML5, but that’s because they don’t understand the problem,” he says, indicating that the issue is due in part to developers coming from a web rather than a TV background. A disconnect that Reeder says continues into the current appetitie for apps to run alongside once standard TV services.
At IBC 2010, Ekioh joined with Dreampark to demonstrate a 3D user interface, the beauty of which falling just as much into its performance onto a five-year old set-top box as to the smoothness of the graphics. Subtitles and other on screen indicators are acknowledged as being among the most challenging aspects of stereoscopic television delivery.
The trick is that in SVG one document is rendered from two different perspectives, one for each eye, allowing the skew effect as part of the caption angles its way out of the screen.