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6. Creating screens and menus

Menus for the TV screen are created in HTML, CSS and Javascript, just as normal web pages are, using the same standard tools (Dreamweaver, Photoshop etc).

The software on the device is an ordinary web browser like IE, Firefox, Opera or Safari, and overlays the web pages you create on the screen through the scart cable (OSD). Most have full support for open standards and current technologies such as RSS and AJAX. Some also include the Macromedia Flash 6 player. It's a case of write, and then refresh the browser screen, just like normal web development.

When the IP set-top box starts up and gains an IP address via DHCP, it will also request a "starting" URL of a web page from a web server, in the same way a PC web browser (e.g. IE, Firefox) will request a default home page.

Producing screens for IPTV is almost the same as building an intranet site, with the only difference being that the HTML and Javascript contains set-top box-specific code that only the set-top box understands and executes (e.g. for tuning into multicast streams or issuing RTSP commands).

Each set-top box's hardware is different, so there is a different Javascript API for each device model that must be obtained from the manufacturer. Video can be displayed and scaled as any kind of image on the page, and manipulated by normal Javascript functions.

The set-IP will not come with any software applications pre-installed (or even commands on the remote to go back or refresh the screen), so the very first application you need to create is an electronic programme guide (EPG) to navigate around your service and watch video streams.

When mocking up screens in Photoshop, it is important to know that a standard definition PAL TV screen is 720 pixels wide by 576 pixels wide, before the so-called "safe area" is taken into account. Colour is considerably more primitive and much more sensitive to variance than on a desktop browser. The only input device available is a remote control with key codes similar to a desktop keyboard.

Using HTML for menu and screen displays means content can be dynamically generated using a server-side process just like any web page. The TV screen displays whatever you send it, meaning you can integrate any type of web-based system into your new IPTV network, such as the Asterisk VoIP PBX, the Jabber IM server, multiplayer game servers, your own web application or an external XML API.

7. Showtime!

Once you have your network set up, it's up to you to get creating menus and screens, and adding video content onto your video server that can be played back through the TV. The production procedure is exactly the same as it is for a website, only with TV-specific functionality and usability issues.

Over a few days or weeks, you suddenly have an entire TV network to yourself that you can do anything to, just as when you have your own website that you can do anything with.

Once you're happy with what you've put together, it's time to sit down with the boss, colleague, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or fellow interested nerd and beam with pride as you press buttons on that remote and surf around.

© Digital TX Ltd

Digital TX Limited is a London-based provider of technology and consultancy solutions for interactive digital television and broadband media. Alexander Cameron can be reached at alex.cameron@digitaltx.tv.

As well as co-ordinating the birth of the IPTV Consortium (IPTVC), Alex is now offering a great value one-day workshop course on IPTV and Video On-Demand (VoD) specifically for web and media professionals. It can help you get up to speed on the latest technologies, content deals, operators and applications across the world, and offer immense value in identifying both new opportunities and threats for your business and personal career. If you would like more information, call Alex on 07986 373177 or email iptvworkshop@digitaltx.tv. Readers who quote The Register as their source will receive a 10 per cent discount on the course fees.

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