Interactive TV Standards

OpenTV – 1999 Archive

Formed as a joint venture between Thomson Multimedia and Sun microsystems in 1994, they have been providing solutions for the digital TV market. OpenTV 1.0 was released in March 1996.

The OpenTV middleware consists of authoring tools, a suite of interactive TV applications, and utilities for deploying TV applications into the broadcast streams. All are designed to fit within 350 – 560Kb of flash memory. This allows OpenTV applications to be executable on a variety of different set top boxes consistent with different chipsets. The foundation of the OpenTV middleware is the embedded operating system, which is compatible with many RTOS kernels like pSOS, VxWorks, Nucleus and OS9.

Users of OpenTV consist of:

Sky Digital – Sky implemented version 1.2 of the OpenTV middleware stuck, which was used to power the Sky Guide EPG system alongside the various interactive services that could be downloaded to the subscriber’s STB, known as a digibox.

Some providers have adopted OpenTV using the BSkyB framework (Foxtel, Sky Italia, tataSky)

Various OpenTV applications used by Sky plc

In 2008 Sky deployed a rewritten version of their Sky Guide built using OpenTV EN2 which was exclusive to SkyHD set tops

Chorus Ireland – A cable operator in the Republic of Ireland, used OpenTV for its middleware stack alongside Nagravision encryption.

TPS – French digital satellite provider that launched in 1996

Telia Cable – Swedish cable operator that adopted OpenTV in 1997

Tele Damark Kabel TV – adopted OpenTV for its cable service

Echostar – on selected Dish Network receivers


First launched in 1996 in France for the Canal+ service, this was one of the first mainstream interactive TV middleware solutions. Subsequent versions of Mediahighway have been designed to be forward compatible with DVB-MHP standards.

The hardware manufacturer is responsible for implementing the driver stack for the set top box. Canal+ has written an API that can run applications through the middleware/ virtual machine layer. The programming language that is used by Mediahighway is Pantalk. Overtime Canal+ has added additional features such as Java, HTML and MHEG support for ONdigital, to allow Freeview interactive services to run.

ONdigital – launched in 1998 and used middleware that had been adapted from Canal+, Mediahighway. ONdigital provided over 30 digital TV channels delivered via digital terrestrial, through a common antenna.

Canal+  – Digital satellite service in France, of which ONdigital was based upon

Liberate / Seachange

Originally founded by Oracle and Netscape, Liberate have multiple solutions for cable operators to deliver interactive services and middleware, originally known as NCI Navigator (Network Computers Incorporated), Liberate was spun off from Oracle, which then became the Network Computer division. Network computers are embedded RISC-based PC’s/Terminals without a hard disk, designed to be permanently connected to an internet or network connection. Liberate also provide back end software for cable headend

TV Navigator – also known as eNavigator, supports HTML/Javascript and HTTP, and various RTOS used in set-top boxes. It is reliant on two-way communication which limits it to cable providers.


NTL – Cable & Wireless launched their digital service in 1999 and used Liberate TV navigator to launch web based interactive services which were deployed and delivered through the cable network through the subscriber’s TV. Cable & Wireless later merged with NTL in 2000, who also adopted the Liberate middleware for its interactive services. Like Telewest, they went through a series of upgrades to the core middleware, receiving an upgrade to liberate 1.2 in 2002 (2004 for original NTL customers) and began merging both networks together.

Telewest – Launched their digital service in 1999, and later implemented interactive tv in late 1999/ early 2000. The initial interactive offering was built around Liberate 1.1, which was deployed alongside a Pace-built EPG. Upgraded to Liberate 1.2 in late 2002 which saw the EPG being designed and replaced with the liberate designed EPG, which then allowed for red button interactive services (enhanced TV). NTL merged with Telewest to form Virgin Media

AOL – used the Liberate middleware for their AOL TV services, which was designed to be a competitor to Microsoft’s WebTV.

References & reading

Betanova (BetaResearch)

Developed and used in Germany by Betareaserch/Kirch Media and used by Premiere (Now Sky). This was the default middleware used on the Dbox2 for both cable and satellite versions and was used in conjunction with the Betacrypt conditional access system. Used on Nokia, Sagem & Philips Dbox2. The Dbox standard was supposed to be inoperable with multiple providers for both cable and satellite, allowing one box to receive multiple services from different providers, although the cable and satellite standards were different and required new hardware if the customer wished to switch from satellite to cable.

Betanova v2 Screenshots & Information

Betanova v3 Screenshots & Information – This release supported DVB-MHP

PowerTV 1999 Archive

Developed by Scientific Atlanta’s for their Explorer range of Set top boxes, sometimes known as SARA (Scientific Atlanta Resident Application. Like other standards, it uses HTML and Java as a foundation for interactive applications, which are then run inside a virtual machine

Wink Communications – 1999 Archive

Wink Communications launched an enhanced broadcasting system that added interactive functionality to the current program being broadcast. The subscriber can navigate, view information related to the program, vote and play games using their remote, with the service being delivered through a compatible set-top box

Two systems of Wink exist, an analog system that is capable of using the VBI (Similar to Intercast or Teletext/Ceefax) to deliver the Wink interactive application. This was built onto certain models of televisions, and received interactive content either over the air or via a local cable network, depending on operator support. Wink is capable of operating using only one line of VBI, or a data rate of around 14.4Kbps. Wink can also be delivered digitally via an MPEG2 stream.

Wink allows programs and adverts to be enhanced, when the user sees a special icon appear in the top left corner of the screen, than are able to trigger the service to load, which overlays onto the screen, sometimes blocking the video stream whilst the service is present.

A return path is supported to collect data from client stop top boxes and televisions,  typically through a dialup modem or a cable modem if the client is a cable set-top box.

DirecTV – deployed Wink technology in selected set top boxes. Certain channels can transmit interactive features, of which the user is encouraged to access by pressing a specific button onscreen, which will then load the service.

Worldgate – 1999 Archive

Similar to Wink, Worldgate was founded in 1995 and was designed for digital cable set top boxes, that were in development at the time, specifically General Instruments and Scientific Atlanta terminals. Using a concept called channel HyperLinking, allows broadcast channels to embed interactive content, which can be loaded by the subscribers set-top box. This can be done without having to enter a URL or a keyword, similar to pressing the red button on a modern digital TV remote.

ANT Fresco

ANT was a browser for the Acron RISC OS, it was ported to the Pace DSL4000 where it was used for the Kingston Interactive TV

Kingston – Used the ANT browser for their EPG and interactive (Reb Button) platform.

This post explains how the ANT middleware functioned

Bush Internet TV – This was a webTV like alternative offered in the UK, which used the ANT browser, built on top of a restricted RISC OS to provide internet access through a TV, with the set top box being manufactured by Pace. It was also integrated into their Bush TV sets.


Used on Freeview in the UK and Saorview in Ireland, this is an interactive standard built using components from the DAVIC platform, and enabled interactive functionality on Freeview receivers, and was originally implemented by ONdigital in conjunction with their Mediahighway interactive platform, as the BBC intended their interactive platform to be open and not restricted to one private standard.

Microsoft: WebTV

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