ZTE Smart STB, Helping Big Video Occupy Sitting Rooms

Updated:2017/7/7 10:25

Get bored with watching TV? This topic attracted attention several years ago, when it was reported that the TV power-on ratio in Beijing was only 30 percent. Although some people disagree with the data, people actually spend less time in watching TV. What is the current situation? According to the TV media statistics provided by traditional media, from 2013 to 2015, the ratio of "TV + Internet" users (including those that accessed both TV and the Internet every day in the past half year) went up year by year, and reached 44.3 percent in 2015 and higher than 50 percent in 2016.

The rise of Internet TV opens a new door between users and the Internet. With continuously enriched and improved intelligence-centric TV content, the TV ecosystem is gradually becoming mature and the user scale and activeness of video services are unceasingly promoted. Video service has entered the "TV + Internet" era.

An Internet TV, consisting of a smart STB and a TV screen, features big screen, openness, and intelligence and has become the door to the "sitting room economy". Combined with a smart STB and upgraded into a smart screen, a TV screen is no longer a unidirectional medium for video output and has been evolved to a carrier with richer services.

As a key device in the core position of a sitting room, how can an STB support the development of big video services? The pivotal point is that an STB should provide ultra experience, integration of multiple capabilities, and manageable and controllable O&M support capabilities.

"Voice-Activated" Smart STB

Excellent user experience is essential for a terminal device to attract users.

A remote control is an essential TV operation and control device. For an Internet-enabled TV, its remote control is replaced with a smart STB remote control that has the learning capability through keys. With the video service evolution towards intelligence, the limitations of using a remote control with ordinary keys are obvious: text input and fast retrieval of massive media content are difficult, and use convenience for the aged cannot be guaranteed. These limitations also seriously affect user experience.

"Voice operation and control" is the best solution to these problems. At present, voice recognition technologies in the industry have been improved significantly. The voice recognition accuracy of up to 90 percent has reached the commercial standard. Currently, customized remote controls with the voice input function are often used, but they are not that convenient because users have to face the remote controls when speaking operation and control instructions. Ultra user experience should allow users to implement voice control by speaking in natural speaking state at a 180 degree or larger angle without having to hold any remote control or stand within three meters away from the TV.

"STB + hands-free voice control" is a recommended solution. The independent externally-configured omni-directional microphone array product can be provided for its customers as value-added peripherals. The hands-free voice control product connects to an STB through the USB wire without any independent power supply required. The products can collect and upload audios, and use the processing capability of the STB to proceed with the subsequent procedure to reduce costs.

Through the STB, this solution also supports voice control on related IoT devices at home to give full play to the advantages.

"Versatile" Smart STB

The "sitting room economy" has diversified service requirements, resulting in the increase of physical devices. For example, home wiring needs more network access devices, smart home needs more storage devices, and home security/smart home needs IoT devices, but users do not wish to stack multiple single-function devices. Based on the open Android platform and strong processing capacity, one STB device can easily integrate multiple service functions, thereby reducing device quantity and costs.

Required to support multiple services for the "sitting room economy", an all-purpose device must be "versatile" and have the following integrated capabilities:

Network access capability, solving the home wiring problem

The STB can integrate network access function modules, provide the uplink WAN access and downlink AP access capabilities, provide network access and coverage in the sitting room, save extra routers, and collaborate with the HGW on home wiring.

IoT access capability, helping construct a smart home

The smart STB can integrate the IoT access capability, provide IoT access methods such as Zigbee/Zwave, Bluetooth, and NFC, provide the access and control of IoT control devices, and support value-added services such as smart home, home health care, and home security, see Figure 1.

Being connected with the big TV screen, the STB provides visual equipment configuration and control with a more gorgeous UI design and better user experience. A mobile client can, through the STB, implement simple remote control and work together to meet user demands on operation and control in different scenarios.


Figure 1 Smart STB's Integration of the IoT Access Capability

Storage capability, constituting a "home cloud"

The smart STB has built-in hard disks, with which a secure home cloud is built. Photos and videos stored in mobile devices are automatically backed up to the home cloud and synchronized to the public cloud at the same time for information sharing among family members.

With the built-in hard disks, the smart STB provides the HomeCDN function. Based on the settings specified by the owner, the STB automatically downloads programs and stores them locally in an idle period so that the programs can be played smoothly on the local disk. Mobile devices can also share and play the local film sources, reducing the load on the operator's network and CDN.

With the built-in hard disks, the smart STB provides the home security protection system with the recording capability. The smart STB stores data that can be played back as evidence and evades privacy and security problems caused by cloud storage.

Rich peripheral access capability, expanding value-added services

The STB provides various access capabilities, for example, through USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and NFC, to support interconnection with VAS peripherals such as cameras, Bluetooth equipment, home health care equipment, and home payment equipment. The STB can provide its users with additional services such as the bi-directional video communication service, Karaoke, home health care, and home payment, supporting the operator in developing value-added services based on the Big Video platform, see Figure 2.

Figure 2 "Versatile" Smart Terminals for Integrating Multiple Services

ZTE launches its multi-service integration equipment, the HC100/HC200 series products, exploring the integration of multiple service capabilities, including built-in hard disks, built-in routers/APs (2×2, IoT communication capabilities (such as Zigbee and Zwave), video communication, and smart home and home security services. These capabilities have been put into commercial use in networks of some operators, attempting to achieve a breakthrough in the "sitting room economy".

STB as an Efficient Assistance

In 2016, the IPTV service developed rapidly. By the end of 2016, the total number of China's IPTV users had reached 90 million. In 2017, the number of China Telecom IPTV users is expected to exceed 90 million, and the number of China Unicom IPTV users is predicted to be about 40 million. Together with the number of China Mobile OTT users, the total number of online STB users will exceed 140 million.

With respect to network O&M and service operation, significant challenges result from such a vast terminal volume, an increasingly-enlarged user group, and explosively-increased services. Operators need to accurately judge network bottlenecks, poor service quality, and equipment running state, predict in advance the problems that users may encounter, and rapidly locate and solve the problems to improve user experience and stickiness and ensure business revenues. To tackle all these issues, it is necessary to construct a full-network video-service quality-assurance system.

STBs, regarded as equipment at the bottom layer, directly face end users. STBs collect the most basic data, which plays a decisive role in QoS guarantee. Therefore, the "assistance" capability of an STB is the key point for solving all the problems.

An STB has various built-in "probe" functions that are crucial for implementing the "assistance" capability. The built-in probes on the STB have the following features: collecting data in real time, sending the collective data to the big data O&M platform of the system in a timely manner, evaluating and estimating network quality, service standards, and equipment operation state in real time through smart big data analysis, discovering problems ahead of time, and taking preventative measures. Upon encountering a problem, the STB, together with the system, provides intelligent O&M by proactively detecting the network and evaluating services, reporting the detection result in real time, and rapidly locating the problem.

ZTE has developed the iQAS system, which provides a full range of Big Video smart O&M solutions and has been used in over 10 provinces in China.

A TV screen (STB) plus a mobile screen (such as mobile phone and PAD) are two big engines to drive the "sitting room economy" and Big Video service. The TV screen, which is regarded as the integrated entrance of the home portal and various services, is gradually attracting more industry-wide attention. In recent years, traditional communication enterprises and new Internet enterprises have invested a lot in the TV screen (STB) realm, boosting the development of the industry. The continuous user experience improvement, multi-service integration, and QoS enhancement are the basis for sustainable development. In the future, new technologies such as RCS integration, VR/AR service, artificial intelligence, and holographic imaging will further push the development of the big video service. The big video service has a bright future.

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