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Client devices and multiscreen

Which devices are used for watching content, types of client devices, and how complex it is for an operator to implement the multiscreen feature.

Author of the material

Hennadii Mitrov

Content manager, editor, and author with the BROADVISION magazine.

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Client devices

IPTV/OTT operators deliver content to viewers in the form of IP packets, which are usually encrypted. To view it, subscribers need a device that can decrypt and play the stream.

The term ‘client devices’ encompasses all kinds of set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, dongles, and other devices that do just that: decrypt and play content.

Without them, viewers are unable to connect to the service. These devices determine the user experience, supported content formats, tech support costs, as well as the viewers’ ability to enjoy their favorite TV channels not only at home but on the road, too.

Client device form factors

IPTV/OTT operators’ services are available on set-top boxes, smart TVs, dongles, smartphones, tablets, PCs, projectors, and even soundbars.

Set-top box. Set-top boxes enhance the TV experience. The device receives content, decrypts it, and plays it on the TV screen. Thanks to set-top boxes, operators can ensure high-quality UI/UX on any screen, regardless of the subscriber’s TV model.

Equipped with HDMI and RCA, set-top boxes are perfectly compatible with both recent and older TV models. No matter what generation the TV is, a set-top box can turn it into a smart TV.

Smart TV. Smart TVs can access the internet without any additional gadgets. To watch their favorite content, users need only install the operator’s app.

But there’s a drawback to smart TVs: their OS and hardware become obsolete much faster than their display. 3–5 years after purchase, they might stop receiving updates, their interface might become much less fluid, and they won’t likely support the newest codecs. Instead of replacing their TV, subscribers are much better off buying a set-top box and getting access to the latest features on their current TV set.

 

Dongle. Dongles have everything you’d expect from a set-top box but in a compact package. They offer the same features and can turn your regular TV into a smart one just as well. However, dongles don’t often have their own power adapter, meaning that they have to rely on HDMI or USB ports for power.
Set-top boxes, smart TVs, and dongles are all controlled with a remote that sends commands to the device via an IR or Bluetooth channel. Some remotes can have built-in microphones for voice control.

Smartphone and tablet. Virtually ubiquitous nowadays, these devices enable viewers to enjoy their favorite TV channels anywhere. All they need to do is either install the operator’s app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, or open a web browser.

PC. According to the latest Ericsson ConsumerLab study, the PC is the main content consumption device for 14% of users. For the PC platform, operators develop HTML5-based players or even native Windows or macOS applications.

Projectors and soundbars. These often run the same OS as set-top boxes and smart TVs. Therefore, operators don’t have to develop apps for an obscure OS for them to work. Soundbars output video via an HDMI port and projectors make it so you don’t even need a screen.
If an operator supports more than one client platform, their project can be considered multi-screen. Their subscribers can thus view content on set-top boxes and smart TVs at home and on smartphones and tablets while visiting friends and family, while on the road, or anywhere the internet is accessible. We will go into more detail on that toward the end of this resource.

Client device OS

Client devices can run any of the dozens of OS available in the market, the most popular currently being Android™, Android TV™, Linux, iOS, tvOS, Tizen TV, LG WebOS, Roku TV OS, and Fire OS, which power set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, and dongles.

Android Open Source Project (AOSP). AOSP is an open OS developed by Google. It runs on smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, TVs, media players, smartwatches, and even cars. However, this Android system doesn’t have access to Google’s services: Google Play, YouTube, and voice search. To get access, device manufacturers must pass Google’s certification.

Android TV. A solution for premium-class set-top boxes and smart TVs. Out of the box, the system offers voice search, personalized recommendations, Chromecast built-in, as well as access to Google Play Store’s catalog of over 7,000 games and apps.

Unlike AOSP devices, every Android TV device passes mandatory certification by Google. Operators can rest assured that certified devices will get updates and function properly throughout their lifespan.

Linux. An open-source OS, Linux enables operators to have full control over the devices’ UI and features, and integrate whatever they need. But it all comes at a price since Linux development can be costly.

On this platform, you won’t see a universal app store or built-in voice search, unlike on Android TV. Some companies consider this an advantage because subscribers have no means of installing competitors’ apps.

For a detailed comparison of AOSP, Android TV, and Linux, see resource No. 7. In which, you will learn what these platforms are capable of, and which one will define the future of IPTV/OTT.

iOS. iOS is a mobile OS that powers Apple devices. Presently, it occupies 25% of the global smartphone market. To deliver its service on iOS devices, a company will have to publish their app on the Apple App Store.

tvOS. This is the OS Apple TV media players run. It occupies 2% of the streaming device market. To support Apple TV, operators need to publish their app on the Apple App Store, too.

Tizen TV. This is Samsung’s Smart TV platform, and it’s one of the most popular streaming device OSs out there. Its users have access to the Tizen Store for apps as well as voice control to search content and use their TV.

LG WebOS. An OS that runs on smart TVs from South Korea’s LG. It, too, features voice search functionality and an app store—LG Content Store.

Roku TV OS. This OS was designed for media players and dongles from Roku, the most popular streaming platform in the USA. Like, Android TV, it has built-in voice search and access to an app store.

To deliver its service on Android TV, iOS, tvOS, and other platforms, a company needs to publish its app on the platforms’ app stores.

According to Strategy Analytics, Tizen TV has been the most popular streaming device platform, with 11% of client devices running it globally. LG WebOS and Sony PlayStation occupy 7% of the global market each, Fire OS and Roku TV OS—5% each, and certified Android TV—4%.

What is multi-screen?

The more devices an operator supports, the more attractive their service becomes. Viewers want to be able to choose on which device they watch content, and switch between them easily. This is where multi-screen comes in, enabling video delivery on a variety of platforms. It attracts users, becomes a tremendous competitive advantage, and helps monetize the service.

The advantages of multi-screen are as follows:

Cross-platform software. Multi-screen services support multiple client device types, enabling viewers to watch content on set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, dongles, and other devices. They can thus enjoy their favorite content on any screen wherever they are: at home, on the road, or while commuting.

Loyal clients. Multi-screen wins you additional loyalty from existing customers and attracts new ones—even those who rarely watch TV, spending most of their time out of the house.

Competitive advantage. Regular cable and satellite operators don’t provide multi-screen services. To add support for other devices, they have to set up hybrid services that deliver content to TVs by cable or satellite, and to mobile devices and PCs over the internet.

Monetization. Users are willing to pay for convenience. Companies tend to offer better content and multi-screen in higher-tier plans. The service also boosts ad revenue: the more devices there are, the more opportunities you have to show ads.

Integrating multi-screen

To add support for multiple client platforms, operators need a multi-screen-capable middleware and client apps for those platforms.

In theory, the service can support all platforms at once. It all depends on the middleware. But multi-screen involves additional costs, including the development of client apps, their publishing on the platforms’ app stores, and updates. Not all companies have that many resources at their disposal. Only major services can support all platforms at once.

To deliver content to smartphones and tablets, you need iOS and Android apps. Choosing which media players and smart TVs to support is a tougher decision, however. For this, the operator needs to delve into stats and customer surveys. Depending on the region, Android TV, Roku, Tizen TV or any other platform could be your best choice.

Sometimes, middleware vendors offer branded players for different platforms. The name, interface, and logo of the app can be customized, and then it can be published on an app store. It’s an excellent way of saving on app development and support, with which even local operators can afford to integrate multi-screen easily.

It is essential that multi-screen be cost-effective. For this, you need to support the highest-demand platforms and provide quality UX on all supported client devices.

In-house set-top box line or user devices?

Operators can provide content on the devices from their in-house line, on users’ current devices, or combine the two approaches. On the one hand, having an in-house line is easier to maintain, but on the other hand support for client devices can cut costs in the initial stages of your project.

The advantages of an in-house set-top box line are as follows:

High-quality service. Having an in-house line makes it easier to ensure high-quality services and UI/UX for all viewers at once.

Apps under control. Linux and AOSP set-top boxes can be used to prohibit the installation of competing apps—meaning, viewers will be unable to watch competitors’ content on their device.

Easier tech support. An in-house set-top box line is easier to maintain. The provider knows their equipment and its potential problems.

If a problem occurs often, the operator can study it and find a solution. When tech support receives a report for a common problem, they won’t have to spend a lot of time troubleshooting it, so the problem is resolved faster. Support specialists have an easier time answering common questions and can help customers faster, something which becomes next to impossible if the service runs on a dozen OSs at once.

Branding. Operators want to make set-top box UI their own and print their logos on the device and remote. Set-top box suppliers, such as Infomir, are also ready to customize set-top box UI and software, as well as apply any branding to their devices, remotes, and packaging. All this helps a service stand out from the competition.

Choosing set-top boxes for your subscribers, you need to take into account their household income to include the set-top box costs in your subscription fee. Set the subscription fee too high, and your service will start losing viewers, and if it’s too low, your set-top box line won’t have a significant ROI.

It’s best to offer set-top boxes if you have the budget for it. It makes tech support easier and thus pays off in the long term. The ‘bring your own device’ approach is an excellent choice if you need to launch fast and get a sizable subscriber base without too much effort.

It’s the client devices that determine whether the operator will be able to launch their project quickly, provide high-quality service, and have an easier time providing tech support.

In our next resource, we will cover linear TV and VoD, as well as how TimeShift, Catch Up, and nPVR services work, and why state-of-the-art projects need them.

*Google, Android, Google Play, YouTube and other marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

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