Allowing digital TV decoders that don’t comply with South African standards to receive our signal will be bad for both industry and consumers, E-tv has argued.

For E-tv to offer content in high definition (HD) it has to be able to encrypt its digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal and know that all South Africans will still be able to receive its channels.

This is one of a few reasons E-tv is arguing for set-top box (STB) control and a well-enforced STB standard for South Africa, the group executive for new business and platforms at E-tv, Maxwell Nonge, told MyBroadband.

Since South Africa’s digital TV test signal is broadcast in the clear at the moment, any set-top box that supports the Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial, version 2 standard (DVB-T2) is able to receive and relay it to a television screen or monitor.

To illustrate the pitfalls of this, Nonge conducted a demonstration with a DVB-T2 compatible decoder that they were easily able to buy in South Africa.

Among the standards the STB didn’t comply with was a lack of support for the multimedia middleware to be used in South Africa (MHEG–5, SA profile).

It also didn’t have an external power supply unit.

Nonge said that the reason the South African STB specification required an external supply is to prevent you from having to send the whole unit in for repair if the power unit becomes faulty.

Critical for E-tv, however, was the lack of embedded STB Control, lack of HDCP (encryption on the HDMI output), and the ability to record any content to a USB drive in an unencrypted format.

Not only did the lack of STB control mean that broadcast signals couldn’t be encrypted, Nonge said, it also meant that the South African STB standard could not be easily enforced.

Nonge said that without STB control it would be up to the regulator and law enforcement agencies to ensure that non-compliant boxes are not used in South Africa, which would just add to their already heavy work load.

A big problem for E-tv is that decoders such as the one Nonge demonstrated have no encryption on the HD output to the TV, and no encryption built into the personal video recording (PVR) functionality.

The non-compliant decoder’s PVR functionality was demonstrated to MyBroadband and a short clip from a DTT broadcast was recorded to a flash drive.

Using Handbrake, a free video transcoding tool, we were easily able to convert the recording file format the STB uses to something that could be uploaded to YouTube.

While this does make it easy for viewers to transfer recorded video from their STB to a format easily played by a PC, it also makes content owners unhappy that their copyright could be easily infringed.

For E-tv to offer movies or series in high definition, Nonge said they have to show copyright owners that they have taken reasonable steps to secure their content with some kind of digital rights management mechanism.

Source: MyBroadbad – Jan Vermeulen