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New TCL smart TVs to run Linux-based Opera TV

Jul 19, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Chinese consumer electronics giant TCL will build its next-generation Smart TV systems using the Linux-based Opera Devices Software Development Kit (SDK). The Opera Devices SDK, as well as the Opera TV browser and Opera TV Store, will be embedded within four new Internet-connected TVs that will be sold globally starting in the third quarter.

Many if not most “smart” Internet-connected TVs are based on embedded Linux, including major platforms from Sony, Samsung, and LG, although they rarely advertise the guts of these proprietary systems. Chinese TV giant TCL, which has grown to be the world’s third largest TV producer, has chosen a relatively open platform for its next-generation Smart TVs with its selection of Opera TV products from browser development firm Opera.



Opera TV system architecture
(click image to enlarge)

 

TCL will use the Opera Devices SDK, Opera TV browser, and the cloud-based Opera TV Store in its E5691, E5510, F3520, and F3500 Smart TVs. These Opera-infused models will be sold globally, starting with third quarter launches in Australia, Europe, and Latin America. Features will include web browsing, 3D views, multi-screen interaction, and remote control via mobile phone, says TCL.

Currently, TCL appears to sell only one model dubbed a “Smart TV” with its 3D-enabled, E43-Series L42E43003DCE. TCL also sells mobile phones under the TCL and Alcatel brands, including its new quad-core, Android-based TCL Idol X S950 Android phone. Its Firefox OS-based Alcatel One Touch Fire recently went on sale in Poland.
 

Opera Devices SDK

Norway-based Opera Software says it has sold “tens of millions” of licenses for devices incorporating its Opera Devices SDK, including for Smart TVs, set-top boxes (STBs), and media players like Boxee TV. and the company’s SDK web page also displays the logos of Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Philips, Ericsson, Vestel, and Amino. The Linux-based software lets smart TV and IP-STB vendors build interactive TV services using open web standards. While more open than most Smart TV platforms, Opera Devices SDK is not, however, an open source platform.



Opera TV SDK components
(click image to enlarge)

 

The current SDK 3.5 version uses web standards including HTML5 for rendering web pages, implemented via the same Opera Presto rendering engine used in other Opera browsers. It also integrates CSS3 Transforms for animation and modifying DOM (document object model) elements, and an OpenGL-based WebGL graphics library that does not require plugins, says Opera.

In addition, Opera Devices SDK 3.5 supports IPTV and broadcast/broadband TV standards, including CE-HTML, CEA-2014, DVB, W3C, and OIPF (Open IPTV Forum). TCL does not appear to be using the SDK’s extra-cost “hybrid” option, which supports European-style HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV) for “harmonizing” broadcast and broadband content via a single web interface.

Additional Opera Devices SDK features include JavaScript extensions and an Opera Dragonfly toolkit used for remote debugging. OIPF-standardized web applications and widgets are said to enable TV functions like tuners, PVRs, and EPGs. The SDK supports chip architectures including ARM, MIPS, SH4, and x86 (Intel CE), running in a 10MB footprint on all, except for MIPS, which needs 12MB. Additional capabilities listed by Opera for the SDK include extended validation certificates, fraud protection, W3C widgets, HTML5 history, an API, IPv6 support, OpenGL ES/2.0 backend, localization, safe memory handling, site patching, web fonts, SVG 1.1, and SVG Tiny 1.2.
 

Opera Browser and TV Store

TCL will also be licensing the Opera TV Browser, which shares the same Opera Presto rendering engine and other foundational technology found in the Opera Mobile, Opera Mini, and Opera for Tablets browsers. The browser has been adopted for Sony’s Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, as well as a number of STBs from other vendors. Features are said to include visual bookmarks, virtual mouse support, a speed dial of favorites, and Opera Turbo compression for low-bandwidth connections.



Opera TV UI showing TV Store and apps
(click images to enlarge)

 

TCL’s Smart TVs will also make use of the HTML5-based, cloud-hosted Opera TV Store, which provides access to apps for specific video, music, social networking, games, and news services. Based on the Opera Devices SDK, the appstore comes with a set of APIs and development tools. These are said to include app templates, tools for creating icons, thumbnails, and screenshots, as well as tools for modifying standard website and web-based apps for the big screen and remote-control access. An Opera TV Emulator based on Oracle VirtualBox lets developers test HTML5 and CE-HTML content for TVs on a Linux, Mac, or Windows PC.

Earlier this year, Opera announced it would be moving all its browsers from Presto to the industry standard WebKit rendering engine. It also claimed that over 300 million users now use an Opera browser.
 

Other methods of connecting TVs to the Internet

In May, TCL announced a partnership with Google to put Google TV in an upcoming MoVo 4K Smart TV. In other Smart TV developments, earlier this year, LG purchased the Linux-based WebOS from HP to use as its next-generation smart TV OS. LG has also fielded a Google TV model, and Vizio offers a $99 Co-star Stream Player STB based on Google TV (pictured at right; click to enlarge).

According to NPD DisplaySearch’s Quarterly Smart TV Usage Study, the ways households connect their TVs to the Internet varies by geographic region. The firm surveyed thousands of households in the U.S., Japan, China, France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K., and found that 27 percent of all flat panel TVs are Internet-enabled, either directly from smart TVs or by means of various gadgets. The survey’s data (illustrated below) indicated that the most frequently-used devices were Sony Playstation, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, and other gaming consoles (19 percent), followed by Roku, Apple TV, PPTV Live, and other media center boxes (17 percent). The piechart below shows the firm’s Q1 2013 data distribution.



TV-to-web connection methods (share of households), Q1 2013
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Opera-enabled TCL E5691, E5510, F3520, and F3500 Smart TVs will be available globally, starting with third quarter launches in Australia, Europe, and Latin America. More information should eventually appear on TCL’s Smart TV product page. More information on the Opera Devices SDK and other Opera TV devices may be found at the Opera TV product page.
 

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