This week, join Jamie as he sits down with Tony Strutt of SmarDTV to talk about…
🎙 What made SmarDTV head into the RDK space
🎙How AI and RDK can work together
🎙 The potential use cases for AI, particularly in your set-top boxes
Hello, and welcome to the RDK podcast. I’m your host, Jamie Walker. And today I’m joined by Tony Strutt, Sales Director at SmarDTV. Tony, how are you doing today?
I’m doing good Jamie, thanks for inviting me.
It’s good to have you on the show, Tony. But let’s jump right in, shall we? So, tell us a little bit about the history of smarDTV in the video space.
Yeah, so we’ve actually been around since 1996, Jamie, so over 25 years in the industry. In the early days, we were really focused on the development of conditional access modules for the industry, we kind of led the way in terms of innovation in that technology, we were part of the CI plus consortium, we were the first to integrate WiFi, CAS solutions. And more recently, what we call direct to TV modules. The next generation of modules will be USB based. And we have the ability to automatically install the operators’ application into the Smart TV set on insertion of the camera module. So it becomes a proper integrated experience for the end-users.
A lot of that knowledge and know-how that we picked up from the CAM industry, over the years, we’ve been able to carry forward into the set-top box domain, we’ve actually been developing set-top boxes now since 2009. We’ve deployed over 50 million devices already. So you know, we were quite a significant player in the industry. We’re headquartered in Marseille, in the south of France, we have regional design Centres of Excellence in Brittany, north of France, in India, and we have a hardware design team based in Taipei, which has been very useful actually, particularly in the last two years, where the industry seeing all kinds of constraints on component supply. Having a team in place close to the factories close to some of our key component suppliers means that we’ve been able to navigate a lot of the issues faced by the industry. And actually, I’m pleased to say that 2021 is shaping up to be a record year for smarDTV. We’ve smashed our volume and revenue goals compared to previous years. So despite the pandemic, we’re on a very nice track.
Well, it’s great to hear right, it’s nice to hear that smarDTV have taken the roots of the business into new elements as you grew right. And as you say the chippageddon, right. Yeah, that’s a big word that’s been flying around. Yeah, it sounds like you have the supply chain issue sorted there, which only means as you said, 2021; record year you guys, that’s great news. I guess then Tony to tell us, as sales director, tell us about what’s your role is within the business and your involvement and smart?
Yeah, sure. So I’ve been with SmarDTV now for just over one year. But prior to that, I’ve been in the industry pretty much since graduating in 1998. So my role, smarDTV, I’m focused on this set-top box sale of the business so that smarDTV global, smarDTV technologies is the conditional access side of the business. We decided to separate the two business units because, with evolving technologies, customer demands, we needed that bit of extra focus. So since joining, I’ve been helping the business farm and formulate a strategy and really it was back around the time I joined that we decided to start investing heavily in RDK technologies.
Okay, okay. So about a year into RDK then, how did you become involved in it? What attracted you to it?
Well, we’ve got a strong heritage of Linux development. We have our own in house middleware solutions, DVB stacks. So we have the expertise in house and of course RDK is based on a Linux environment. But what really attracted us to RDK was the ethos, you know, the fact that we’re joining a community of 1000s of developers, all contributing to great evolving technology. We like the open-source aspect to this. You know, nobody wants to keep reinventing the wheel. Each time you enter a new development, it’s, it’s not good for us and our resources, it’s not good for the operators. It’s not good for end users. You know, we see really two main choices of open source on the market. There’s, there’s Android, and there’s RDK. And they both have their place. And by the way, we also have the Android solutions and developments which are perfectly well suited to certain territories, and operators. But what really attracted us to RDK was the ability to innovate, and get products to market with a fast time to market. And also for those operators that want that extra element of control, RDK puts the control firmly in their hands.
That’s it right. And I think I think the last point that you said is probably one of the most important factors of RDK, right? I think I was touching on a previous episode with Glee Abraham and his team supporting everybody involved in that community as well. Right, checking the additional source code, checking any changes, any contributions and review, it’s always getting better, without having to invest too much time into it, as well. I guess from your point of view, then, you know, as you said, you’ve been in the industry since graduation, you have seen the video, and the broadband industry evolve as it is. How do you see RDK evolving compared to other middleware choices – like we said about Android TV – faced by pay TV operators?
Yeah, I think there are some exciting prospects on the horizon with RDK. You know, I think video is still the killer application, but with containerization, and its ability to introduce new OTT premium video apps, all kinds of apps much faster, I think this has really been the pivotal point that is encouraging a lot of operators who may have been previously on the fence to go with RDK. It’s a much lower barrier to entry than it previously was. It’s no longer necessary to have massive internal engineering teams, as we saw in the past, the likes of Comcast, liberty global have; RDK is now accessible to some of the smaller operators that want that element of control, want a very nice quality of experience for their end-users. It’s becoming a nice choice for those such operators.
That’s it right. I think we’ve mentioned previously some interesting AI applications as well. Can you expand on those applications and how operators can monetize it?
Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve got quite a strong portfolio of silicone choices in our roadmap, the platform that we’re developing on RDK, which we’ll be showing at IBC, in December, features very strong NPU neural processing units. And this lends itself very well, to certain artificial intelligence applications. It does a lot of the computing on the edge. So it’s taken a lot of the strain away from the chip and the cloud to enable certain AI applications that in the past just weren’t practical or possible, you know, audio processing, the ability to pick up on certain keywords from the end-user is now becoming a reality in the set-top box.
So historically, the remote control was the main interface between the end-user and the content that they wanted to reach. But it could be quite a cumbersome affair, trying to find content through remote control, navigating through menus, etc. latest generation of remote controls have inbuilt microphones. So it’s possible via Bluetooth to search for your content that way. But what takes it one step further, is the ability to support far-field microphones in the set-top box at the other side of your lounge from where the end-users sitting. And that technology, it’s got to be right from day one. Because end-users, the customers they don’t have a lot of patience if the technology doesn’t work from day one; they just won’t try it again.
So having nice high-quality audio processing, noise cancellation within the silicone that we put inside the set-top box is so important. And with this next generation of devices that will be demonstrated in IBC, we’ll be demonstrating the far-field voice technology, which will enable this. Video processing is another exciting area. And this has taken off particularly in Southeast Asia at the moment. So you can imagine you’re watching a movie, and your favourite actor is wearing an item of jewellery or clothing that you might be interested in; the AI in the chip has the ability to identify that item of clothing or jewellery or whatever it is. And it’s possible for you to do a search on that, you know, what is this? What is this, this sweater that these guys were wearing? Where can I shop for that locally? Where can I shop online? How quickly can that item be delivered? You can imagine the possibilities are endless. And this is becoming a reality.
Now, you know, in previous years, we’ve had proof of concept demonstrations, just really scratching away at the surface of what could be possible in future. But now with powerful NPUs with edge processing, these applications are becoming a reality. Environmentalist sensing is another interesting area of AI that’s possible. So through the Wi-Fi and processing in the set-top box, it’s actually possible to detect people in the home, you can even detect the heartbeat of those people. So you can imagine some of the health applications that could be enabled through that type of technology, not just health, actually, intruder sensing for security purposes. If the box has the ability to distinguish between the home users, the regular home users and strangers entering the property at times they shouldn’t be, then that could well be the trigger for security applications. And really I just mentioned a few examples of what is becoming possible now through the advanced NPU processes that we’re supporting in the next generation of devices.
I mean, AI is one of my most interesting topics in video at the moment just because of the options that it can bring to the table. And there’s, as you mentioned there, you know, security in the home; paramount. Health monitoring, you know, will appeal to the older generations, right? Or to families who have older family members who might live might live at home. One of e the funniest things that caught my ears was in the last RDK Summit, we were talking about how ordering pizza through the microphone through your remote was one of the most made commands that were recorded that they couldn’t complete. And I sat down, I thought, well, Domino’s would be lapping up my wallet every day if I was able to do that. I guess then, obviously, the AI applications are super impressive, but what other kinds of applications that you think RDK could be useful in the future?
Yeah, I think, you know, a lot of the IoT devices in the home, Jamie that would supplement the kind of use cases that I’ve mentioned would be a natural extension of RDK. And, you know, what we’ve learned in the last two years is that people are starting to embrace new technologies. Two years ago, nobody heard of zoom. And now we’re all using it. You know, so having having cameras and video conferencing, between family members and friends, is becoming the norm these days. And I think that will be a springboard to embracing lots of other new technologies that some of that I’ve just mentioned. You know, the ability to to shop through the user interface is really an excellent way for operators to work to monetize some of the AI applications that they’ve been mentioning, and operators, they already have those trusted relationships with the end-users.
You know, a lot of end-users there can be nervous about trying new technologies with unknown vendors, suppliers. But if you already have that existing trusted relationship, and a billing mechanism with the pay-TV operator, then it becomes a natural way to start embracing some of the applications that we’ve just mentioned. And the advancements in IoT technology, the standardisation that we’re seeing there; it’s all coming together in a very neat way, moving forwards.
I think the IoT aspect is important right? Here, my peers work a lot on IoT, the other side of our video and RDK business, and yet, their clients are starting to talk about RDK. It’ss really sort of started to spread its wings, shall we say? But I guess then, Tony; what’s next for SmarDTV? How do you see the technology evolving for you?
Yeah, so I think that what’s next for us is IBC, we’re really gearing up for that. That’ll be our first major exhibition event in the last few years. We have some really exciting new technology to demonstrate there. Some of the applications that have been mentioned in this discussion will be shown off there. We’re really focusing in hard, Jamie, on the quality of the devices, the quality of experiences. In this record-breaking year, 2021 that I’ve mentioned, we’ve had no instances of quality issues. And that’s really a testament to the effort that our engineers quality team put in place in developing high quality, high tech solutions.
WiFi is so important moving forward, you know, with so many connected devices in the home, with faster bandwidth being supported and expected in the home. The effort that goes into the WiFi technology in the set-top box is becoming critical. We’re supporting the latest WiFi six technologies. But also the way that we work with antenna placement within the set-top box; we have some pretty neat, proprietary technology that goes into the solutions that just gives us that little bit of edge, which once again, we’ll be demonstrating and happy talk to talk to anybody that’s interested in coming along at IBC.
Well, I would definitely be there IBC to come see that in person. I really look forward to it. But totally let it’s been a real pleasure having you on the show today. Where can our listeners find you online?
So the company website is very useful source of information. That’s www.smardtv.com. And everybody’s welcome to reach out to me directly. firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address. You can find me on LinkedIn and reach out that way. And myself and the team will be happy to answer any questions from interested parties.