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Sun's Java TV API

  • By Jeff Rule
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Yet Sun and Java face some significant external pressures to creating this utopia of write once play anywhere. Microsoft wants Windows CE to be the operating system that powers the majority of these new digital set-top boxes, the de facto standard. To spearhead this effort, Microsoft is converting WebTV -- which claims a user base of about 250,000 -- to the Windows CE platform from its current proprietary standard.

On the other hand, Sun has lined up a large number of companies to support Java including content developers, authoring tool creators, large cable infrastructure companies, and hardware manufacturers (see table).

Toshiba, which manufactures creator of set-top boxes, hopes standards will help speed development in this new market. It offers experience developing laptop computers that should come in handy.
Matsushita, with brand names such as Technics and Panasonic, holds a large stake in making sure its consumer electronics can interact in a home entertainment network.
Motorola, maker of Hellcat and Blackbird set-top boxes that will feature Java Virtual Machines, is also looking into featuring Java in cellular phone products.
Scientific-Atlanta creates Explorer 2000, a cable digital set-top box, and would like the box to become the home networking center.
Sony wants to use Personal Java to wire the home entertainment environment, and is particularly interested in resolving piracy and security issues in set-top boxes.
Philips is developing set-top boxes as well as interactive applications such as multi-camera interactive sporting events.

Sun is covering all parts of the ITV food change. The creation of easy-to-use authoring tools will help to drive prices down on development by allowing people other than programmers to develop interactive content. Look for companies that have long developed CD-ROM and Internet authoring tools to begin to enter this market in the next few years.

  • OpenTV has begun development of authoring tools such as MPEG encoders and tools like Open Author, a Windows NT-based ITV authoring tool.
  • Veon creates interactive video tools and authoring tools for RealNetworks' G2 Player.

Cable companies have also chosen to work with Sun on Java standards.

  • HongKong Telecom has 80,000 Java-based interactive television systems already installed
  • TCI chosen Java technology as the standards application environment for development in its cable network. TCI has also hedged its bets by working with Microsoft.

In an ideal world, standards such as Sun's Java TV API would allow any application to work on any computer or set-top box running a Java virtual machine. In reality, the diversity of devices running Java will make this extremely difficult. However, if Sun can hold off Microsoft's Windows CE and keep the Java market from fracturing, we may avoid the incompatibilities and problems that come with porting between different operating systems.

Jeff Rule is a principal at RuleWeb Development specializing in DHTML, SMIL, Shockwave, and Java-based multimedia. His first book, Dynamic HTML: The HTML Developer's Guide was published in December 1998 by Addison Wesley Longman.

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This article was originally published on March 2, 1999

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