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Sun's Java TV API

  • March 2, 1999
  • By Jeff Rule
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Remember the hype about interactive TV (ITV) back in the early 1990s? By now, everyone was supposed to be watching video on demand. These projects failed because they were prohibitively expensive; however, a lot of this expertise leaked over to Internet development and now the concept of convergence is emerging once again, this time supported by Internet standards such as Java.

Before the Internet appeared in the media landscape, Java had been conceived as a lightweight language to allow consumer electronics devices such as VCRs, game systems, TVs, and set-top boxes talk to each other. After a brief detour onto the Web, Java is back at its roots and Sun has just strengthened its position by coming out with the new Java TV API. To be released in full at the end of first quarter 1999, Sun has already announced a list of partners and information on the Java TV API.

With many different manufacturers developing set-top boxes, the Java Virtual Machine concept makes sense.

With many different manufacturers developing set-top boxes, the Java Virtual Machine concept makes sense: it's a development environment that can be implemented on a variety of platforms. While set-top box manufacturers are using a very wide variety of chip sets and configurations, they should be able to easily port applications between different cable systems if they each write to the Java standards.

In the near future, each different cable environment may be its own system, making cross-platform compatibility as desired among cable systems as it is among different operating systems today. Porting from one environment to another can prove highly expensive if developers need to start nearly from scratch for each platform. By using Java as a de-coupling layer to abstract the software from the hardware, content creation companies can literally write once and run anywhere.

The Java TV API extends Java into the television environment. It allows Java to receive and control information from devices such as remote controls and other consumer electronics. The Java-powered set-top box may become the audiovisual information center of the home for many people. Analysts have predicted that computers will have reached market saturation at 60 percent -- the set-top box could be the candidate to push Internet access and other limited computer applications into the remainder of consumer homes.

ITV is able to draw
from the huge pool
of Java developers already creating content for the Web.

Unlike the original development of interactive TV that was undertaken by large telecommunications companies, the new interactive TV is more of a grassroots effort utilizing development tools proven on the Internet. ITV is thus able to draw from the huge pool of Java developers already creating content for the Web and server-side Java. By building on this pool of developers and existing technologies, Java-based interactive TV development is far cheaper than the initial ITV efforts.

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