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DTV Update Service In Trials

Las Vegas — Update Logic, a Boston-based startup company offering DTV software download services to consumer electronics manufacturers, said it is currently in field trials on a new system that will enable manufacturers to make software fixes remotely via data casts through the digital broadcast signals of the nation’s PBS channels.

The service, which is expected to be fully deployed around the middle of next year, will enable consumer electronics manufacturers to transmit software updates to their digital television products, without having to issue expensive recalls, dispatch service technicians or mail out flash-memory cards containing software updates for consumers to self-install.

Based on the A97 standard of the ATSC specification, the system is designed to work seamlessly, overnight, eliminating the potential for user error. It should also reduce the volume of support calls when a fix becomes necessary. Software updates are installed while the television is turned off, and are transparent to end users.

The technology can save CE makers thousands of dollars, save damage to brand image and eliminate much of the frustration and waiting for end users, said Tripp Blair, Update Logic CEO.

“Today’s digital televisions are like computers — they require complex sets of software to operate, and by definition there are going to some errors in a complex set of software,” said Blair. “We’ve developed a method to get the updates to the set inexpensively and with little impact on the consumer.”

When in full operation, a participating manufacturer will be able to broadcast software fixes or updates to affected digital television sets, PVRs, set-top boxes and other components, using 100kb of spectrum from a participating PBS broadcaster’s digital ATSC channel. Many of the nation’s largest cable operators have also agreed to send along the datacasts when they carry a PBS affiliate’s DTV feed.

Blair said Update Logic is currently working with five PBS affiliate stations, six CE manufacturers and three cable operators in field trials.

CE manufacturers that have either signed on or are evaluating the service include Sony, Samsung, Hitachi, Panasonic, Mitsubishi and Sharp.

The system is expected to be fully deployable through 200 PBS stations, covering up to 98.5 percent of U.S. households in mid-2007, Blair said.

The system requires manufacturers to first install an Update Logic activation agent in their products during manufacturing. Update Logic will place servers with each participating PBS station. Servers are connected to the Internet.

Cable operators working with Update Logic include Comcast, Cox and Insight Communications. Blair said the MSO’s have agreed not to strip out the Update Logic datacasts when their local operators retransmit PBS stations. Other cable operators are expected to participate by the time the service is full activated.

Currently, satellite operators do not use ATSC tuners to decode local channels when they retransmit into the home, and the datacasts can not be used, Blair said. However, many HDTV satellite set-top boxes include separate ATSC tuners to receive over-the-air broadcasts, and those can be used to carry an update, Blair said.

The company is working on a system that will work in satellite-only homes, Blair said.