Ian Thomas


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While Chief Technical Architect at DITG I devised and developed xBrowser. This was a product that took XML scene definitions as input and compiled to OpenTV binary modules, then injected the modules into a Sky broadcast carousel to be parsed by a browser app written for the Sky set top box.

The compiler was written in Java; the browser was written in embedded C for the set top box using the OpenTV API.

At one time it was used for the NHS Direct interactive text service on the Sky platform, then the biggest digital interactive text system in the world, serving text, images, sound, video and animation.

The motive was to lower the entry barrier to creating content for the STB – the OpenTV API was both expensive and tricky to use, since the Sky STB specs were so woolly that different STB models behaved completely differently from each other.

The full system allowed the user to browse content that was broadcast over the Sky satellite carousel, but also to browse individual content via the return path – the very slow modem – in each Sky box, fetching binary content via HTTP from a live xBrowser server.

We were forced to reverse engineer OpenTV’s compression routines and binary module formats to avoid the unlicensed re-use of their compilation tools in a commercial product. This proved very difficult, but extremely satisfying when complete.

The system was my brainchild; I designed every aspect of it and led the development team who created it.

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