Insights | Guide

The RDK Video Accelerator – a quick guide for Operators

What it is, what it isn’t, and how you should use it to get to market, faster.

Our quick RDK Video Accelerator guide for Operators

In this guide, we are going to focus on RDKs Video Accelerator (VA). The latest version of RDK-V (v4.0) has been implemented on production-ready hardware and is pre-integrated with the Metrological application store, giving operators access to all the major OTT applications and 300+ other applications.

That said, VA isn’t an off-the-shelf ready solution and there will be gaps you’ll need to fill and things you’ll need to think about during development.

As experienced System Integrators with Europe’s largest RDK development team, we know how RDK’s Video Accelerator can help you accelerate development. We’ve helped other operators develop and deliver RDK devices to market and here we share our insight to help you do the same.
Let’s start with some basics.

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What is RDK?

The Reference Design Kit (RDK) is a collaboration between some of the world’s largest pay TV operators. It provides software which can be used to create set top boxes, video services and connected media devices (RDK-V), broadband gateways (RDK-B) and recently IP cameras (RDK-C).

RDK provides most of the essential code needed to create these products and focuses on the lower and middle layers of the software stack, leaving the operator to add their specific user interface and customisations. To date RDK has been used in over 60 million devices.

How do you use RDK?

Over 200 companies are currently RDK licensees and RDK members enjoy royalty free access to the code. Participation follows an open source model with RDK Management (RDK-M) providing the necessary code management and infrastructure. But, RDK does not provide the complete software solution operators need to add their own user interface and network specific customisations.

To date RDK consists of over 200 software components, giving operators incredible flexibility to customise the code to meet their product and network requirements.
As an operator you have complete control over how you use the RDK code base, so you can change components or add and remove them as they see fit. To help you get started quickly RDK supports a number of reference platforms.

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Silicon choice

All the RDK variants have one or more reference platforms – for RDK-V the standard reference platforms are the Raspberry Pi 3b and an x86 emulation. RDK-V has been ported to various other development platforms including the Creator CI20 and the NXP MX8MQ but to-date all the deployed STBs are based on Broadcom or Amlogic.
While Broadcom have been involved with the RDK since its inception and offer the most mature support for RDK, Amlogic have recently launched in the Multichoice DStv Streama. At Consult Red we helped Amlogic deliver their first RDK product and we’re now working with other silicon vendors who will soon be revealed in product launches. In short, other providers are moving into this space providing more options for operators

VA or not to VA?

For some operators, especially those with significant scale, having full control over all elements of the software stack is important. For these larger operators, starting development with a reference platform then migrating to a target platform complements their internal development process. But for other operators this is complex and costly, and they are happy to sacrifice some flexibility for a faster, cheaper route to market. This is where RDK’s Video Accelerator comes into its own.

Is Video Accelerator for you? We’ll help you decide, get in touch.

Is RDK’s Video Accelerator just software?

By working with STB manufacturers (or OEMs), namely Skyworth, Commscope, Kaon and Humax – the latest version of RDK-V (v4.0) has been implemented on production-ready hardware. RDK 4.0 is also pre-integrated with the Metrological application store giving operator access to all the major OTT applications and 300+ other applications.

Packaging RDK-V with production hardware and an application solution productizes RDK and can significantly reduce time-to-market, risk and cost. There is no migration to target hardware and operators can immediately start user interface development and backend integration. The Video Accelerator is proving popular with operators and that’s is attracting more OEMs and silicon vendors to RDK (good news for operators).

Does the Video Accelerator give operators less control?

Even with the RDK Video Accelerator the operator is still in full control and can change any aspect of RDK they choose. That said, the further you deviate from the baseline Video Accelerator, the more time and effort you will need to invest, so it’s a trade-off.

RDK-V is not a complete STB or smart media device solution, and even though the Video Accelerator is a significant step towards a complete product, the operator will still need to add some key components, which will vary depending on their network requirements.

A capable OEM will be able to assist with many of these components but for some components, such as the user interface, it may make sense to work with an experienced System Integrator or technology provider (like us!).

Need help filling the gaps? Get in touch.

What’s ‘missing’ from the Video Accelerator? What gaps will operators have to fill?

The key components an operator typically needs to add to the Video Accelerator include:

User Interface:

The user experience is unique to each operator meaning this has to be a component they provide. The Video Accelerator comes with a reference user interface written in the Lightning application environment. Lightning is a performant, Javascript based application and user interface authoring environment. It supports a growing number of applications and is rapidly becoming RDK-V’s de-facto user interface authoring environment.

In order to meet diverse operator requirements, Lightning can be extended using a plug-in framework known as ‘Thunder’ that allows development of platform micro and nano services. RDK also offer a PC emulation of Lightning known as Firebolt for rapid development).

Lightning is not the only option for authoring the user interface – RDK also supports HTML5, Spark and native environments but these are likely to be less expedient and Spark is being superseded by Lightning. Within the RDK-V architecture the user interface is a significant component that typically integrates multiple content discovery services, such as SVOD, TVOD and linear channels, as well as interfacing with recommendations, search, voice, settings, etc… It should be considered a full application not dissimilar to an operator’s main application on a comparable middleware such as Android TV.

Broadcast stack and Conditional Access

For obvious reasons the Conditional Access (CA) can’t be part of the RDK source code and RDK has core support for DVB and QAM. But for hybrid STBs supporting both broadcast and IP delivered metadata the operator will often want to add a broadcast stack and invariably a CA will accompany this.

CA and broadcast support can be added to RDK-V in a number of ways – the best option will depend on the operator’s network and requirements, in particular to what extent one-way operation is needed (if at all). Integration of a broadcast stack is not dissimilar to the current situation with Android TV and like Android TV standard options and pre-integrations such as the one offered by DTVkit are available.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

RDK has support for OpenCDM to ease DRM integration and various DRMs have already been integrated including Widevine and PlayReady but depending on the operator’s network and the requirements of their streaming partners they may need to integrate an additional DRM. DRM and CA vendors will insist all devices meet their security requirements and this can have platform wide implications.

Developing a new Set Top Box? Get in touch.

Operator Applications

A lot of operators have their own applications for self-care, news, weather or to complement popular content and programmes. The operator may want to port these applications to RDK. The expedient options are to use HTML 5 or Lightning where work can start in parallel using the Firebolt PC emulator.

In some cases, in particular, where 3rd party applications must be supported, it may be necessary to add support for an additional application runtime engine such as HbbTV. RDK can support this and for an application runtime written in portable code, adding it to RDK requires little more effort than adding a major OTT application such as YouTube or Netflix.

Software Updates

RDK includes many of the tools needed to implement a secure software update mechanism but it does not include a complete and standardised mechanism. It’s fairly straightforward for the operator, OEM, CA provider or System Integrator to implement a secure update mechanism which, depending on the network and deployment use cases, may need to support partial updates for security patching and/or broadcast delivery.

RDK-M do publish a roadmap and there is a schedule of regular releases that include new features and security fixes. But it is up to the operator to instigate an integration and QA process that takes selected RDK releases, re-integrates the operator’s changes and components such as their UI, then tests, trials and deploys a new customer update to the devices in the field.

The need for regular updates means operators are familiar with continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) as this is to a greater or lesser extent common to all middlewares. This work can be a distraction from operator’s own roadmap and they may choose to outsource this work to an OEM or System Integrator.
RDK Management do not mandate an update policy – operators have complete freedom to choose which updates they deploy, but equally RDK does not provide a stream of deployment ready security patches. The operator and their suppliers need to plan and deliver this.

Developing a connected media device? Get in touch.

Secure boot

RDK does not provide a default secure bootloader, implementations tend to be determined by the hardware, software update mechanism, security system and operator’s network. RDK does provide the basic tools such as uboot that can be used as a basis for a secure bootloader – typically the OEM, security provider or System Integrator will deliver a bootloader that meets the operator’s requirements.

Network and System Integration

Operator specific development may be required for a complete end-to-end integration with all the operator’s backend systems. For instance, for network PVR, analytics, ad insertion, remote monitoring, self-care, watermarking, RCU support or other systems the operator needs. RDK has many packages such as WebPA and TR-069 that can significantly accelerate this work.

Want to get to market faster? Get in touch.

Why do operators choose RDK?

  • Continuous investment and improvement: RDK offers a strong community of operators pooling investment to deliver a feature rich middleware and application authoring environment.
  • Broad choice of features: Lightning user interface & application environment, telemetry, DRM support, ad insertion, WPE browser, configurable memory footprint, subtitles, diagnostics and many more features.
  • By operators, for operators: RDK is designed and governed by operators for operators.
  • Retain control: The operator is in full control – they can change components, remove components, add component or integrate technology from best in class vendors. To quote RDK Management “RDK is designed for operator who wish to control their destiny with software and data”.
  • Compatibility: They can use variants of RDK as common solution throughout the home for STBs, broadband gateways and IoT devices.
  • No UI, app or data restrictions: The RDK license places no restrictions on user interface design, no applications that must be carried, no data is shared, there is no relationship between RDK and the operator’s customers.
  • Independent: there are no implications for the operator’s advertising and content business models.
  • Production-ready hardware: Now with the Video Accelerator, RDK is available on production ready hardware. This reduces risk, time to market and makes it easy for operators to get started with RDK.
  • Get to market, faster with lower risk: While operators will need to add their own user interface and potentially customise Video Accelerator to meet their needs, they can work with experienced System Integrators like Consult Red to achieve this quickly, efficiently and with lower risk.

We are an experienced System Integrator with Europe’s largest RDK development team.

We’ve helped Silicon Vendors implement the RDK Video Accelerator and worked with some the world’s largest operators to launch their RDK products. Our award-winning team worked with Liberty Global to develop their One Middleware ‘Horizon 4’ solution, and recently helped Amlogic deliver their first RDK product. We are proactive members of the RDK community in the ongoing development of RDK.