Quickline UHD Android TV Set-Top Box
Android TV and our expertise come together in a premium set-top box
TARA Systems as a partner for the realisation of TV products often provides TV software components to its customers. However, there are products in which we are much deeper involved. Such an extensive project is the development of the TV set-top box operated by Quickline, a Swiss telecommunications company.
With the goal to raise customer experience and satisfaction to a new level, Quickline is continuing its long-term partnership with TARA Systems and the other involved parties. As a result of this close collaboration, Quickline was once more able to set high standards with the Quickline TV Box that raises the bar in Europe for its richness of features, user-friendliness, and the joy of use.
The set-top box, which enhances classic digital television with on-demand content streaming is using Android TV. Customers get a vast app line-up, which comprises VOD content (Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, Amazon Prime…) and sports content (Sky, DAZN…) – to name only a few. Many more apps are available on the Google Play Store to further expand the functionality.
Providing a reliable set-top box software with its enormous complexity, including live TV with more than 200 TV channels, live sports, seven days of replay TV, seamless transition from live DVB to OTT playback, network PVR, an electronic programme guide, personalized recommendations, fully integrated video on demand, conditional access, DRM systems, Teletext, subtitles and voice search is a challenging task. This fully hybrid set-top box allows Quickline to distribute one device that is providing the same feature set for customers with access to a DVB network as well as for customers without DVB reception as a pure IP/OTT box.
To realise all these features at the highest quality, this unique product unites a few leading companies who manifest their core competencies in a single set-top box. In this development process, every professional delivers the best results, which can be observed in constantly rising customer satisfaction surveys and performance reports.
We are proud that end-users very soon do not want to miss their feature-rich TV experience coming with the handy Quickline TV Box. Its ease of use and stability play a major role in its popularity.
Playback Content: Player for DVB and OTT
Our Inaris DVB software components for playback of DVB services including the support for DVB subtitles and Teletext were applied. The enhancement of shortening channel switching times was accomplished by using several tuners simultaneously to prepare the A/V decoding of neighbouring TV channels in advance. This results in a channel change duration of typically well under a third-second.
For playback of OTT live services, replay TV, and network-based recordings, we used our own developed HLS Player. It supports adaptive streaming via HTTP, where the player selects the best possible quality depending on the available bandwidth. We optimised this player to achieve also for OTT a fast channel change and media navigation. The HLS player is compatible with various playout servers and supports WebVTT subtitles.
The hardware abstraction layer used by our TV software components allows the best possible adaptation to the integrated SoC (system on a chip). The Quickline TV Box hardware is provided by Sagemcom and is based on Broadcom’s BCM7271. Our DVB and HLS player is directly integrated on top of Broadcom’s Nexus API. This ensures the highest performance and perfect playback of all content.
For content protection, the Verimatrix ViewRight ultra-security client was integrated into our DVB and OTT player.
Typically, Teletext is not supported by OTT streaming, so our own web-based Teletext server solution was integrated into Quickline’s backend. This server collects all Teletext pages of more than 100 TV channels in a Teletext database and updates them in real-time. The user enjoys access to all Teletext pages without any waiting time.
Channel banner with additional information on the watched content
Finding Content: Metadata and Backend Microservices
Metadata is the backbone of the Quickline product. All the client-side communication with the backend servers to get access to the metadata was created. This includes TV channel line-up for DVB and OTT live channels, EPG (one week in the past and up to two weeks in the future), network PVR archive as well as personalised recommendations and settings.
The Replay Guide presents the user the most popular programme events – overall and separated for different categories. On the server-side, the Replay Guide microservice aggregates the necessary viewing statistics and provides the sorted and filtered programme events to the set-top box clients via a REST API. In the first step, this functionality is used for the STB. Further clients (e.g. mobile apps for iOS and Android) will follow soon.
Android TV, with its strong focus on content, allowed us to bring the Replay Guide even closer to the user, by providing access to this feature directly from the launcher. Therefore, new rows on the home screen for the Quickline UHD application were added. Next to the Replay Guide, with the categories and most-watched events, also a row with a preview of still unwatched recordings was introduced in the home screen.
Android TV’s home screen with rows for Replay Guide and most-watched events
Where possible, Android’s TV provider was used to store all this information in a local database and keep all data up-to-date. This ensures quick access to the programme data and is essential for a highly responsive user experience.
Many features, such as user profiles, favourite channel lists, or the Replay Guide, are not supported by Android TV’s Input Framework. Therefore, the created abstraction API called Tango provides a unified API to access all metadata. This API is accessed by the Quickline TV application.
Optimising User Experience
During the product launch period, an intensive phase of optimisation and performance improvements was completed. Through the accelerated interaction of the client with the different backend servers (e.g. for login, access to the metadata, as well as audio/video streaming) significant improvement of the overall user experience was achieved.
Among other things, the starting time of the TV app was accelerated significantly which also improved the switching time between the applications. Moreover, the navigation within the EPG for smooth access to the extensive programme data was optimised.
Decisive for all these enhancements is the possibility to evaluate the corresponding analytics information collected for all devices in the field. Optimisations and improvements were also carried out in this area together with the GUI and analytics team members.
Tools Used for Data Collection and Analysis
Ensuring High-Quality Standard
In order to ensure a high-quality standard of the TV application, sophisticated processes and a multi-level test strategy have been initiated. Automated regression tests for all software components on different levels (for native C, as well as for Java/Kotlin code) and automated end-to-end tests, e.g. for the players, were implemented.
Test centre for automated testing
Supplemented by manual testing at TARA Systems
The Development Approach
Various partners teamed up in this project. Specialists for backend and playout, the development of the STB software (consisting of the graphical user interface (GUI), TV middleware and hardware-related implementation), as well as for data analysis and data evaluation, and also Google with its Android TV application environment, work closely together. Our main responsibility is the DVB and OTT players on the Broadcom SoC, the metadata access of the client and the realisation of microservices which run on the backend servers.
Active Partners at the Quickline TV Box Project
Impressions from programme increment (PI) planning meetings in Zurich and Bern
Improvements and Extensions Until Spring 2022
In times when customer satisfaction is becoming an increasingly decisive success factor for companies – not to say a unique selling proposition – we are delighted for Quickline that its high level of customer satisfaction in the TV sector has risen further. In its annual report for 2021, the company published that the appeal of Quickline TV and its customer satisfaction have further increased. A crucial role in overall customer satisfaction is played by positive customer experiences, which can also influence customer loyalty, the likelihood that customers will recommend a company to their friends, and ultimately the likelihood that customers will remain customers. The high level of customer satisfaction is also reflected in external studies. In a representative survey conducted by the business journal BILANZ (only available in German) on the best TV providers in Switzerland, Quickline performed very well compared with its major competitors.
When it comes to customer experience, this is where we bring in our expertise to make the user’s experience even more pleasant and smooth. Our goal in our area of responsibility is to contribute in the best possible way to creating great TV experiences for Quickline’s customers. Quickline TV has raised stability to a crash-free rate of >99% within a seven-days-range (according to Firebase Crashlytics), and we have released several features that improve the overall user experience. With in-app search, users can now conveniently search for TV content without leaving the Quickline app. This makes it possible to extend the dwell time within the app and prevent a jump to other apps. Also, we supported the technical implementation of content extensions such as oneplus (Quickline customers were the first to benefit from the new Swiss streaming service) and enabled users to access UHD TV channels. Since March 2022, Quickline customers have been able to watch specific channels in ultra-high definition quality. Due to our performant HLS Media Player, we can guarantee users a smooth UHD experience.
New feature in-app search
Screenshot of UHD TV channel (3+ UHD)
Quickline TV continues to record a high recommendation rate in a persistently challenging market. We are proud to be able to support Quickline with even more responsibility and look forward to shaping this year together. In the joint planning meeting with Quickline held in March, we set out an ambitious roadmap for the upcoming months in 2022. This year the meeting could be held on-site again. All companies, which have a share in the success of Quickline’s technical realization, met in Zurich and discussed the next steps. We are grateful for the fruitful and focused exchange.
Impressions from programme increment (PI) planning meetings in March 2022
Story Update 10/2022
Quickline has a Reason to Celebrate - and so do we
In recent months, further stability and UX improvements have been the focus of our work and remain a top priority for us. We are convinced that these improvements have contributed to an increase in Net Promoter Score (NPS), which was already determined by surveys commissioned by Quickline. In the meantime, this result has also been confirmed by independent studies.
In the rating of the business magazine BILANZ, Quickline achieved better results with each passing year. We are particularly proud that Quickline has now reached the top of the rating in the “TV category” in the September 2022 survey. We look forward to working with Quickline to maintain this position.
Quickline is now Available Throughout Switzerland
Since the beginning of September 2022, the entire Quickline offering has been available throughout Switzerland. Among other benefits, this means that customers who move away from the previous network area can continue to profit from the attractive offers.
We are pleased to support Quickline with this market expansion and do our best to ensure a smooth TV experience for all new and existing customers.
Ad Insertion and Replay Premium Launch
With the changes to Replay TV as part of the industry agreement GT12 (Gemeinsamer Tarif 12), a new form of ad insertion was introduced industry-wide in October 2022. Quickline customers can, however, continue to watch TV free of advertising via the Replay Premium add-on package. Without the add-on package users will be shown dynamic advertisements that cannot be skipped. We aspire to guarantee a seamless transition from advertising to content with frame-accurate positioning and we have therefore adapted our Inaris HLS Player to the new requirements.
TARA Systems Taking on More Responsibility
We have taken on further responsibilities for developing the Quickline TV box for about a year. Together with the cross-company and multinational team, we have continuously improved the agile development process.
That enabled us, among other things, to optimize and accelerate the release cycles. End customers can thus benefit more quickly from improvements and extensions. And this is ultimately an essential contribution to increasing customer satisfaction.
Stefan Schöfmann (TARA Systems) presents the planning results for the TV box to the TV development teams during the PI planning meeting in September 2022 in Solothurn.
In front of the river Aare and the cathedral of Solothurn: Stefan Schöfmann, Georg Kamjunke and Alexandru Basturea from TARA Systems, and Quickline’s Head of TV Frontend Development, Rares Micu (2nd from the left).
The Quickline Group is one of Switzerland’s leading full-service providers of entertainment and communication. The Quickline Group is an association of 25 independent network operators. It supplies around 400,000 households in the Swiss telecommunication market. Together, the services internet, TV/radio, landline and mobile telephony are marketed under the Quickline brand.