Quickline UHD Android TV Set-Top Box

Android Pie 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 Pie. Customers get a vast app line-up, which comprises Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, Spotify, Sky, and 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 half-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. All functions of our media player are provided using Android TV’s TV Input Framework API.

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.

Picture: 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 Pie, 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.

Picture: 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-www 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.

These tests are executed in various configurations on multiple platforms and have been continuously improved and extended. For continuous integration (CI), we use suitable tools such as Jenkins and GitLab CI which control the execution and evaluation on a daily basis.

Picture: Test centre for automated testing

The test strategy is supplemented by manual tests that cover areas that are not (yet) automated or difficult to automate. An example is testing the synchronicity of subtitles with the video. These tests are done prior to the software release. They are constantly updated and adapted to the latest development and feature extensions.

Picture: Supplemented by manual testing at TARA Systems

Positive test results are the prerequisite for the product release of the UHD application to the end-users. The launch then takes place step-by-step in test groups (alpha and beta test groups) which enables further analysis in the field and thus a better prediction for the real user experience.

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

This project has been carried out on the basis of an agile development approach, underlying the fundamentals of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). This process has been adapted to best fit the team setup and the involved individuals. All this allowed short response times for changing requirements and preconditions and enabled flexible solutions. The overall project lead is done by Quickline who managed the involved international team members.

Pictures: Impressions from programme increment (PI) planning meetings in Zurich and Bern

Roadmap Insights

Based on regular customer surveys and feedback from the partners, Quickline is planning further improvements and extensions to reach new milestones. Next steps on the ambitious roadmap are features like improved in-app search and bookmarking that will allow users to continue the playback of previously seen content, also across different devices.

Moreover, additional video on demand (VOD) and sports content will be integrated to expand the offer for the user. To keep – and even further enrich – the high level of user experience (UX) also with this increased feature set, the GUI will be continuously improved.

With the update of the operating system to the latest Android TV version, the Quickline TV Box will benefit from the latest Google extensions.

TARA Systems has been part of Quickline's Android TV set-top box project from the beginning. Their long-term experience with DVB and OTT player, the in-depth knowledge of the used Broadcom platform and their high standards in the software development process has been invaluable for the success of such a complex product. Due to their strong sense of responsibility, TARA Systems has always been a highly reliable partner during the whole project.
Joachim Büchse — Head of Engineering
I appreciate the close collaboration with the TARA Systems team and their passion for the product. Together in the development team, we create sustainable solutions and continuous improvements for our customers. We are impressed by TARA's high quality in software development and analysis which results in great confidence of all parties involved. So I am glad that TARA Systems is part of the development team.

Massoud Abbaszadeh — Product Owner Quickline TV Box

About Quickline

The Quickline Group is one of Switzerland’s leading full-service providers of entertainment and communication. The Quickline Group is an association of 24 independent network operators. It supplies around 400,000 households in the Swiss telecommunications market. Together, the services “Internet, TV / Radio, Landline and Mobile Telephony” are marketed under the “Quickline” brand. 

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