Top industry vendors gathered together in New York last week to tackle a crucial software issue that if unresolved could hold back the development of interactive digital television devices. The group, part of US digital TV body, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), consisted of thirty or forty representatives from the computer industry, consumer electronics industry and broadcasting industry. Its goal: to establish a standard applications programming interface that will allow datacasting and interactive applications to run on a variety of different receiving devices running disparate operating systems. If the digital era unfolds in the way that many have anticipated, with a myriad of consumer devices broadcasting TV content and internet into people’s homes, broadcasters will need to be able to develop interactive applications that can run on a variety of receiving devices irrespective of the operating system that they are running. Our goal is to standardize the middleware that sits between applications and the operating system, said Aninda DasGupta, chairman of the adhoc ATSC group formed to study requirements for a DTV Applications Software Environment. Interactive applications and data broadcast applications vendors need to know what to write to. Manufacturers of receivers of all kinds, be they TV sets, set-top boxes or PC add in cards, also need to know what kind of application engine to make available – a Windows based engine, Java or something different, continued DasGupta. Discussions between the group are likely to spark off existing hostilities between traditional TV-receiver manufacturers and the PC industry. TV receiver makers are reluctant to let the PC industry’s well-entrenched Microsoft Win32 API gain a stranglehold. Other APIs in line for adoption include Thomson Interactive SA and Sun Microsystems Inc’s OpenTV API and MHEG-5-plus-Java from the Digital Audio Video Industries Council. According to some industry watchers, if the DTV API issue can not be settled by the middle of next year, the first generation of DTV devices, expected to hit the US market in late 1998, may be unnecessarily costly. They are also likely to lack crucial datacasting features and interactive capabilities. Personally I’d like to have a standard available by the middle of next year, said Gupta. The group will be meeting for the second time in three to four weeks.