McObject Set-Top Box Embedded Software Shortens Development TimeMonday, October 5th, 2009
McObject®, developer of innovative real-time database systems, announced availability of its eXtremeDB™ embedded software platform for set-top box electronic programming guides (EPGs). By rejecting “one size fits all” limitations that encumber other data management solutions, eXtremeDB lends the highest degree of developer flexibility — enabling providers of set-top boxes to reduce costs and offer a richer tool for end-users.
Manufacturers are giving eXtremeDB the highest form of validation: DIRECTV, MOD Systems, Loewe Opta, STMicroelectronics (Genesis Microchip) and others have built McObject’s embedded database into their programming guide technology.
With an EPG, users zero in on relevant programming via show descriptions, schedules, ratings, genre, channel, user preferences and other criteria. In EPG software, manufacturers often facilitate handling this data by integrating a commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) database management system (DBMS).
But “database system” is a broad product category, and while some DBMSs specialize in addressing business or packaged software needs, only eXtremeDB was designed from scratch for set-top box programming guides and other real-time embedded systems.
For example, among embedded database systems, eXtremeDB supports the widest range of data types. Among other types, it offers variable length strings, a data type that allows physical storage space to expand or contract, depending on the size of the stored data. Within an electronic programming guide, a show description is ideally stored as a variable length string. It can be nonexistent for the nightly news (it has no description) or can be lengthy for the synopsis of the Friday Night Movie.
Many other embedded database products lack support for variable length strings. The result is that EPG designs must allocate resources based on the “worst case” or maximum possible program description length. This boosts set-top box memory and storage requirements, increasing costs for the manufacturer–and ultimately for the consumer.
Other critical data types eXtremeDB provides for set-top box software are the object-identifier, or OID, used to quickly match objects when a programming guide based on the popular “carousel” model is updated from the cable head-end or satellite transponder, and the variable-length array, which provides flexibility in defining relationships between entities such as “schedule” and “programs”. The latter helps conserve space (memory and storage) in the database, while the former helps make EPG updates fast and invisible to the end-user.
The following are other eXtremeDB capabilities that throw off development restrictions, to the benefit set-top box developers and users:
Hybrid database storage — While most DBMSs store data either in memory or on-disk, McObject’s eXtremeDB Fusion technology combines in-memory and on-disk storage, including, if desired, in the same database instance. This proved to be a boon for DIRECTV, which in 2008 selected eXtremeDB as its programming guide embedded database. DIRECTV’s set-top box product family includes some units with hard drives, and others that are disk-less. By enabling both kinds of storage, eXtremeDB Fusion spared DIRECTV the expense, learning curve and support costs of incorporating multiple embedded database products across its set-top boxes.
Multiple application programming interfaces (APIs) — eXtremeDB offers a native programming interface that is fast, and intuitive to learn. It is also type-safe, which catches data-typing errors to eliminate a common source of run-time bugs. But eXtremeDB also provides a SQL ODBC API. As a SQL embedded database, eXtremeDB leverages developers’ familiarity with this universal interface. ODBC permits seamless interoperation with a wide range of external systems, which is a necessity in an age of digital convergence.
Portability — eXtremeDB runs on virtually all operating systems used in consumer electronics, is easily ported to new platforms, and can even run without an OS in “bare bones boards” deployments. The database is designed to perform optimally regardless of platform. With software’s lifespan exceeding that of hardware, manufacturers benefit from this ability to move seamlessly to new operating environments.
Source code available — McObject provides source code for eXtremeDB, for the flexibility to extend features and to give an in-depth understanding of the database engine within an application.