RemoCast The Set-Top Box Multicast Server Appliance Try it free

Introduction to RemoCast

What is RemoCast?

RemoCast is a multicast server conceived to configure, upgrade and control STBs (Set-Top Boxes) and other devices that may appear in many different IPTV and video scenarios.

It has been designed as a stand-alone computer appliance that can be easily deployed along with STBs.

RemoCast comes ready to be used out of the box.

Due to the fact that it is remotely controlled, service and maintenance companies can feed RemoCast with new software packages and then reflash any selection of all the STBs installed in the field.

There is no need to plug any monitor, keyboard or mouse to the unit. With just a power source and a network connection it works 24x7 unattended.

Special commands may also be scheduled for single or periodic execution. For example, certain Set-Top Boxes could be rebooted once a week. A special welcome page could be displayed at 8:30 from Monday to Friday.

As new features are implemented and as soon as bugs get fixed, RemoCast units get automatically upgraded with no need for human intervention.

When to use RemoCast?

Did you ever had to reflash any STB?

If you are following the DIY (Do It Yourself) path, you will have to grab a server, possibly with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You will then have to install and setup the operating system and all required software components. Finally, you will spend a lot of time trying coordinating all required configuration files.

RemoCast comes ready to use. We may also tailor it to suit your requirements. You can control it remotely from any station with network access.

Do you program STBs from time to time?

The first time that you install and setup a regular server you have to spend an awful lot of time adjusting and coordinating all required configuration files. If you reflash any amount of STBs once in a while, you may experience the same pain every time.

RemoCast comes ready to use. It keeps all your binaries, additional files and custom commands. You're the owner so you decide how RemoCast has to organize your information.

Do you program STBs of different models?

On a regular server, every time you add a new Set-Top Box model, you have to produce a set of special configuration files. You must also be extremely careful with the changes you do to some of the system files and service configuration files. Your server might stop working or its services could get messed up.

With RemoCast you just select an existing service, clone it and adjust few parameters. The appliance takes care of all configuration and coordination actions required by system and services files.

Do your STBs deal with different browsers?

On a regular server you have to follow a naming convention for binary files, source trees and configuration files. Expanding software packages appears to be a simple task but do not forget that you have to edit configuration files and adjust them in order to include new elements.

With RemoCast you just select your new software package and assign a name. Let the appliance do the hard part while you focus on more creative tasks.

Do you manage any variety of drivers and options?

With a regular server it's not easy to have visibility of which files and components have been added or replaced. Let's assume that you have some deployments with conditional access and some without it. Let's also assume that you require IR extension in some sites only. Finally, you may have to include additional fonts and languages, depending on the geographic destination. Now imagine how many combinations you will have to cope with. Would you like to enable Telnet in some boxes only? This will add another dimension to the puzzle.

RemoCast implements a space called EXTRA to let you store additional components such as drivers for external devices, font sets or system options. RemoCast implements another space called USER to let you save your customized versions of files such as splash.gif, settings or config.txt. The package browser allows you to activate and deactivate different options with just 2 clicks.

Did you ever think about renaming packages?

Complexity grows over the time as new features and variants appear. No matter which naming convention you initially choose (say that you append feature names like in Version_1_2_3_Fresco_Telnet), as time goes on, you may have to consider adopting another criterion (say that you use short names like in V_1_2_3_Fr_Tel_Tira_VM_En instead of the original Version_1_2_3_Fresco_Telnet_Verimatrix_English). If you decide to rename all packages following new rules, on a regular server you have to be careful with binary files, source trees and configuration files. Attempting to change any name could be a complete nightmare. Don't forget that you have to coherently adapt names of files and directories. Furthermore, you have to edit configuration files and correct them to reflect these changes.

RemoCast offers you a simple text box where you type the new name. You may use the same simple mechanism to copy entire packages prior to extra feature addition.

Do you have custom keys?

The use of custom keys prevents unauthorized people from accessing and manipulating your deployed Set-Top Boxes. With a regular server you have to ensure that your key files are placed in the proper directory.

RemoCast offers different levels of security per service and per package. You decide if you want to store keys or not. You also decide if you want to save pass phrases or not.

Do you want to control STBs and send them commands?

With a regular server you have to open a terminal session, define commands and manually sign them. You have then to send each one of those commands to STBs either to one by one at a time (unicast) or to all devices that appear connected to the network (multicast).

RemoCast implements groups which let you categorize commands as you want. The Set-Top Box monitor module displays an icon for each possible device. You just select all those STBs that tou desire and click on the corresponding command button.

Do you send commands to STBs with custom keys?

With a regular server you have to ensure that your key files are placed in proper directories. You will also have to open a session, sign commands and, initially, send them to one box at a time.

RemoCast implements commands sets as collections of commands that share a specific set of keys (either custom or standard). You only have to enable some commands depending on the command set. The Set-Top Box monitor module displays an icon for each possible device. You just select all those STBs that you desire and click on the corresponding command button.

Concerned about STB command security?

With a regular server it's very hard to implement a security policy that allows you to decide which users are entitled to execute certain commands.

RemoCast reserves special command groups Cmd0 to Cmd5 whose access totally depends on user privileges. You decide which commands belong to each group and who has access to each group.

Concerned about security?

With a regular server you already know what you have.

All RemoCast module actions may only be executed by users with specific permissions enabled.

Where to use RemoCast?

There are many different scenarios where RemoCast can help and make regular tasks easy.

Please check the applications section for further information and to see some real examples.

Why NOT to use RemoCast?

You don't care about recurring setup time and costs

If you are reading this, you may consider surfing this web in order to understand what can RemoCast do for you.

RemoCast comes ready to use and keeps all configuration files properly coordinated.

You like online support each time you have to do a change

If you are reading this, you may consider surfing this web in order to understand what can RemoCast do for you.

RemoCast offers an intuitive GUI that lets you add, delete or change services, software packages, network and many other configurable matters.

You are happy sending technicians on site

If you are reading this, you may consider surfing this web in order to understand what can RemoCast do for you.

RemoCast is remotely controlled so technicians don't even need to know where the appliance is physically located.

You are not concerned about anybody clobbering your deployments

If you are reading this, you may consider surfing this web in order to understand what can RemoCast do for you.

RemoCast refined and lets you define users and profiles based on permissions. Even critical STB commands (such as reflash or reboot) may run under permission policies.

RemoCast Overview

Overview

Modern Set-Top Boxes usually require software upgrades from time to time. As new models are brought to the market and software updates are made available, managing all combinations becomes a complex and error prone task. RemoCast is designed to easily organize and control your Amino Set-Top Box upgrades. It is a stand-alone system that can be managed remotely by means of its Web-based GUI. You can also command and control your RemoCast appliances and your STBs in the field from your main support center.

Easy of use

RemoCast is designed as a tool to easy STB operators' most common tasks:

  • No special skills are required to install the server
  • It comes ready to use. Vidactive will preconfigure it according to your requirements. Operators can become familiar in less than one hour
  • No commands need to be typed in order to perform any actions
  • RemoCast includes a graphics user interface (GUI) that lets operators and administrators configure and fully control the unit
  • No needs for monitors, keyboards or mice
  • The server is completely operated over the network either local or remote
  • Hierarchical menu
  • Tasks and actions are classified and grouped into different menu options that are easily located thanks to the stackable menu feature

Grow as you need

RemoCast starts as a basic system that can control one Set-Top Box type at a time. As business grows new device models may arrive, different browsers may have to be explored or just new software releases may be needed. When your needs grow, you may:

  • Define extra Set-Top Box types
  • Upload a variety of software packages
  • Request for new features to be added
  • Create custom commands
  • Use different sets of keys
  • Establish user policies

Several RemoCast can be managed from a single location (from the same menu system) by expanding the stack with one or more layers to access them.

User control

Upgrading Set-Top Boxes and sending commands are critical tasks that must be executed by authorized personnel only. Every user has its own set of permissions. Superusers can always block any other user(s).

Non-intrusive

RemoCast uses two network interfaces. The first one is dedicated to command and control the appliance and is usually connected to office network and/or to the Internet. The other one is used to send multicast binaries and commands to target Set-Top Boxes. This approach prevents vital networks from being exhausted by unwanted traffic.

Language support

RemoCast will do its best to generate a GUI that matches user's preferred language. Managers may customize any texts or messages as required. They may also upload complete catalogues in order to support additional languages.

Application Server

You may have your own Electronic Program Guide (EPG) in the so called mini-Web space that the appliance offers. RemoCast will then become a complete stand-alone multi-purpose system. No other equipment will be required to operate the service.

Staying up to date

Vidactive highly recommends that all RemoCast units are permanently connected to the Internet, so they can get updated automatically.

In case of disaster

There is always a RFS ("Return to Factory Settings") mechanism that will revert any changes or modifications and take the server back to a well-known state.

RemoCast Variants and Models

RemoCast Variants

There are several variants of RemoCast which share the same source code on top of the SAL (System Abstraction Layer). They are listed here for reference:

  • Simulated
  • The simulator has been designed for debugging and demonstrating purposes. Users that need new and custom features may test the them in a simulated RemoCast and evaluate if the implementation meets their requirements and expectations

    Please register in here in order to create your own RemoCast simulator space

  • Embedded
  • This variant follows the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) concept and is sold as an indivisible part of other products. Depending on the final integrator it may not expose all the features
  • Distributed / Aggregated
  • Under certain circumstances, RemoCast features may run on different but interconnected appliances that collaborate together. Under this scenario, you might have a master RemoCast unit acting as a centralized control GUI that drives several slave RemoCast appliances which take care of package signature and binary pumping over the multicast network
  • Stand-Alone
  • This variant is the main commercial line. The appliance is delivered as a single piece of equipment. It includes all required hardware and software components, Set-Top Box binaries, custom commands, user applications and configuration files

RemoCast Stand-Alone Models

Desktop model

The most common form factor of a RemoCast is a desktop housing, as shown below:

In this case, RemoCast is encapsulated into a small metal box with 4 rubber legs. All connectors appear on the front panel. There is enough room available on the left side to embed one common hardware expansion module. The appliance is delivered with an external power supply unit and its lead cable.

This is very convenient for laboratories, integrators, demo rooms and as a carry-on unit.

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Industrial model

Many field deployments use cabinets to fix all pieces of equipment. RemoCast ships then as a standard RETMA 19 inches 1 rack unit metal box, as shown below:

The appliance can be fix with common screws to a rack. All connectors appear on the front side. This model has an additional serial port that may be configured on request. There is enough room available to embed any kind of expansion module. Furthermore, this housing lets both a PCI modules and a serial expansion module to be installed at the same time. The power supply unit is built inside the box.

This is very convenient for hotels, hospitals, cruise ships, sex shops, etc.

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Looking Inside RemoCast

RemoCast Internals

RemoCast has been designed following a layered structure that helps adding components and features as required. New motherboards with much more horsepower and/or memory can be easily incorporated. Custom interfaces such as CAN bus adapters, multi-port I/O cards are typically assembled on request.

The following image shows a RemoCast appliance and depicts its functional pieces which may be identified by their own colour. Please leave the mouse over a components to see its name or click on it in order to get further information.

You may also click on any of the following links:

Standard Remocast

RemoCast Core

Base hardware

RemoCast hardware core is built around upgraded COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) motherboards. Their CPU and memory provide the system with enough resources to run all required software modules, processes and services. Components to control all expansion elements are also integrated into the motherboard.

Permanent storage, network access, serial ports, PCI socket and GPIO are some interface examples.

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Permanent Storage

RemoCast includes permanent storage not only to save the OS (Operating System) and all application modules but to keep user configuration, multicast binaries and custom commands. Storage is divided into physical partitions and into logical spaces. Regular operations implicitly access some of these spaces. Access to others depend on operator privileges.

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System Abstraction Layer

SAL (System Abstraction Layer) is a thick stack of layers that encompass the OS (Operating System) kernel, device drivers and system modules. A layer on top of them encapsulates all differences among the various types of hardware and operating systems. It exhibits a URAM (Uniform Resource Access Method) which covers system control, service management, file management, I/O functions, inter-process communication and a unified user command set. All variants of RemoCast (simulated, embedded, distributed or stand-alone) share the source tree above SAL.

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RemoCast Modules

Unit Control Module

This module is responsible for general configuration, system control and monitoring of the RemoCast unit itself. It takes care of network interface, system services and user configuration.

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STB Control and Status Module

This module deals with Set-Top Box identification, software versions, custom commands, additional features and optional components.

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User Application Module

This is actually a storage space where operators can save any kind of file. A restricted HTTP daemon may serve them as from any other web space. That allows system integrators to use RemoCast as a complete solution. STB may get their initial home page from RemoCast and then go to a different expansion server, if required. Some canned applications and EPG (Electronic Program Guide) generators are available on request.

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I/O Interfaces

Console Port

This interface is designed to allow low level access. Its main purpose is first time configuration.

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Control Network

Operators that use web interface access RemoCast via this network interface. It is usually connected to the office network and, from there, to the Internet. System configuration, STB type definition, binary signature, command customization, user management and similar actions have to be executed via this interface.

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STB/Multicast Network

A complete network interface has been created for multicast transmission. Multicast traffic is routed via this path by means of internally hard-coded rules. Office and corporate networks don't get invaded by unwanted packets. All Set-Top Boxes are connected to this network.

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Expansions

Expansion Modules

Expansion Module

Certain applications require additional hardware to be connected to and controlled by RemoCast. Those pieces of hardware are called expansion modules. They are usually placed inside RemoCast housing. Sometimes the expansion module is just an adapter card. Expansion modules and their control are installed from the factory on customer request.

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Expansion Module Control

Almost all expansion modules require either driver and/or a software component. Those elements are known as module control. Drivers are embedded into the OS (Operating System) and their functionality gets exposed via SAL (System Abstraction Layer) primitives. The software component usually extends standard SAL interface. Expansion modules and their control are installed from the factory on customer request.

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Expansion Module Connector

Despite of their structure all expansion modules exchange information with the outside world by a physical connection. The actual characteristics depend on the expansion module. The connector is usually part of the expansion module. Expansion modules are installed from the factory on customer request.

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PCI Connection

The RemoCast motherboard includes a PCI connector that is used to plug most of the extension modules.

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Serial Connection

An additional serial port is available. Depending on the model, a male DB9 connector is mounted on the front plate. Some special expansion modules are connected via serial interface.

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GPIO

The motherboard includes a GPIO (General Purpose I/O) interface. Temperature, pressure sensors and some other types of transducers use this interface.

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Existing Applications

Some existing applications

RemoCast may be used wherever Set-Top Boxes have to be controlled in some way. Markets and scenarios have their own peculiarities, such as amount of devices, variety of models or how well known are they.

Among others RemoCast has been deployed so far as part of the following scenarios and applications:

RemoCast is constantly evolving and there are many new features or modules that may be developed to suit specific requirements.

Integrators and STB Resellers

Integrators and Set-Top Box resellers usually deal with a large variety of devices. Depending on the end customer, resellers will have to select specific browser, conditional access, fonts, features and optional modules. They will need commands to reflash and get STB version, at least. RemoCast allows them to:

  • Define a service for each STB model
  • A service includes a collection of user-defined patterns that allow RemoCast to recognize a specific Set-Top Box model
  • Keep a current and older software versions
  • RemoCast includes enough permanent storage to keep more than one software version for each STB model
  • Keep a version for each feature combination
  • Every combination of browser, features, fonts and modules for any given software level may be saved as a different version
  • Versions are selected at run-time so STB may be retrofitted or different combinations of features may be tested
  • Create additional STB commands
  • Entitled users may add, modify or delete Set-Top Box commands according to their needs

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

Several Set-Top Boxes of different models coexist and are hooked to the same network. RemoCast defines one service per model. Every service may hold and control more than one software version for each combination of browser, conditional access, fonts, modules and options.

Operators start / stop versions depending on the type of STBs that are physically connected.

In this example, a bunch of STB of models A and B are accessed by RemoCast.

The appliance is usually connected to the Internet, in order to stay up to date.

Operators may apply commands to any subset of selected devices. Most common commands are Reflash (to instruct a STB to start a software reload cycle), Version and Ping.

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Hotels and Hospitals

Hotels and hospitals usually have not more than two models of Set-Top Boxes. Low entry devices are used in all common areas and basic level rooms. Suites and executive rooms may be equipped with higher profile devices.

Despite of their models, their MAC, IP address and location are always under control.

RemoCast allows suppliers to:

  • Define a service for each STB model
  • A service includes a collection of user-defined patterns that allow RemoCast to recognize a specific Set-Top Box model
  • Keep a current and older software versions with all features
  • RemoCast includes enough permanent storage to keep current and a previous version of the software for each STB model
  • Assign STB to groups and fix their IP address
  • A MAC to IP translation map is loaded at configuration time. That allows RemoCast to assigned predefined IP address and network parameters to every specific device listed in the map
  • Define users with different levels of access
  • Different users with their corresponding password are created so they can access some RemoCast functions only. The appliance administrator decides which permissions are to be enabled at any time
  • This is important in order to prevent unauthorized users from issuing commands that may disturb of might clobber the installation
  • Serve the home page when STB boot
  • RemoCast may serve the initial or home page from its internal storage space called mini-web
  • Schedule some commands
  • Quite often, RemoCast scheduler is used to periodically send commands at certain time. The appliance could take all devices to an initial page every day at checkout time limit

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

Set-Top Boxes are installed in each room and in some common spaces. They are connected all together to RemoCast via an internal network. The appliance defines one service per model. Every service may hold and control more than one software version for each combination of browser, conditional access, fonts, modules and options.

Administrators define a MAC to IP address map that makes STBs well-known and clearly located.

RemoCast is usually connected to the Internet for two main reasons. First of all in order to stay up to date. On the second place to let suppliers and service companies to have remote control. That reduces service response time and travel expenses.

Operators may apply commands to any subset of selected devices. Most common commands are Reboot, Version and Ping.

RemoCast appliances can serve an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for multicast TV.

They may also be connected to ticketing systems for TV service access validation. A custom interface and a protocol handling module is installed on request.

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Ships, Planes and Ground Transportation

There is usually only one Set-Top Box model installed in these scenarios.

Their MAC, IP address and location are under control.

RemoCast allows suppliers to:

  • Define a service for each STB model, if more than one
  • A service includes a collection of user-defined patterns that allow RemoCast to recognize a specific Set-Top Box model
  • Keep a current and older software versions with all features
  • RemoCast includes enough permanent storage to keep current and a previous version of the software for each STB model
  • Assign STB to groups and fix their IP address
  • A MAC to IP translation map is loaded at configuration time. That allows RemoCast to assigned predefined IP address and network parameters to every specific device listed in the map
  • Define users with different levels of access
  • Different users with their corresponding password are created so they can access some RemoCast functions only. The appliance administrator decides which permissions are to be enabled at any time
  • This is important in order to prevent unauthorized users from issuing commands that may disturb of might clobber the installation
  • Serve the home page when STB boot
  • RemoCast may serve the initial or home page from its internal storage space called mini-web
  • Schedule some commands
  • RemoCast scheduler is used to periodically send commands at certain time. The appliance takes all devices to well known pages on special events such as departure or arrival

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

Set-Top Boxes are installed in each compartment, near each seat and in some common spaces. They are connected all together to RemoCast via an internal network. The appliance defines one service per model. Every service may hold and control more than one software version for each combination of browser, conditional access, fonts, modules and options.

Administrators define a MAC to IP address map that makes STBs well-known and clearly located.

RemoCast will not be regularly connected to the Internet. It will have to be connected during maintenance windows in order to be kept up to date. Engineers and technicians may gain access while on board, when new STB software has to be uploaded.

RemoCast appliances can serve an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for multicast channels. They may also perform access validation for TV services.

RemoCast units may be connected to EAS (Emergency Alert Systems) on request. In such cases, the appliance receives EAS messages from the control room and hammers all STBs forcing them to stop video and audio rendering.

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TV Monitoring Rooms

Media producers and TV channels need to sample their signal. Set-Top Box are the best devices to capture it and display on real TV sets. Monitoring rooms usually have them in racks and display their output on TV mosaics.

MAC, IP address and location are always under control for each STB.

Remocast allows operators to:

  • Define a service for the STB model
  • A service includes a collection of user-defined patterns that allow RemoCast to recognize a specific Set-Top Box model
  • Keep a current and older software versions with all features
  • RemoCast includes enough permanent storage to keep current and a previous version of the software for each STB model
  • Create STB control commands to tune channels and more
  • Users may add, modify or delete Set-Top Box commands according to their needs. Channel lists change quite often. Commands may need to be adjusted in order to stay up to date
  • Upload a list of channels
  • RemoCast stores a special file Channels.cfg. It may be modified and sent to a selection of Set-Top Boxes in order to update their internal channel list.
  • Schedule periodic reboot
  • In a sake of sanity, RemoCast scheduler is used to periodically send a Reboot command to all Set-Top Boxes

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

Set-Top Boxes of the same model are racked together. Each one receives and decodes a multicast channel. Their output goes to a TV monitor matrix. They are connected all together to RemoCast via an internal network. The appliance defines one service that may hold and control more than one software version for each combination of browser, conditional access, fonts, modules and options.

Administrators define a MAC to IP address map that makes STBs well-known and clearly located.

RemoCast is usually connected to the Internet in order to stay up to date.

Operators select devices and send them commands. The most common command is GoToChannel which forces each target device to join a TV channel. Other quite common commands are Reboot, Version and Ping.

RemoCast appliances serve an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for multicast TV.

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Satellite and DTT Zappers

Remocast allows them to:

  • Xxx

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

The appliance should be connected to the Internet, in order to stay up to date.

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Sex Shop Cabins and Show-Rooms

Remocast allows them to:

  • Xxx

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

The appliance should be connected to the Internet, in order to stay up to date.

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Information Kiosks

Remocast allows them to:

  • Xxx

The following block diagram illustrates the scenario:

The appliance should be connected to the Internet, in order to stay up to date.

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