October 5, 2021

Simplifying big screen device reach and STB app development with the Lightning Framework

One of the greatest challenges for any streaming company is reaching consumers on all the different connected devices currently on the market. In the latest of his Spotlight blog posts focusing on 24i’s fantastic team, CEO Joachim Bergman speaks to JavaScript developer Metodi Deribanov about the open source Lightning Framework and the potential it holds to simplify development for big screen devices like set top boxes.

“The best thing about standards is that there are so many of them!” It’s an old joke, but it’s never been more true. Our industry is full of competing operating systems, standards and frameworks that are supposed to make app development faster and more efficient. The reality, of course, is that streaming services often end up supporting many different standards to reach all their target devices, especially if they want to reach the proprietary set top boxes (STBs) deployed by Pay TV operators. In today’s market it’s a challenge faced by any pure OTT service or broadcaster that wants to put their apps on operator boxes. 

There’s a newcomer on the scene that’s showing promise in this area - Lightning, an open source JavaScript TV app development framework from Comcast-owned Metrological. Currently in version 4, Lightning continues to evolve and has been adopted by a number of Pay TV operators as part of the RDK stack. At 24i we’re already working to help several of our customers get their apps ready for deployment on devices using Lightning. To learn more about it, I spoke to Metodi Deribanov, a JavaScript developer based in our Amsterdam HQ. 

From OTT apps to Smart TV and Set Top Box app development

Metodi has been part of our team for two years and in that time he’s worked on video streaming apps for customers including Pay TV operators, broadcasters and OTT services. Recently, he’s been working on porting the video streaming app of a major broadcaster into the Lightning SDK so it can run on STBs deployed by a leading Pay TV operator. 

“Working with the Lightning SDK is pretty different to the regular approach to developing apps, but it’s also pretty cool and could give the STB apps field a shake-up that’s been a long time coming,” says Metodi. “It uses high-performance WebGL for rendering, so it eliminates a lot of the HTML, Document Object Model (DOM) and CSS you typically see in STB app development. That solves many of the inconsistencies between different devices.” 

Improving performance, speed and portability in STB app development

For the non-developers amongst us, this all translates to some pretty big benefits: “It’s faster to create apps for multiple different STBs and you see fewer issues between platforms, which means it’s easier to reach different makes and models of boxes, including those which are already in consumer homes,” explains Metodi. 

“We are also seeing some benefits in terms of performance. You can apply settings per device for the same app, so it is still possible to upcycle legacy boxes that don’t have the capacity to cope with really modern graphics and demanding animations. Lightning allows for resolution up and downscaling based on target device capabilities and introduces a convenient way to deploy modern apps on older devices. It means every user gets the best possible experience for the box they’ve got.”

Comparing the Lightning Framework to React Native

It’s a very different approach to the frameworks that we use on mobiles, web browsers, Roku or Amazon Fire devices, but it’s an interesting option for big screen devices like STBs and some Smart TVs that simply don’t have the computing power to run React Native. While we do plan to continue exploring the compatibility of React Native for Smart TVs, and to develop regular JavaScript apps for the most modern models of screen, Lightning gives an alternative route to reaching lower power?ed and legacy devices.

For Metodi, it’s been an eye-opening experience: “Building video streaming apps at 24i is so much more interesting than building a regular website. We see loads of non-standard issues and I love puzzling out solutions to those challenges. It’s great to learn new skills like developing with the Lightning SDK and it’s worth all the effort of solving the puzzles when we deliver a brilliant user experience at the end.” 

For more information on 24i’s approach to developing video streaming apps for Smart TVs and STBs, download our brochure: Solutions for Big Screen devices. Or why not arrange to speak to one of our experts about the Lightning SDK, RDK, React Native and other approaches to developing video apps for your service.

By Joachim Bergman, CEO at 24i
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