Microsoft Strengthens TV Offerings

Microsoft Corp. has been a busy at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) 2000 in Amsterdam Friday.

Brushing aside rumors that deployment of its Microsoft TV Technologies would be delayed, the company unveiled a series of Microsoft TV partnerships and programs — including an alliance with set-top box manufacturer Royal Philips Electronics and a deal with SCM Microsystems Inc..

The Microsoft TV platform will operate a range of TV-centric appliances from set-top boxes to integrated televisions. The platform supports multiplayer gaming, interactive content, shopping, e-mail, chat and instant messaging, pay-per-view, video-on-demand, personalized advertising, Internet access and home networking. It consists of a family of five solutions for delivering Enhanced TV services to both current- and next-generation set-top boxes and integrated TV devices.

For home users, the platform includes:

  • Microsoft TV Advanced — client software for advanced set-top boxes which allows network operators to deliver a complete broadband and Enhanced TV experience
  • Microsoft TV Basic Digital — allows Enhanced TV services to be delivered to the current generation of set-top boxes based on digital cable, satellite and terrestrial networks
  • Microsoft TV Technologies — a set of software components for PC-architected entertainment appliances which enable Enhanced TV applications and services on PC-based appliances.

The company said Microsoft TV Technologies would be made available in select future versions of its Windows Operating System. Microsoft also said the software’s new broadcast driver architecture will simplify the implementation of broadcast solutions on the Windows platform and will provide a standard for integration between television and DVD applications and the underlying transport. The technologies include support for broadcast and streaming video, audio and data; content protection; ATVEF interactive content and programming; and digital video and audio recording.

“A new breed of PC appliances is emerging aimed at home entertainment rather than workplace productivity,” said Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of the TV Division at Microsoft . “With extra multimedia functionality such as DVD players and digital media jukeboxes, these new appliances are far more likely to be found in the living room than the office. Microsoft TV Technologies will enable consumers to take advantage of Enhanced TV on these types of devices in addition to set-top boxes and TV sets.”

For cable operators and hardware manufacturers, the platform offers:

  • Microsoft TV Server — a head-end solution designed to be the foundation of a network operator’s services; it provides the tools to provision, manage and operate a large-scale, commercial-grade Enhanced TV service integrated with Microsoft TV Advanced
  • Microsoft TV Access Channel Server — software which offers network operators a flexible and cost-effective head-end solution for delivering Internet services and Windows-based multimedia content to current-generation digital set-top boxes.

Microsoft said it has broad support in its TV endeavors, with more than 1,000 companies now active participants in the Microsoft TV Partner Programs. In addition, it said it has commitments for 15 million set-top boxes running the software platform to be deployed worldwide, including from TV Cabo in Portugal, NTL Group Ltd. in the U.K., United Pan-Europe Communications in the Netherlands and AT&T Broadband in the U.S.

Netherlands-based Philips Electronics , one of the world’s largest set-top box suppliers, will be one of the companies making those set-top boxes. Philips Friday agreed to license Microsoft TV software and work with the company to develop a range of se

t-top boxes based on Microsoft TV software and Philips Nexperia-based hardware platform.

Two areas where the companies will focus special attention are home networking and residential gateway services.

“Together, we are laying the foundation for a new generation of broadband services via Internet-enabled and intelligent appliances for the mass market,” said Rob van Oostenbrugge, chairman of Philips Digital Networks.

DeVaan added, “Microsoft and Philips make a powerful Enhanced TV alliance. With Philips’ proven trace record in the consumer retail industry, where one in two households owns a Philips product, and Microsoft’s expertise in standards-based Internet technologies, we are poised to bring Enhanced TV to consumers around the world.”

Microsoft also sealed a deal with SCM Microsystems, which announced a new satellite version of [email protected] — its family of receiver module devices that enables reception of premium digital TV content on PCs, TV appliances and residential gateway servers — at IBC. The [email protected] device bay modules are designed to be fully compatible with Microsoft TV Technologies. [email protected] will allow the Microsoft software to receive encrypted premium digital TV content.

“The provision of premium TV services on the PC platform is a long-awaited breakthrough, and SCM and Microsoft are making it happen now,” said Luc Vantalon, vice president of Business Development for SCM.

At IBC, Microsoft also opened its TV Content Developer Program to Enhanced TV developers worldwide. The program was launched in the U.S. in June. It is designed to educate and offer resources to content producers and developers interested in making Enhanced TV content and applications. Microsoft said hundreds of companies have already signed up, including Britain’s B.B.C.

“The B.B.C. is pleased to be a member of Microsoft’s content development group,” said David King, chief technology officer at the B.B.C. “This continues our relationship with Microsoft in pioneering new concepts for enhanced and interactive services on Digital TV.”

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