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Cable Show 2011: EchoStar Set-Top Trio Sings 'Aria'

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EchoStar Technologies is fleshing out some details of its "Aria" offering, announcing a threesome of hybrid cable set-top boxes designed to let independent operators deliver over-the-top video-on-demand and HD user interfaces.

The lineup comprises the HC-620DRS dual-tuner HD digital video recorder, which is "SlingLoaded" with Slingbox software to provide access to TV and recorded programs over the Internet; the HC-410D, a single-tuner unit that can be converted into a DVR with external storage; and the HX-410 single-tuner set-top, which can function as a multiroom DVR client to the HC-620DRS.

The HC-620DRS is the "Cadillac" of the family, featuring the ability to record two shows while simultaneously playing back a single standard-definition or HD recording. The box includes 250 Gigabytes of storage, upgradable to 500 GB.

All three boxes support the IP-based content management features of EchoStar's new Aria TV services, hosted at the company's data centers and delivered via the Internet to servers at an MSO's headend.

The proposition with Aria: to let smaller cable operators deliver 12,000-plus VOD titles, an HD guide and Slingbox features to customers -- without requiring a large capital outlay for infrastructure.

With Aria and the three boxes, "small and midsized operators can pick the enhancements they need to create feature-rich bundles on par with those offered by larger telecommunications providers," EchoStar Technologies vice president of sales and marketing Mike Hawkey said.

EchoStar hasn't disclosed pricing of the set-tops or for the Aria services. Its model for the hosted services is to charge MSOs a per-subscriber monthly fee for the VOD and guide, delivered over the Internet.

The vendor said at least one "major mid-tier operator" is planning to test out Aria this summer. While more than 1 million Slingboxes have been sold at retail, EchoStar has had limited success selling cable operators SlingLoaded set-tops over the past two years.

The three new set-tops feature EchoStar's graphical user interface -- similar to the UI developed for Dish Network's ViP922 HD DVR -- with operator-specific branding. The boxes provide access to the Aria hosted VOD libraries as well as integrated content search capability across TV, DVR and VOD. In addition, all three boxes support EchoStar's universal RF remote control.

EchoStar noted that the set-tops can be remotely software-upgraded to add new features as they become available.

Also at the show, EchoStar will demo its networked DVR solutions and other available set-top features, including device monitoring and remote customer services.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar has more than 2,400 employees worldwide. The company officially split from Dish Network in January 2008.