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CES 2008: Think Big

Microsoft Details IPTV Progress

Software giant Microsoft is expected to announce at CES that it has deployed its Microsoft Mediaroom software for Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) services in 1 million set-tops to date. Mediaroom is commercially deployed by some 14 operators worldwide, including AT&T and Virginia-based nTelos in the U.S., and counts more than 20 operators in total. It should be deployed in some 1 million households by the end of Q1 2008, says Microsoft TV communications manager Jim Brady.

Microsoft is pushing the theme of “Connected TV” with Mediaroom and will demonstrate new capabilities based on IP networking. One is fairly straightforward: enabling multi-room digital video recorder (DVR) functionality, where a single DVR can send programming to other set-tops via a home network.

Such capability, which Microsoft calls “DVR Anywhere,” is already offered by cable equipment manufacturers such as Motorola and Cisco's Scientific-Atlanta unit, and is deployed by Verizon's FiOS TV service, among others.

Microsoft is also teaming with programmers to demonstrate how Mediaroom's IP connectivity can change the viewing experience. With Showtime, it will demonstrate an interactive application for boxing coverage that allows a viewer to watch a fight while choosing from several different live audio feeds. With Turner Broadcasting, it will show an interactive application for NASCAR coverage on TNT that will allow viewers to choose from the different in-car cameras and audio feeds that are already produced for the NASCAR HotPass service on DirecTV, showing the video in Mediaroom's multiview display mode. It will also demonstrate how CNN viewers could access political coverage from through Mediaroom's TV interface.

Microsoft will also show a TV and video-on-demand (VOD) programming recommendation application developed with personalization specialist ChoiceStream, aimed at cutting through the clutter of thousands of programming choices; and a social-networking application developed with Emuse Technologies that lets viewers share their personal Internet pages through the TV.

“We're bringing a PC-based social networking experience to the TV,” says Brady.

Microsoft will also announce at CES that chip supplier Broadcom has agreed to make IPTV set-top chips compatible with the Mediaroom software.

Streambox To Unveil Mobile Encoder

Streambox, a Seattle-based firm that makes video streaming hardware that allows live video feeds to be sent over broadband links, will use CES to introduce a new software-based product aimed at mobile devices. The new Streambox Mobile Software Encoder features the same Streambox ACT-L3 proprietary compression algorithms that are used in Streambox encoders already used by CNN and local stations such as WDIV Detroit. It can run on a variety of Microsoft Windows mobile devices, says Streambox, allowing broadcasters, first responders and citizen journalists to transport broadcast video over Wi-Fi and 3G networks for both real-time and store-and-forward applications.

Electric-Spin Targets Game Consoles, Set-Tops

Woodbridge, Ontario-based Electric-Spin Corp., manufacturer of the popular Golf Launchpad golf simulator device, will release a new version that works on Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 3 game consoles as well as PCs, Macintosh computers and the PlayStation 2 platform.

Electric-Spin, which teamed with interactive TV developer NDS at last year's CES to demonstrate a set-top-based golf game called Golf Launchpad/XTV Experience, says the new Golf Launchapd Tour product will also work with set-top boxes, though it didn't provide technical details.

Launchpad Tour links to computers and game consoles via a USB connection. It features a golf pad equipped with sensors and a regulation golf ball attached to a double ball-bearing mount; the setup lets golfers take real swings that create simulated ball flights on a computer screen or game console display, via EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour or Microsoft Links game software.

Electric-Spin says Launchpad Tour has a new, low-profile design, wireless remote caddy and enhanced signal processing, and features a swing analyzer with increased accuracy and 3D shot visualization.

Hillcrest picked up a new investor in AllianceBernstein and received additional funding from existing investors, the venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Columbia Capital and Grotech Capital Group.

Hillcrest was founded in 2001. So far, it has commercialized its Freespace technology in Logitech's MX Air wireless computer mouse but is still wooing cable set-top and TV manufacturers to adopt its approach. Founder and CEO Dan Simpkins says that the company has “multiple deals with major companies” to deploy the technology in the near future. It will be exhibiting its innovative Loop TV remote, which has just two buttons and a scroll wheel, and other Freespace applications at CES.

“We aim to bring a new 'point-and-click' paradigm to the television and beyond,” says Simpkins. “This investment is further validation of our business and technology.”

Motorola Rolling Out MPEG-4 Set-Tops

Motorola is introducing new digital cable set-tops that use the MPEG-4 advanced compression scheme. The all-digital DCX series, which also support MPEG-2 compression, includes a dual-tuner high-definition DVR model, the DCX3400; a single-tuner HD set-top, the DCX3200; and a single-tuner, standard-definition set-top, the DCX100, that is capable of receiving a high-definition signal and converting it to a standard-def output, making it compatible with legacy analog TV sets that can't show HD pictures.

The DCX set-tops are capable of receiving switched-digital video (SDV) transmissions, include 1 gigahertz (GHz) tuners to allow for cable operators to expand their network bandwidth to support additional channels.

They are compliant with the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP) software standard, and have built-in support for MoCA (multimedia over coax) networking to allow for multi-room DVR use.

Besides Dolby Digital audio, they will also support the MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WAM) formats. The DCX product line is scheduled for deployment in the third quarter of 2008.

Motorola will also introduce a portable media player, the Motorola Mobile TV DVBH-compatible DH01 device, which is capable of receiving DVB-H standard mobile TV signals and also recording and storing video as a portable DVR. The device will show video at 25-frames-per-second quality on a 4.3-inch screen, and will be able to record up to 90 minutes of TV programming on a 256-megabyte (MB) Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard card.

It also features a five-minute memory buffer allowing viewers to pause live TV.

The company says the product will be commercially available this month, but didn't disclose wireless or retail partners that might be selling it.

Universal's High-End Remote

Universal Electronics, the Cypress, Calif., company that controls about 75% of the cable remote-control market and supplies set-top remotes to Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and DirecTV, is unveiling a new high-end remote aimed at the custom installation market. The latest in its Nevo line of fully programmable remotes, the NevoS70 is designed to provide total control of all entertainment and media devices in the home, and will also interface to home automation systems to control functions such as lighting. It will be available in early 2008 for a suggested price of $1,199.

The NevoS70 has a completely customizable, 3.5-inch color touch screen and hard button interface. It provides access to the world's largest infrared (IR) database; built-in Z-wave and Wi-Fi radio transmissions for non-line-of-sight control; a browser for out-of-the-box control of IP devices via Web servers, such as cameras; and digital media control of music, pictures and video.

It can be paired with Universal Electronics' $299 NevoConnect NC-50 base station to provide serial device control, and can be customized using NevoStudio Pro, a wizard-driven programming tool for installers.