Dutch Treat for IPTV

The International Broadcasting Conference last week in Amsterdam, Netherlands, didn’t lack for news about TV via Internet protocol.

Pace Micro Technology plc debuted a new, below-$100 IPTV set-top box and Microsoft Corp. announced a major IPTV trial with Telecom Italia.

The 30,000-plus attendees strolling through some 2,000 exhibitions got a taste of future production and deployment technology.

Of note for U.S. cable operators: the steady drumbeat of interest for IPTV services around the world, some of which could make its way here in the U.S.

“Everybody has an IPTV story,” said ICTV Inc. CEO Michael McGrail said from Amsterdam last week. “It’s hot.”

Pace — having flirted with building a cheap, all-digital set-top box for U.S. cable companies — announced a sub-$100 IP-based set-top, aimed at broadband operators intent on delivering ITV services.

The DB210 set-top offers single chip silicon MPEG-1 (Moving Pictures Expert Group) and MPEG-2 decoding, with a millions of instructions per second (MIPS) processor capable of handling a wide range of middleware and content-protection schemes from Alcatel, Kasenna Inc. and Widevine Technologies Inc.

The set-top uses HyperText Markup Language/JavaScript-based solutions to support advanced interactive services.

“The DB210 will lower the cost-of-service deployments and enable operators to reach more customers without dramatic increases in their investment costs,” said Pace head of product management Mike Tometzki.

Pace expects the box to be ready for commercial deployment in early 2005.

Pace also announced it would team with Espial, a maker of set-top software and IPTV applications, to provide hardware and software services to the hospitality sector.

Pace’s IP420 set-top will be embedded with an Espial Escape browser to offer hotel viewers PPV, VOD and interactive services.

Pace also debuted a mobile digital video recorder. The PVR2GO device sports a five-inch widescreen display and includes a 40-Gigabyte hard drive for protected TV content. Touch-screen controls are used for fast forward, pause and rewind.

It also can handle MP3- and Windows Media-formatted audio files, JPEG picture images and games.

Pace also showcased its in-home multiroom digital video recorder solution. The main Pace DVR operates as a mini-server, using wireless, Ethernet or coaxial cable to transport content to other Pace set-tops in the home.

The Telecom Italia win is a boost for Microsoft Corp.’s TV Division, which has other IPTV trials with Bell Canada, SBC Communications Inc. and Swisscom.

“Testing the Microsoft TV IPTV platform will help Telecom Italia realize even more value from its existing broadband network,” Microsoft TV corporate vice president Moshe Lichtman said in a statement.

The IPTV platform allows telcos and other broadband providers to offer standard and high definition programming, VOD, DVR services and interactive program guides.

Microsoft also said Thomson’s IP 1001 and IP 1000 set-top can support the Microsoft TV Internet-protocol TV software platform.

Swisscom is using the Thomson box in IPTV field trials that features 30 program channels, including five pay-per-view services, to 600 customers.

The set-tops run Windows CE technology and are powered by an Intel Pentium III processor running at 933 MHz. The set-tops can support MPEG 2, MPEG 4 and Windows Media 9.

Microsoft also said it completed integration work for Tandberg’s EN5920 encoder.

In other IBC news, SeaChange International Inc. was showcasing its deal with Softbank Broadmedia Group for interactive streaming games on SeaChange’s VOD platform.

The deal covers Javascript, DVD and PC console games. SeaChange servers equipped with G-cluster technologies enable broadband operators to offer games on demand through standard set-tops.

Accessing a game follows the same course as accessing a VOD movie. SeaChange’s VODLink software streams the gaming content to the set-top. The game programs run off the SeaChange server rather than the client devices.

The set-tops only have to have enough processing power to receive, stream and display the video and playback the audio of the games.

And Acterna Corp. announced the availability of its DTS 330 digital broadcast test system that supports the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP). MHP is the gateway standard for ITV services for many worldwide broadband operators.