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Excite@Home Gets Ready for Advanced TV

Excite@Home Corp. has moved its advanced-TV platform to a level of functionality and flexibility capable of serving just about any model of broadband-media services imaginable for cable and digital-subscriber-line service providers alike.

The new system, as seen in recent demonstrations, is deceptively low-key and much like many other prototype interactive-TV systems making the rounds these days. But the core technical architecture offers much more than meets the eye.

It taps the high-level systems capabilities of Open-Cable-class set-top boxes and provides a complex amalgamation of headend-based or central-office-based software and applications-program interfaces to give a wide range of options in creating new content offerings.

"We're actively working with our partners-AT & T [Broadband] and Cox Communications [Inc.]-to bring this to market," Excite@Home vice president of engineering Jeff Huber said. "We've got version 1.0 of the system in a robust, deployable state. So from a technical standpoint, we're ready to go."

Over the next two quarters, the company expects to see several trials, leading to commercial deployments toward the end of that period, Huber said.

AT & T Broadband and Cox are only the first gearing up. "You'll see wide-scale rollouts starting in the fourth quarter and on into 2001," he added.

"Cable is the only network arena where we currently have partnerships in place, but we're exploring DSL partnerships, as well, although we would not do DSL deals where we have cable distribution," added director of advanced-TV products Kent Libbey.

The service requires Motorola Broadband Communications Sector "DCT-5000" or equivalent set-tops with built-in cable modems, a 167-megahertz central processing unit and 24 megabytes of random-access memory.

As currently configured for testing, the "Excite@Home TV" service allows subscribers to access walled-garden partners of cable operators at no charge while setting a premium price of about $15 per month for surfing the Web on TV.

"TV Manager" software rides on various operating systems, starting for AT & T Broadband with Microsoft Corp.'s "Windows CE for TV," affording users the same on-screen experience regardless of set-top operating system, Libbey said.

The TV channel and Web pages can keep the TV on all of the time, keep it on for certain Web experiences or let it be clicked out.

The TV window can run at any size within a larger Web screen, down to postage-stamp dimensions, or full-screen under a translucent cover of Web content.