It's Lights Out for DCT-5000

They didn't even give it a gold retirement watch. After years of promise as the next big thing for cable set-top boxes, it appears that Motorola Inc.'s embattled DCT-5000 has finally been put out to digital pasture.

"We no longer actively market it," said Bernadette Vernon, director of strategic marketing for the company's Broadband Communications Sector unit.

The box, first unveiled in September 1999, was created at the height of the Internet boom, when convergence was the word and interactive TV was the darling among cable technology developers.

Containing a cable modem and sophisticated middleware supplied by Microsoft Corp., the DCT-5000 would do more than just provide video — it was capable of running an array of interactive applications such as Web browsing and e-mail, and could accommodate Internet-based phone services and tiered Internet offerings.

The dot-com bust, snarls with the software, and cable operators' changing tastes combined to push the box quietly aside by 2001. In its place, Motorola developed the DCT-5100, which keeps much of its parent's processing speed, adds a high-definition tuner and cuts out the middleware.

Another 5000 offspring expected next summer is the DCT-5200, a unit that adds digital video recording capability.

But while the DCT-5000 never gained much market traction, Motorola is philosophical about the box.

"We learned so many good lessons with the 5000 — I think it is one of those things that was ahead of its time," Vernon said. "Unfortunately, there were some software delays as well, and suddenly it just got bad karma surrounding it. I think from a technology and an engineering perspective it was an excellent box."

She added that the 5100 and 5200 are able to take on middleware in the future, so if the market swings back and "thick-client" becomes vogue again, the units can adapt.