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Microsoft TV's New Foundation

Microsoft is once again tackling the cable set-top box, this time with Microsoft TV Foundation Edition, a thin-client set-top–box platform that includes the company's interactive programming guide and other tools designed to make video-on-demand and other next-generation services more attractive to subscribers.

"The consumer experience for digital cable services like IPG or VOD is lacking," says Ed Gracyzk, Microsoft TV Group director of marketing and communications. "The IPG is slow, clunky and boring, and we decided to extend our IPG innovation with Foundation."

Foundation provides client- and server-side software that includes the Microsoft IPG and gives the MSO greater control over the VOD interface. According to Gracyzk, the MSO will have the ability to control and customize the user experience for the Motorola DCT1700, 2000 and 2500 set-top boxes.

The software provides developer tools that allow the MSO to create VOD screen pages using HTML. The software then transcodes the HTML content into MPEG streams, which include "hot spots" that consumers can interact with. The MPEG version of the page is then sent to the set-top.

"The MSO can create rich pages that the user interacts with," says Gracyzk. "The page can also be dynamically updated throughout the day."

For example, in the morning, the VOD page could highlight news programs, in the afternoon soap operas, and in the evening movies. There are also advertising opportunities with banners or other type of on-screen content.

Gracyzk says initial interest will be from MSOs interested in the Microsoft IPG. The MSO can then roll out additional functionality as needed. Foundation is expected to be released in the third quarter and will be available in a software licensing model on a per-subscriber basis.