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Pioneer Software Targets Home Control

Pioneer New Media Technologies has much more than channel navigation in mind in developing its Passport interactive program guide, over which it's crossed some litigious swords with sector rival Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.

Aiming for a thick set-top box or "residential gateway," Pioneer plans to add a spate of home-networking interfaces to ride on top of Passport, which has been shipped in more than 2 million digital boxes, director of marketing Dan Ward said.

Along with providing a software portal to share bandwidth and applications for centralized home-theater control, the evolution of Passport will include home-monitoring and security interfaces that would run on the TV screen.

Operators are starting to look more closely at revenues from home-monitoring and security applications. In April, six MSOs each invested $3.6 million in start-up @Security Broadband Corp.

Pioneer believes the TV screen could be the focal point of such applications because the television set is typically the most frequently used device in the home, Ward said. And some consumers use five different remotes to handle five different devices.

"It makes sense to bring them all under one interface," Ward said.

At this week's National Show, Pioneer will flaunt a prototype version of the software, running on a Voyager 3000 digital box.

"We'll be demonstrating a module that fits into the Passport environment," Ward said. "It will be expandable in hardware."

A specific name for Pioneer's expanded set-top software line could be announced this week as long as it "hurdles some red tape," Ward added.

Pioneer also plans some serious hardware moves. Its flagship cable set-tops are the Voyager 1000 and the more-advanced "workhorse" Voyager 3000, which should soon begin shipping.

To date, Pioneer's biggest U.S. cable order was from Time Warner Cable, which bought than 1 million Voyager 1000s. Pioneer is currently negotiating with Time Warner about the Voyager 3000, Ward said.

Another box, dubbed the Voyager 4000, is under development and will feature a hard drive for personal video recording capabilities, dual tuners and an integrated cable-modem, according to Ward. That box won't be seen on the show floor this week, but will be relegated to some "closed-door" feedback meetings with MSOs, he added.

Pioneer also is developing a solution for the Motorola Broadband Communications Sector platform, Ward said, noting that a version of Passport has been developed to run on Motorola Broadband's thin-client DCT-1200 set-top.

Pioneer's set-tops and other consumer-electronics devices will evolve to accommodate a variety of wired and wireless protocols, he added.

And the company will continue to keep a sharp focus on software, "because that's what people interact with, not the box," Ward said.