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Sony, Cablevision unveil digital set-top

Sony Electronics and cable operator Cablevision Systems used the occasion of CES to introduce the next-generation digital set-top that Sony is building for Cablevision as part of a three-year, $1 billion agreement reached in September 1999.

The Sony interactive set-top will drive Cablevision's push to deliver new services, such as video-on-demand, e-mail and Web browsing through the TV. To demonstrate the potential of the Cablevision box, Sony created a fully functional mini cable headend in Las Vegas that included Harmonic transmission equipment, SeaChange video servers and Web servers.

According to Wilt Hildenbrand, Cablevision executive vice president of engineering and technology, the cable operator will start a pilot program with the Sony boxes this month, probably in Nassau County, New York. Commercial rollout of the boxes will begin by early June, with Cablevision using its The Wiz retail stores to distribute the boxes to customers. Although Cablevision will rely on a retail channel to aid the boxes' distribution, they will not be a retail product but instead will be provided on a lease basis to customers, who will swap out their old analog boxes.

Selling the boxes on a retail basis wouldn't get Cablevision to its goal of a full digital swap-out in the next 31/2 years, says Hildenbrand. "If the sale model is voluntary, we'd never roll out three million boxes in three years," he says. Cablevision is expected to roll out some 500,000 Sony set-tops this year.

Cablevision won't disclose the price of the Sony boxes, saying only that they are somewhere between $300 and $400.