SAN FRANCISCO (05/08/2000) - Microsoft Corp. today took an important step to bolster its interactive television strategy, announcing a platform that supports a broad variety of enhanced television applications and services.
Microsoft also unveiled a partnership with Matsushita Electric Co. Ltd. to develop advanced digital cable-service set-top boxes supporting the software giant's Microsoft TV Platform. In addition, Microsoft and U.K.-based Pace Micro Technology PLC announced they will work together to adopt Pace's digital set-top box technology as the "core" reference platform for digital television applications.
The software vendor made the announcements today in New Orleans at the start of Cable 2000, the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) conference.
The announcements indicate Microsoft is moving towards the head of the pack of companies in the race to deliver the Holy Grail of mass-market, converged content and services via television, Rikki Kirzner, an analyst with International Data Corp. (IDC), headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, said in a phone interview today. Microsoft's rivals in the race include the media giant which will be formed when the merger closes between America Online Inc. (AOL) and Time Warner Inc.
Microsoft TV Platform includes four software versions for the current and the next generation of set-top boxes and integrated television devices:
-- Microsoft TV Advanced runs on the Microsoft CE operating system and supports several features, including an integrated intelligent browser for television graphics, streaming audio and video services, home networking services, and an advanced electronic programming guide.
-- Microsoft TV Basic Digital client software delivers enhanced television services to the present generation of set-top boxes on digital cable, satellite, digital terrestrial and on MMDS (multipoint multichannel distribution service networks). With the software, viewers using pay-per-view, premium digital channels and interactive program guide options can add new services, including e-mail, special channels, electronic commerce and interactive-TV programming and advertising.
-- Microsoft TV Server, based on the Windows 2000 OS and on Microsoft's SQL Server relational database, provides network operators with the necessary components to manage enhanced television services.
-- Microsoft TV Access Channel Server, based on Windows 2000 Terminal Server technology, enables cable operators to deliver interactive content and services to the present generation of digital set-top boxes.
Under the terms of Microsoft's partnership with Matsushita, the companies will work together on developing a model for advanced digital set-top boxes for the U.S. cable industry. At the NCTA show, Matsushita plans to demonstrate a digital interactive set-top box supporting the Microsoft TV Platform. The box conforms with the OpenCable specification, supports the IEEE 1394 home-networking specification as well as Internet browsing and e-mail.
Microsoft and U.K.-based Pace have signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) to collaborate on the creation of Microsoft TV software and will develop new products and applications delivered via the set-top box, including home gateway technologies, PDA- (personal digital assistant-) styled home shopping devices and VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol).
In addition, Microsoft announced that five voice-on-demand vendors will integrate their product offerings with the software giant's TV platform and will have services available later this year. The companies are Concurrent Computer Corp., Intertainer Inc., DIVA Systems Corp., nCube Corp. and SeaChange International Inc.
Microsoft's moves to develop its interactive television strategy enhances its investment in MSNBC Interactive News LLC, its joint venture with the National Broadcasting Co. (NBC), according to IDC's Kirzner.
"It brings Microsoft content and services into the home through other devices (than the computer)," Kirzner said.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or http://www.microsoft.com/. Matsushita, in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.mei.co.jp/. Pace, in West Yorkshire, England, can be reached at http://www.pacemicro.com/. Diva, in Redwood City, California, is at http://www.divatv.com/. Concurrent, in Duluth, Georgia, can be reached at http://www.ccur.com/. Intertainer Inc., in Culver City, California, can be reached at http://www.intertainer.com/. NCube Corp., in San Francisco, California, can be reached at http://www.ncube.com/. SeaChange International, in Maynard, Massachusetts, is at http://www.seachangeinternational.com/.