New Motorola companion box to fuel Charter's iTV efforts

Thu, 02/28/2002 - 7:00pm

A new companion box from Motorola Broadband Communications Sector may not make people forget about Steve Perlman's latest venture, Moxi Digital Inc., but it might push Motorola's advanced DCT-5000 box a bit further back on MSO burners.

Charter Communications Inc. said it will deploy a new "class" of set-top built by Motorola Broadband Communications Sector to offer advanced iTV services and applications to its installed base of digital customers by the end of the year.

Two years in the making, the new sidecar box, dubbed the Broadband Media Center (BMC) 8000, will co-exist with legacy DCT-2000 set-tops and serve as a conduit for digital video recording, telephony and a variety of iTV applications. Charter co-developed the box with Motorola Broadband and Kirkland, Wash.-based iTV content house digeo. Charter and digeo are controlled by Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures.

The BMC8000 also will provide a platform for wireless home networking.

The BMC8000 links directly to Motorola's existing "thin-client" set-tops. Motorola is also developing the BMC9000, a stand-alone unit expected to become available sometime next year.

Charter said it will begin deploying the new media center "in several markets this fall."

Charter's initial collaboration with digeo and Motorola Broadband got off the mark in October 2000, when the three companies, plus ReplayTV (now part of SONICblue), launched Project DISCO, an initiative forged to integrate digital video recording capabilities in advanced digital set-tops.

Allied Business Intelligence Senior Analyst Joshua Wise said he doubts that Motorola's BMC models will cannibalize sales of DCT-5000-class set-tops. "There still will be groups of operators interested in the 5000," he said.

This latest collaboration could give Motorola Broadband's cable plans a boost in the wake of news from competitors that emerged during January's Consumer Electronics Show. Most notably, Moxi Digital received plenty of buzz for its cable and satellite set-top and middleware plans.

Though Moxi's meal ticket is centered on middleware, Perlman's company has created reference designs for a Moxi Media Center and remote extension boxes capable of offering DVR, digital music and CD/DVD applications to as many as four televisions via a home networking scheme.

Wise sees Moxi as a longer-term play, however. This new venture between Motorola, digeo and Charter "will give operators what they want now," he added.

Because Motorola's new companion box isn't tied to a specific conditional access system, the company could gain some business in Scientific-Atlanta markets, and perhaps regain some market share obtained by second-source set-top suppliers such as Pace, Philips and Pioneer, Wise said.

"Motorola has to find a way to get back into this exclusive position," he added.

Last year, Motorola Broadband introduced a new line of DCT-5000-class set-tops, including models outfitted with more processing power and on-board DVR capabilities. The company also has unveiled the DCT-2500, a beefed-up version of the DCT-2000, and the DCT-2600–a 2500 clone with DVR capabilities. So far, AT&T Broadband is the only MSO to award that effort, having put in an order for 200,000 DCT-2500s.


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