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Charter pulls back on Microsoft TV-DCT-5000 combo

Wed, 03/20/2002 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Charter Communications is delaying plans to deploy Microsoft TV software for advanced DCT-5000 set-top boxes as the MSO shifts its iTV efforts toward a new class of "companion" boxes designed to co-exist with legacy, "thin-client" DCT-2000s.

Charter spokesman Andy Morgan said the MSO will not deploy Microsoft-powered iTV services on the DCT-5000 early this year as originally planned, and has not made any firm decisions whether Microsoft TV software will populate a new companion media center built by Motorola Broadband Communications Sector, which is expected to be rolled-out in the third or fourth quarter of 2002.

That device, the BMC8000, will link up with deployed DCT-2000 set-tops and serve as a conduit for digital video recording, telephony and iTV applications and content offered through Digeo Inc. Paul Allen, a former Microsoft founder, heads up Vulcan Ventures, which owns Digeo and Charter.

At the time of the announcement, Charter and Motorola declined to disclose specifications for the companion box — including processing power, memory and which operating system and middleware they will employ — but said more details might be revealed during May's National Cable Show in New Orleans. Vulcan Ventures also has an investment in middleware vendor and set-top designer Moxi Digital Inc., but has yet to announce any formal plans to test or deploy the start-up's set-top software.

Charter most recently used Microsoft's software in Motorola DCT-5000 set-tops for a small field trial in St. Louis involving about 100 Charter employees. Charter has also tested Microsoft TV's and Liberate Technologies' software on DCT-5000s in a lab setting.

In November, Charter agreed to deploy Microsoft's software to 1 million subs over the next seven years. That deal is still in place, Morgan said, but Charter has yet to decide what middleware or operating system will populate deployed BMC8000s.

Despite the apparent set-back, Microsoft TV took the news in stride, noting that the company is evolving its software for Motorola's BMC hardware platform, and that any perceived delays are tied to Charter's decision to change its set-top hardware specifications for advanced, interactive services.

"We've never been more pleased with our relationship with Charter," said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft TV. "We're very confident that Microsoft TV will be deployed in volume across Charter's network."

Graczyk said the issue wasn't tied to Microsoft TV but to Charter's recognition that customers desire more interactive capabilities than what the DCT-5000 can provide.

"We look at the Microsoft/DCT-5000 trial as the first phase" of Charter's overall iTV efforts, Morgan said, noting that the DCT-5000 trial determined that consumers also wanted access to more advanced applications such as PVR and home networking-capabilities that the DCT-5000 does not provide and the new BMC8000 will.

Motorola is also developing a stand-alone media center, the BMC9000, but that model isn't expected to roll out until next year.

Microsoft's Graczyk wouldn't discuss specific plans or timeframes involving the BMC platform, other than to say that Microsoft TV is already working on it with Motorola, Charter and Digeo.

Morgan said Charter is evaluating a number of software alternatives for the BMC8000.

"We're very satisfied with the progress we've made," Graczyk said of Microsoft's work in adapting the company's software for the new media centers.

Still, a delay in deployment marks yet another set-back for Microsoft's interactive television plans, which have been fraught with other interruptions tied to interoperability issues with advanced cable set-tops such as the DCT-5000. However, Microsoft TV has enjoyed some success outside the U.S., where the company's full-blown software platform is being used by Portugal's TV Cabo, and its more basic software for thin-client boxes is being deployed by Globo Cabo SA in Brazil.

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