Want to see how all those new, interactive applications will work on set-top boxes? Liberate Technologies just opened its PopTV Lab, designed to let the company's PopTV content and application partners develop, refine and test new ITV products.

PopTV partners previously used Liberate's TV Emulator, a product that runs on a PC but gives them a look at what their content or application would look like on a set-top box, says Liberate Marketing VP Charlie Tritschler.

"That gets them 75 (percent) to 80 percent of the way to a finished product," he says. To take it further, they need to get their products into a real environment, with a broadband architecture, he adds.

"Most developers don't have access to that kind of resource," he says. The lab provides a headend and a range of set-top boxes, and "provides access to installed, running equipment."

The lab is designed to let developers test one set-top against another, "then take the product the remainder of the way," Tritschler says. "Now they're 100 percent ready" to approach a network operator, although there may be some additional tuning and toning for the operator's infrastructure.

The idea is to reduce the time to market by accelerating the time to a final product.

The 30-foot-by-20-foot lab has three stations and a viewing area. Members make an appointment and use it. There's a cost to help cover staff and facilities, Tritschler says.

The lab allows design and test enhancements and applications on basic and advanced set-top boxes from Motorola, Pace Micro Technologies, Scientific-Atlanta and the Philips digital receiver for AOLTV. It also allows testing on encoders from Mixed Signals and Norpak; headends from DVB, Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta; headend support from Cisco switching technologies and Sun Microsystems hardware and software; and tools from Chyron, Mixed Signals and Liberate. Developers can use Liberate's TV Emulator software to build content.

The 18-month-old PopTV program has 1,900 members and is intended to enable and promote complete ITV solutions for network operators, that are based on Liberate's open standards platform, Liberate says.