Seven high-profile companies have pooled their products to form e-BOX Corp., a Tokyo, Japan-based venture that will supply North American and Asia Pacific operators with a digital cable platform based on MPEG-4 technology. Pushing e-BOX Corp. along is Comcast Corp., which is advising the new venture and will conduct trials based on its MPEG-4 delivery system.

e-BOX is comprised of five publicly traded and two privately-held companies, each of which will supply products or services from its area of expertise.

Pioneer Corp. and Sharp Corp. will contribute advice on cable infrastructures, headend equipment and digital set-top boxes to the new system.

National Semiconductor Corp. will pitch in silicon processors for the advanced set-top boxes. Meanwhile, Sigma Designs will supply the MPEG-4 decoder and video processing technologies for the advanced set-top boxes, and CMC Magnetics will use its manufacturing background for designing and developing the headend equipment and set-top boxes.

Privately-held iVAST Inc. will offer its encoding, authoring, distribution, playback and system software for MPEG-4-based movie and video content with embedded interactive features.

Finally, Modern VideoFilm Inc. will supply post-production services and MPEG-4 compression and authoring. It also will contribute the hub for movies-on-demand and other MPEG-4-encoded content offered on the platform.

e-BOX will be advised by Comcast, which will supply technical support to define the architectural requirements. The MSO will conduct field trials of the new services early next year, the consortium said.

Company spokesman Craig Tanner, who is also vice president of cable business development at Sharp Laboratories, said the venture is focusing most of its efforts, for the moment, on Comcast's role. "So we haven't exposed it to too many other operators," he said.

The venture intends to build a complete infrastructure, including headend equipment, system software, content-protection systems and digital set-top boxes for MPEG-4-based content and services such as video-on-demand, e-commerce, high-definition TV and personal video recording.

"We're in the architectural stage," said iVAST CEO Elliot Broadwin. "But our goal in the first half of next year is to be ready to do some testing with Comcast."

e-BOX is expected to provide more details about its technology and strategy at this month's National Cable Show.