By: Tom Butts
MONTREUX, SWITZERLANDIn a move that builds on its recent investments in European cable markets and AT&T agreement in the US, Microsoft unveiled a DTV software platform this week, targeting the development of enhanced TV services for digital set-tops and other appliances.
The Microsoft TV Platform Adaptation Kit (Microsoft TVPAK) includes client software and server software and has already been released in different forms to key industry leaders. The client software, Microsoft TV, operates a range of television-centric appliances from Internet terminals and advanced set-tops to integrated televisions, while network operators to deploy those enhanced TV services will use the server software, MICROSOFT TV Server.
More than 50 hardware manufacturers, including General Instrument (Horsham, PA), Scientific Atlanta (Atlanta), Sharp (Osaka, Japan), Thomson (Paris), Fujitsu (Tokyo), Matsushita (Secaucus, NJ), Sony (Tokyo), Samsung (Seoul, South Korea), and European set-top manufacturers, including Pace Micro (West Yorkshire, England) and Philips (Amsterdam ,The Netherlands), have received the Microsoft TV code to evaluate and begin development of compatible receivers. OEM trials are expected to begin in Q4 1999 with services expected to be rolled out in Q1 2000.
The platform builds on the software developed for Microsoft's WebTV Network using an adaptation of the Windows CE OS, yet allows the network operator to customize the user interface to online content. The software kit includes a Microsoft-designed electronic program guide (EPG) as an optional component with advanced interactive features.
Microsoft officials were quick to point out that the service will not replace WebTV, which has lagged behind in subscriber expectations since being purchased by the company in 1997. Current subscriber levels for WebTV stand at between 800,000-900,000 worldwide. Microsoft conducted its own research earlier this year in Europe to determine whether it was feasible to launch WebTV in Europe, but has no plans to do so.