The Video-On-Demand Gold Rush Continues . . .

More set-top box news this week: On April 21, Scientific-Atlanta announced an agreement with SeaChange International to develop a complete server-to-set-top digital video-on-demand (VOD) system for cable networks. This agreement makes Scientific-Atlanta the first company to offer cable operators all network components for an integrated, commercially feasible digital VOD service in 1998.

Scientific-Atlanta states that "with two-way digital networks and advanced, interactive digital set-top boxes, cable operators can offer this service at prices competitive with video-tape rental stores and mount serious competition for the approximately $15 billion video-tape rental and sales market."

SeaChange, a provider of MPEG-2 video-server systems for the television industry, will provide the servers that store libraries of movies, documentaries, and other videos for immediate access by cable subscribers. In addition, SeaChange will provide its content-management system to interface with Scientific-Atlanta's digital network-control system. The content-management system controls the video content as well as associated data, such as information on movie ratings, release dates, and royalties, with an easy-to-use interface.

According to Scientific-Atlanta, their OpenCable integrated digital system exhibits enough network performance and set-top power to offer ''true'' video on demand. This means the consumer should have immediate access to a library of movies stored on the SeaChange MediaCluster, and they can use Rewind, Fast Forward, and Pause features at any time during the video screening.

Scientific-Atlanta will provide its Explorer 2000 digital set-top boxes, network software, and other equipment that enables consumers to access the server instantly, 24 hours a day. The SeaChange and Scientific-Atlanta end-to-end residential VOD system will deliver MPEG-2 video streams, as well as other bit rates for various levels of quality. Also, the Explorer 2000 supports Musicam and AC-3 digital audio. Cable operators will be able to secure video content from multiple sources utilizing open interfaces implemented by Scientific-Atlanta and SeaChange.

"Digital technology is creating a dramatic transformation in the business of television," says Yvette Gordon, director of interactive technology at SeaChange. "In partnership with Scientific-Atlanta, SeaChange will help cable operators deliver new applications with advanced digital technology and provide a reliable, cost-effective platform to fulfill the long-standing promise of video-on-demand."

In other set-top news, uniView Technologies Corp. and Motorola, Inc. announced their intention to integrate Motorola's forthcoming interactive set-top technology, code-named "Blackbird," into uniView's end-to-end Internet and entertainment system. The companies plan to provide Internet access, "high-quality" digital audio and video, home communications, and interactive gaming.

Motorola will manufacture Blackbird set-top systems for uniView deployment and will provide motherboards, OEM systems, and design kits to support uniView's software and service licensing. Both companies will also explore additional extensions to the end-to-end system, including Internet telephony, video conferencing, and speech recognition.

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