More Options for the Digital Cable Home of the Future

With the slow but sure move toward providing consumers with digital television and other services via cable, the set-top box manufacturers have been aggressively jockeying for a position in the audio video system. In a deal sure to give Philips' market share a boost, AT&T Broadband and Philips Electronics announced last week their plan to market Philips' digital cable set-top boxes to US consumers beginning in 2001.

Both companies claim that entering the retail marketplace will "spur competition and innovation among world-class technology suppliers, increase choices for consumers, and stimulate the introduction of new broadband video, voice, and data services via cable set-tops." AT&T Broadband says it expects to purchase the units directly from Philips, with the companies agreeing on an initial volume of one million set-tops.

Philips stresses that their open set-top platform is an "important step in establishing a new consumer electronics business model" by offering several combinations of digital cable, personalized television, and Internet access services.

According to Philips, their digital set-top box features the company's TriMedia processor, a special-purpose microprocessor for the real-time processing of audio, video, graphics, and communications datastreams. The company says that the advanced processor is well suited for high-performance, Internet-based applications such as streaming media, e-commerce, gaming, and other two-way interactive services, as well as a variety of new television entertainment services such as video-on-demand and personal video recording via an internal hard-disk drive. The set-top will also accept an OpenCable-compliant point-of-deployment (POD) module. Philips explains that this feature enables separable security, a key requirement for portability. According to the company, such portability is important to consumers, as it means that they still will be able to use their set-top box even if they move to a new home. The companies have made arrangements to create compatibility with AT&T's existing services.

Philips also says that their set-top platform is intended to be the catalyst for developing a "residential gateway," or digital access to the home, along with a whole new category of in-home accessories, including speech-recognition input devices, wireless speakers and display devices, cameras for teleconferencing, and voice and data communications products. The companies add that the Home AV networking specification (HAVi) will be used to provide interoperability between the Philips set-top box and connected devices.