Cox Kicks Tires on BMC Box

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Cox Communications Inc. might roll out new digital set-tops which would enable personal video recording functionality and other advanced features, senior vice president of strategy and development Dallas Clement said last week.

The MSO has taken a look at the Broadband Media Center 8000 set-top that Charter Communications Inc. recently ordered from Motorola Inc. Those set-tops — designed as a companion for low-end digital boxes — contain a PVR hard drive, a cable modem and home networking ports, among other features.

"The tension for us in terms of advanced set-tops is, do you order a set-top that has everything in it?" Clement said. "Those boxes are very expensive, and many times the customer won't want all of the associated applications."

Cox has also considered set-tops from Moxi Digital Inc., which is marketing a media center set-top that includes DVD capability and PVR functionality. And the MSO has also at looked home-networking systems from Ucentric Systems Inc., Clement said.

But Clement said it's still not clear how much the Moxi and Ucentric products would cost, and he also noted that the two companies don't have conditional access systems that would allow the systems to work with already deployed hardware from Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and Motorola.

Within three to five years, Cox hopes the work Cable Television Laboratories Inc. is pursuing with its OpenCable and OpenCable Application Platform initiatives will allow Cox subscribers to buy advanced set-tops themselves in retail outlets, Clement said.

Subscribers are used to buying stereos and DVD players, which bodes well for the retail-sales model of selling advanced set-tops that contain that functionality, Clement said. "Customers will not buy a set-top box that just tunes television," he added.

Separately, Cox is experimenting with interactive TV features that can be offered on the digital set-tops it has already deployed. Last week, the MSO said it would test an ITV portal supplied by MetaTV Inc. on one of its systems by the end of the year.

The portal, which subscribers will initially access by tuning to a channel, will contain news and sports information in addition to multiplayer games. Cox hasn't selected which system will test MetaTV, but Clement said it will be offered to at least 50,000 subscribers.

Cox holds an equity stake in MetaTV, and its rollout with the MSO is MetaTV's first deployment. MetaTV CEO Andrew Lev said Cablevision Systems Corp. also trialed the product, but the MSO hasn't commercially deployed it.

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