Digeo Inc. has taken a major step toward offering a nationwide, next-generation digital service, cutting a deal with Scientific-Atlanta Inc. to create a new Explorer media center box that runs Digeo's Moxi multimedia service.
Digeo already has a contract to develop a similar line of media-center products with Motorola Inc. Given that Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola claim the lion's share of cable-network systems — and of digital set-top boxes deployed in the U.S. — Digeo can now peddle its Moxi service to nearly all U.S. cable operators.
"Virtually every cable operator is a customer of either Motorola or Scientific-Atlanta – often in a little bit different proportions," said Larry Weber, president of the advanced system group. "The real challenge for them is they don't want to have to have a customized solution for each different marketplace. They now have the opportunity to pick a single solution across their entire national footprint."
Dubbed the Explorer MC, the S-A home media center includes digital video recording with an 80-gigabyte hard drive and S-A's PowerKEY conditional-access system, running on a Linux operating system — the latter a first for S-A.
It will also sport a digital-music jukebox, the Moxi navigation system, a Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 1.1 modem, two tuners, and an optional DVD player and high-definition TV support. It will be available for trials in the second half of 2003.
Like its Motorola counterpart, the Explorer MC is envisioned as a home-entertainment server, able to share PVR content, digital files and applications between television sets and other entertainment devices.
The first version of the the Explorer MC will be able to control two television sets, with the second set linked via a slim analog module. Less sophisticated and smaller than even a basic digital box, the module will essentially pass through infrared remote-control commands, sending them back to the main box for content and tuning.
"The result is, it is very low-cost, and it amortizes the cost of the main unit across the two TV into a range," said Weber. "We are hoping and expecting it to go to basically the equivalent to the cost of two normal digital set-top box,"
Future Explorer MC versions will include enough tuners to manage up to four TV sets.
For cable subscribers that already have a Motorola DCT-2000 or an S-A Explorer 2000 digital set-top box, the MCC sidecar box will add the Moxi functions and media-center capabilities.
S-A director of strategic marketing David Davies said the deal widens his company's digital set-top product line.
"It provides really additional choice for operators and consumers," he said. "It's a nice way to fill out the complete Explorer family of set-top boxes, covering the complete range of solutions for both consumers and cable operators.
"Obviously, adding an additional high-end box to the product family will create I think more interest particularly in high-end boxes and high-end services."
Though gaining entry to the Motorola and S-A platforms is a step forward, so far only Charter Communications Inc. — a sister company to Digeo — has signed up to deploy the Moxi media center. The MSO plans to start trials with the Motorola version in the coming weeks; it will start trials in S-A systems in mid-2003.
Digeo CEO Jim Billmaier said the Charter deployment would likely be key in attracting other cable customers.
"They are behind Charter. They are obviously interested in the new revenue streams it can generate, but as you know the cable guys are fairly conservative," Billmaier said. "So I think what happens is as we run our tests and show and prove that both technology and the business works inside of Charter, and then we have fairly significant demand from the MSOs."