Tele-Communications Inc.'s National Digital Television
Center has agreed to license home-networking software from Sony Corp. that will allow
cable set-tops to "talk" to compatible consumer-electronics products that are
hooked up to the same network.
David Beddow, senior vice president of TCI Ventures LLC,
said Sony's "Home Networking Module" is expected to make its way into all
advanced-digital set-tops for TCI and its "friends and family" operating
systems, starting with delivery of the DCT-5000 boxes from General Instrument Corp. in
The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.
Beddow and Sony corporate spokesman Mack Araki said
consumers are not likely to see the real benefits of the technology right away.
Subscribers' homes would need to be rewired to take
advantage of the home-networking architecture. And only new devices with IEEE 1394 digital
interfaces would be able to connect to the network.
"There's no initial benefit," Beddow said,
"but it will grow over time." Still, if TCI does not include the technology in
its next-generation set-top boxes, the feature wouldn't be readily available once the
consumer-electronics market catches up.
Beddow predicted that the first application for the
technology will be hooking up a set-top to a high-definition television.
"Even that is probably one year to 18 months away
before high-definition is a factor in the marketplace," he said.
Araki outlined a number of other potential applications.
Consumers who want to watch or listen to a particular entertainer could go to their
set-top, enter the artist's name as a key word and have the network search every
connected audio, video and interactive device for suggestions. Someday, that search could
encompass television-programming guides, CD and DVD jukeboxes and Web sites.
Music on-demand is another possibility, Araki said. A
subscriber watching a music video could order the song over an interactive service and
download the recording onto a mini disc.
Networking applications would not be limited to home
entertainment. Cable subscribers could use their set-tops to control a camcorder in the
nursery for baby monitoring, for example.
Although GI is the first company to supply digital set-tops
to TCI, Beddow said, he expects that market to open up to other vendors late next year or
early in 2000. Sony, which has a partial stake in GI, is a "very likely candidate for
that," he added.
The technology could also be driven by other types of
set-tops, such as direct-broadcast satellite systems. Araki would not comment on whether
Sony would incorporate its Home Networking middleware into DBS products in the United
States, although it will be used for DBS in Japan.
TCI also said last week that it has chosen Sony's
"Aperios" real-time operating system as an alternative operating system in its
digital boxes. TCI already has agreements to include the Windows CE operating system from
Microsoft Corp. and Java OS from Sun Microsystems Inc. in some advanced set-tops.
"There's absolutely no reason for us, in this
environment, to have exclusive agreements," Beddow said.
A real-time operating system like Aperios could help a
digital set-top to handle new applications.
"On video telephony and a growing number of things,
latency is a major issue," Beddow said.
While it is technically possible to include more than one
operating system on a given set-top, TCI is not likely to do that. Beddow would not
elaborate on how the MSO will determine how, when and where to use the various operating
"We'll make decisions as we go along and change
decisions as we go along," he said. "This is constantly evolving. You have to
preserve your options."