Video on demand, telephony and online messaging are coming to
Microsoft's TV offerings, sources say, as the software giant hopes to establish its television identity.
This week at the Western Cable Show in Los Angeles, sources said the company
will provide the goods on its upgraded Microsoft Television Pak, the bundle of
applications and services it sells to cable television providers such as AT&T
and satellite television providers like Echostar.
The technology improvements, although incremental, reflect Microsoft's
overall strategy to unify its disparate Internet properties into a more cohesive unit. Microsoft's Web-oriented efforts include its MSN portal and e-commerce services; the MSN Web Companion device, which runs on the Windows CE
operating system; WebTV and Microsoft TV.
Microsoft declined to comment on any specific announcements planned for the
Televsion Pak. Nonetheless, the company today announced the new WebTV
Personal TV service, which
will offer digital video recording functionality to WebTV customers using
DISHplayer set-top boxes from Echostar.
Microsoft has split its television efforts into the Microsoft TV product
line, which is marketed to these television service providers, and its WebTV
business, a set-top box service offering limited Internet access and
enhanced television programming.
WebTV is marketed to consumers at the retail level, while the Television
Pak is aimed at the back end of a system. It's all part of a broad
Microsoft assault on the TV market. A major salvo was fired earlier this year,
when it was reported that it invested $5 billion in AT&T to get that company to use its
scaled-down Windows CE operating system on its set-top boxes.
Microsoft executives have previously indicated that, eventually, the MSN
brand name will dominate all Internet client offerings, while Microsoft TV
will be marketed along with other Windows-based back-end technologies to
Along those lines, Microsoft today announced the new WebTV Personal TV
service. As previously reported, the new
WebTV boxes from Echostar will allow users to record and playback up to 12
hours of video using a hard drive rather than a videotape.
On Thursday, Microsoft will unveil corresponding improvements to its
back-end television offering, Microsoft TV Pak, sources say. A broader
with cable and broadband provider AT&T announcing several "showcase" cities
where these technologies will be available by mid-year may also occur this
week, although some sources said it may be pushed back.
Microsoft has added video-on-demand functionality, which will allow
customers of cable or satellite providers using TV Pak to order pay-per-view
movies directly through an interactive programming guide. In addition,
digital video recording functionality, which the company announced today
with WebTV, will become available to interested cable or satellite providers
as well. Microsoft will also add new communication and chat functionality,
sources say, along with some type of telephony service.
Windows CE developer Bsquare is providing the video-on-demand technology,
according to sources close to Microsoft. Bsquare could not be reached for
The company has been rumored to be working on these types of enhancements
for some time, including adding the Personal TV functionality to WebTV, and
integrating digital video recording throughout its interactive TV offerings.
More of the features available through TV Pak will be offered on WebTV when
the set-top box completes its transition to Windows CE.
Currently, WebTV runs on a hybrid of its own operating system, combined with
Microsoft proprietary technology. Eventually, the devices are supposed to be
updated to run on Microsoft's Windows CE, which is what TV Pak uses.
"WebTV is proud to join with EchoStar to deliver the future of
television-today," said Bruce Leak, president of WebTV, in a statement
today. The DISHPlayer 500 will be priced at $299, with basic satellite
service priced at $19.99 per month. The WebTV Personal TV service, which
includes the digital video recording capability will cost an addition $9.99
per month, while full WebTV service will still cost $24.95 per month.