software today for low-cost home computing devices, as it focuses
increasingly on the consumer market.
NCI introduced its "DTV Navigator" software for use in
next generation digital set-top boxes as the Western Cable Show gets
under way today. (See related story) NCI has also
gained valuable backing from heavyweights Intel (INTC) and Scientific-Atlanta
Cable companies are now working on next-generation boxes with more
computer-like features. These would replace the converter boxes on top of
television sets that now merely unscramble TV signals.
NCI says its software will enable these newer digital set-top boxes to
offer services such as Internet access and electronic program guides for
viewing on televisions. DTV Navigator will be used with
Scientific-Atlanta's Explorer 2000 digital set-top boxes, the company
announced. Similar software may also run on Intel set-top computers
in the future.
Intel last week proposed a set-top computer architecture, which at the
low-end would resemble the set-top boxes being readied by companies such as
Scientific-Atlanta. Intel was demonstrating a prototype set-top computer
with NCI software last week at an event where it spelled out its future
strategy for this market.
NCI's software works by simplifying the data stream sent from the server
computer to the end user's set-top box, which typically has very limited
computing resources available for processing. In essence, the set-top box
can become the home network computer (NC) that Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison
originally envisioned--a low cost device that accesses applications and
information from a central computer.
The NC was originally positioned principally as a replacement for
hard-to-maintain corporate desktop PCs and terminal computers, but the
Oracle subsidiary seems to be refocusing on the home market since there
have been relatively few customers for its corporate software. Microsoft and Intel have also
diminished the impact of this concept by responding with a number of
low-cost, network-centric business computing initatives of their own.
However, the home looms as a promising target. NCI says the set-top
computer will be one of several devices connected through a home network, and the set-top device will probably offer a "pipe" to the Internet for
the other devices in the house. "We're not advocating that there shouldn't
be a PC in the house," vice president of consumer marketing
for NCI Dave Limp says.
NCI's targeting of digital set-top boxes comes at a time when it
has as much chance as any other company of getting its technology adopted.
Through CableLabs, a research and
development consortium of cable television system operators, the industry
is working on developing a set of hardware and software standards for
digital set-top boxes that can use a variety of processors or operating
systems. NCI's alignment with Scientific-Atlanta, one of the largest
set-top box and cable network equipment providers in the United States, as well as
Intel offer inroads into two different system designs that could be adopted
by the industry.
NCI isn't the first company to reinvent its strategy in the market for
less expensive computing devices, either.
Intel announced last week plans for building the core components for
digital set-top boxes which were running NCI's TV Navigator software (See related story). The move marks
a significant turnaround for the chipmaking giant, which previously
appeared to be disinterested in the market for low margin devices.