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Spyglass crows about "Blackbird"

Details emerge about Motorola's licensing of a version of Spyglass's Web browser and server software for use in the Blackbird set-top box.

Spyglass today said it has agreed to provide software technologies for Motorola's recently detailed "Blackbird" interactive TV set-top box.

According to Motorola, the Blackbird set-top box provides a platform for developers to launch products and services with 3D gaming, DVD-based games and movies, and Internet browsing. On paper, this is more than is offered on current Internet set-top boxes such as Microsoft's WebTV at a similar cost.

Motorola Blackbird
Motorola's Blackbird set-top box will use Spyglass software

Set-top technology such as Blackbird and WebTV is another example of the growing convergence between PCs and TV in what is becoming a very competitve market.

Earlier this month, sources said Philips Electronics, Sony, and Mitsubishi are developing a prototype WebTV unit that loads versions of Microsoft Word and Excel for the Windows CE operating system. The new version, which would dramatically expand the platform's functionality, also will contain Microsoft's slimmed-down version of the Windows OS.

The WebTV technology was originally intended to be as simple as possible, but news of the possible new features shows that vendors of these devices are now compelled to add functions to keep ahead of the improving set-top boxes being offered to cable TV customers.

Spyglass today detailed the multimillion-dollar Blackbird contract with Motorola's Semiconductor Products group, saying it was the largest television-related deal since the company launched its cable and satellite TV division at the end of 1997.

Motorola introduced the device at the International Broadcasters' Convention in Amsterdam after a two-year development period and start-up costs ranging into the tens of millions of dollars.

This dovetails with Motorola's cable modem business, which is the technology that enables high-speed Internet access. Motorola is one of the largest suppliers of modems for connecting to the Internet via cable TV lines, but Blackbird marks the company's initial foray into set-top boxes.

The deal was first disclosed last month after the company filed financial documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Motorola licensed a custom version of Spyglass's Web browser technology designed for television viewing as well as server software for controlling and sending information to the set-top box. Both Spyglass products will be bundled with the set-top box platform, the company said.

The deal also involves Spyglass offering engineering services to Motorola's set-top customers to develop interactive consumer services.

One service often mentioned is video-on-demand. To that end, Spyglass said it is customizing its software for the PowerPC processor to implement "VCR-like" capabilities for the Blackbird system.