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Microsoft previews digital TV update

CES conventioneers are set to get a first look at Microsoft's updated cable TV software, which delivers features such as on-demand shopping and program recommendations.

Microsoft is set to reveal more details of the latest version of its digital cable software at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Microsoft TV Foundation Edition 1.5 is designed to be used by cable operators with their existing hardware and network systems to offer cable TV viewers features like video on demand (VOD) and advanced parental screening.

The update will build on the 1.0 version by offering improved interactive program guide (IPG) features and new tools for use with VOD, high-definition television (HDTV) and digital video recorder (DVR) technology, Microsoft said Tuesday. Specific features include on-demand storefronts for in-home shopping and a new programming recommendation service, dubbed Best Bets, that uses people's viewing history to help them find VOD movies to watch.

"With Microsoft TV, network operators now have more opportunities than ever to merchandize the premium services that differentiate their offerings from competitive satellite services," Moshe Lichtman, a vice president at the Microsoft TV division, said in a statement.

The software maker is increasingly concentrating its efforts on interactive television (iTV) middleware as its primary opportunity in the market for software that helps companies deliver interactive digital services to consumers.

It has already signed up companies that have pledged support for the technology, including Advanced Digital Broadcast, Concurrent Computer, MetaTV, Motorola, SeaChange International and Two Way TV.

It is also testing its IPTV (Internet Protocol television) products with a number of telecommunications companies. That technology is designed to let telecommunications and cable companies offer new subscriber services that use their two-way broadband networks.

In May 2003, Microsoft dumped its investment in United Kingdom-based Telewest Communications (now Telewest Broadband), selling its 23 percent stake for $5 million, after a 2000 stock exchange valued then at $2.6 billion.