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National Semi, Liberate team on set-tops

The companies say they will work together to integrate Liberate's interactive TV software on National Semiconductor's chips for set-top boxes.

National Semiconductor and Liberate Technologies today said they will work together to integrate Liberate's interactive TV software on National Semi's chips for set-top boxes.

Under the terms of the deal, which was announced at the National Cable Television Association's Cable 2000 show in New Orleans, National Semi will begin preloading its Geode chip family with Liberate's TV Porter development tools. This software, which National Semi is licensing from Liberate, is used by cable and semiconductor companies when testing set-top boxes.

Liberate develops software that powers interactive TV set-top boxes and provides Internet access, online gaming, email and chat through televisions. The company, whose software will be used on America Online's upcoming AOLTV service, competes with Microsoft TV along with a handful of other interactive TV companies.

The market for Web-enhanced television has been more hype than substance to date, with few launches of two-way, digital set-top boxes to back the massive attention focused on the PC-TV convergence over the past few years.

Still, when it comes to fruition, the market is expected to be big. Interactive TV services are anticipated to generate as much as $9 billion from e-commerce and subscription revenues by 2004, while television-based online advertising is anticipated to reap $3.2 billion in the next five years, according to Forrester Research.

Today's alliance is designed to make both companies more appealing to their mutual customers: cable and satellite TV providers. By integrating Liberate's TV Porter software on National Semi's Geode microprocessor, the companies are potentially speeding the time it takes to test and deploy digital set-top boxes.

For Liberate, chip-level support of its software includes some key competitive advantages. For example, rivals such as Microsoft, which offer software designed to run set-top boxes and the back-end systems that power the devices, must independently make all their software tools available to customers.

Microsoft is not sitting on its laurels, however. The software giant yesterday unveiled a wide range of partnerships, including one with consumer electronics giant Matsushita to create digital set-top boxes.

"Liberate continues to focus on bringing the best overall solution to network operators, and joining forces with National Semiconductor is another example of our end-to-end efforts to make deploying interactive TV a simpler and quicker process," David Limp, senior vice president at Liberate, said in a statement from the show.