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Video software

ITV Hookups

10:55 AM -- With the TV of Tomorrow 2009 confab getting underway today in San Francisco, vendors in the interactive television (ITV) ecosystem have wasted little time announcing new integration and partnership deals.

While itaas Inc. expanded its role at Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), becoming the go-to guy for developers that hope to make their mark on that MSO's ITV platform, ActiveVideo believes a separate partnership with Zodiac Interactive will help the company accelerate adoption of a platform that brings Web-like interactivity to the TV screen.

That's because ActiveVideo's set-top software client and protocols will be integrated into Zodiac's tru2way "PowerUp" framework, making ActiveVideo a deployment option wherever MSOs end up using Zodiac's system for tru2way. A quick refresher: tru2way is a CableLabs platform that specifies common headend and set-top software components, and carves a path toward an "open" retail environment for cable-ready digital TVs and set-tops. (See Zodiac Signs Tru2way Partner and Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs.)

Zodiac's tru2way "framework" supplies an open set of libraries and APIs that account for the intricacies and nuances present in the different tru2way middleware stacks on the market from players such as Osmosys SA , enableTV Inc. , Alticast Corp. , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Vividlogic .

The PowerUp framework itself includes the graphics design engine, guide interfaces, an EBIF (Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format) agent, and a video-on-demand (VoD) component. This new deal ensures that ActiveVideo's protocol is part of that mix as well. (See Zodiac Dials Up EBIF Plans .)

"With this framework, [applications] become unbound from any issues for those variations and differences," says Zodiac COO Alexander Libkind. "We are trying to create a broad ecosystem of stack vendors below the line, and application vendors above the line, so operators don't have to re-test things over and over again."

ActiveVideo's claim to fame is a server-client architecture that allows all sorts of set-tops (even older, low-end models) to use rich, Web-like, interactive applications because the bulk of the processing takes place at the headend. A small software client on the set-top is required to send requests upstream and to render the interactive MPEG streams heading downstream.

ActiveVideo chief technology officer John Callahan says the integration with PowerUp will make it easier for MSOs to support his company's interactive platform in tru2way environments.

Among recent deployments, Time Warner Cable's Oceanic division is using ActiveVideo's platform to pipe in some interactive games, a home shopping app, and a personalized video mosaic navigation system that gives viewers the ability to group together favorite channels. (See TWC Activates ActiveVideo.)

On the businesses end, ActiveVideo should be sitting pretty if MSOs end up adopting Zodiac's tru2way framework. If MSOs want to deploy ActiveVideo's platform, they can do so knowing that the ActiveVideo protocol is already baked in.

"If the Zodiac guys are successful with the Powerup framework, we ride along with them," says Callahan, a former TWC exec who joined ActiveVideo last year. (See 'Start Over' Pioneer Restarts at ActiveVideo.)

But it's still early on in this journey. Libkind says one unannounced MSO is running the framework today. But considering the level of support expected for tru2way, expect more to come.

The Zodiac-ActiveVideo partnership emerges as the six largest incumbent MSOs in the U.S. have their heads down getting their headends prepared for tru2way by July 1, 2009, per a binding memorandum of understanding negotiated with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE). Charter Communications Inc. , which is expected to file for a prearranged bankruptcy by April 1, has an extra year to get ready. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU and Charter Turns to Chapter 11.)

Those MSOs have also committed to include tru2way middleware in 20 percent of new interactive set-tops they purchase after July 1.

Comcast Media Center enables enableTV
Elsewhere in the ITV realm, the Comcast Media Center (CMC) and enableTV forged a joint marketing deal whereby the two companies will collaborate on the development and deployment of ITV apps for the tru2way and EBIF environments. (See EnableTV Connexts With HITS AxIS .)

The first sign of that collaboration will be on display here in San Francisco, where the CMC is showing off HITS Advanced Interactive Services (AxIS), a centralized, partnership-laden ITV platform tailored for small and mid-sized MSOs. (See CMC Preps Partners for Enhanced TV and Comcast Media Center Buffs Up for EBIF .)

Colorado-based enableTV emerged last fall after the founders of Vidiom Systems Inc. bought back pieces of the company from Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) . (See Vidiom Founders Launch iTV Startup .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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