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Video software

Zodiac Travels OCAP 'OnRamp'

Zodiac Interactive has launched an OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) "OnRamp" middleware product that will seek share in a market presently led by TVWorks LLC, the Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. joint venture.

Zodiac's version, dubbed PowerRamp, is a small (less than 2 megabytes) Java-based middleware system for deployed digital cable set-tops that cannot support the full OCAP environment. As designed, any applications developed for OnRamp can be ported to set-tops and systems that use the full version of OCAP.

But support for OnRamp is just one of four primary components in the PowerRamp system. The others are a "PowerNucleus" hardware extraction layer for set-top optimization; a "hyper-optimized" Java Virtual Machine (JVM); support for the JSR 242 specification, which contains the components included in both OnRamp and the full OCAP stack; and other Zodiac-supplied OCAP "extensions," including a Home Audio/Video Interoperability (HAVi) feature.

PowerRamp is focused only on systems based on the Scientific Atlanta PowerTV environment, but Zodiac plans to support Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), as well, COO Alexander Libkind says.

Libkind says he expects PowerRamp to enter some trials by the end of this year. He declined to name any customers, but a Cox exec was quoted in the PowerRamp announcement.

Another PowerRamp possibility is Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), which already offers games and other set-top applications from Zodiac. TWC, however, has already announced it will use OpenTV Corp. (Nasdaq: OPTV) middleware to bring its in-house navigation application to older Motorola set-tops.

Cox is the MSO that's been leading the way with OnRamp. At The Cable Show in Las Vegas last week, Cox chief technology officer Chris Bowick told Cable Digital News his company expects to put OnRamp in all of its Scientific Atlanta cable systems by the end of this year, and to try it out in at least one Motorola system by year-end.

The MSO expects to have as many as five trials of the full OCAP system up and running by the end of 2007 and hopes to have OnRamp supported across the board sometime in 2008. (See MSOs Say OCAP's Not a Snap.)

"Cox has really been the [company] that has driven OnRamp as a solution, because they saw a need not only to roll out OCAP, but a common Java platform for interactive applications," says Libkind.

Cox is using a TVWorks implementation of OnRamp, but the implementation isn't available to MSOs beyond the joint venture. That's where Zodiac believes PowerRamp has its chance. "Everyone else needs a similar solution," Libkind says.

Making the TVWorks implementation of OnRamp available to other MSOs is "something we've contemplated," a TVWorks spokeswoman says. "We don't have anything definitive to announce. But our [version of] OnRamp was never considered proprietary."

Although Zodiac could find itself competing with TVWorks when it comes to OnRamp, Libkind believes the companies could also find themselves working together. Components of PowerRamp could be used to improve the performance of OnRamp, for instance. Along those lines, TVWorks could opt to replace its Java Virtual Machine with Zodiac's.

The TVWorks joint venture was created in part through acquisitions. In February 2005, Cox and Comcast put up $82 million to acquire most of the assets of Liberate Technologies. In April 2005, SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) picked up the rest of Liberate, including its European assets, for $25.5 million. (See SeaChange Gets Softer.)

In the fall of 2005, TVWorks fleshed out its iTV portfolio with the purchase of iTV app developer MetaTV.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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