EchoStar Slings Its First Tru2way Set-Top

EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), Charlie Ergen's tech spinoff, says its first tru2way-based set-top comes equipped with "place-shifting" tech from Sling Media Inc. and a one-terabyte hard drive.

The new box, called the EchoStar T2200S, is a multi-tuner, hi-def DVR that allows for external storage to be added via the box's USB port or an optional eSATA port. There's also a slot for the Multistream CableCARD, which authorizes the box for the cable operator's interactive digital services, and support for a trio of codecs -- MPEG-2, H.264, and VC1. (See EchoStar 'SlingLoads' Tru2way Box.)

The box also comes with the "SlingGuide," an application that allows customers to manage the box's DVR remotely. Thanks to a high-speed Internet connection, the box will be capable of grabbing shows from the Sling.com content hub, as well as from other Web-based sources.

EchoStar expects the set-top to be ready for MSO lab tests by this June, with volume production hitting by the fourth quarter of 2009.

Sidestepping retail
Although tru2way has been touted as a technology that could help cultivate an "open" retail market for interactive, cable-ready digital boxes and TVs, EchoStar has no plans to take that route. It will instead pursue deals directly with cable operators, believing that strategy will offer EchoStar the path of least resistance, despite the box-maker's corporate connection to Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), one of the cable industry's fiercest competitors.

"We don't have any immediate plans toward retail. This is an MSO-lease model," EchoStar VP of sales and marketing Michael Hawkey tells Cable Digital News, noting that selling to MSOs will be the less challenging approach.

Even if EchoStar's box is great, will U.S. cable operators want to support a company run by the king of satellite TV? Hawkey says they will, because operators are eager to add a U.S.-based set-top supplier to the mix that is not named Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) or Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

Hawkey declined to reveal pricing on the new box, but said the company will be able to keep costs in check because it can leverage off total volumes, which include shipments to Dish.

Although retail is not in the plan, EchoStar still expects to submit the T2200S to CableLabs for official tru2way certification testing at the behest of MSO customers.

EchoStar has not signed on a final tru2way middleware partner, but it will be showing boxes that use the Vividlogic stack at this week's cable show in Washington. It's also working with a stack from Alticast Corp.

Hawkey says EchoStar will demonstrate the box working on three different interactive program guides: a Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) IPG, the Macrovision Solutions Corp. "Passport" guide, and Digeo Inc. 's "Moxi" guide.

The T2200S is not the first cable product to be graced with Sling's technology. EchoStar's Sling unit obtained CableLabs certification for a Docsis 2.0 modem with built-in Slingbox and formally introduced the product at last year's cable confab. However, the company has not announced any deployment deals for it. (See Dish Sibling to Sling Product at Cable and EchoStar to Buy Sling Media.)

It's also not EchoStar's first set-top tailored to the cable industry. At the Cable Congress confab earlier this month in Berlin, EchoStar entered the European market with a new line of non-tru2way boxes that are capable of incorporating different middleware and conditional access system configurations. (See EchoStar Jumps the Pond .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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