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NDS Navigates Its Way Into Cox

Cox Communications Inc. is to deploy a new navigation software suite from NDS Ltd. that's designed to run on high-end set-tops with on-board high-definition television and digital video recording (DVR) capabilities.

The deal, announced early Tuesday morning, gives NDS its first long-term set-top software deal with a major U.S.-based cable operator. Cox will deploy the software starting next year. (See Cox Picks NDS Interface.) Its user interface for Cox is designed for upcoming set-tops based on tru2way (formerly known as the OpenCable Platform) as well as earlier-generation, already-deployed HD-DVR set-tops that use "OnRamp," a lighter version of the middleware that's forward-compatible with the full tru2way environment. (See Cable's 'tru2way' Play .)

Cox, considered a champion of OnRamp, has the early version of the platform deployed in its Gulf Coast (Florida Panhandle) systems, as well as cable properties in Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and Northern Virginia.

The next iteration of OnRamp will support the new NDS navigation system as well as the navigation system TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) is tailoring for Cox, according to Steve Necessary, Cox's vice president of video strategy and product management. (See Cox Tees Up TiVo Test Bed .)

"The new release of OnRamp will end up going everywhere," Necessary says. Cox expects to complete the installation sometime next year.

The addition of NDS is part of a plan at Cox to migrate its systems to more advanced (and uniform) set-top interactive guide and navigation systems.

Today, all of the MSO's set-tops in Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) environments run the SARA (Scientific Atlanta Residential Application) guide, while its Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)-based systems use the "Aptiv" guide from Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. (Nasdaq: GMST), which just became part of Macrovision Solutions Corp. (See Macrovision to Buy Gemstar-TV Guide for $2.8B and Macrovision Closes on Gemstar.)

Necessary says Cox is in the process of standardizing the interface and VOD user interface to Aptiv but, starting next year, will also start to install the NDS UI on HD and HD-DVR combo boxes.

Cox and NDS are referring to it as a "next-generation user interface," but both parties are keeping images of it under wraps for now. According to Necessary, the new UI will take advantage of the box's processing horsepower, so expect the graphics to be richer than previous guide generations.

More generally speaking, the interface will be "simple, consistent, and intuitive," Necessary says.

The interface will incorporate some "visual clues" to help users navigate from one application to another, including more seamless access to an email viewer and weather, sports, and news feeds. It will also house an integrated, global search function that will allow users to locate movies and TV titles stored on the DVR, available through video-on-demand, or offered via the live, linear TV lineup.

The new UI will also incorporate "community" recommendations to help customers find and discover content, says Steve Tranter, VP of interactive and broadband at NDS. And it will take into account the natural aspect ratio of the television, whether it's traditional 4x3 or widescreen 16x9.

A "second phase" of the UI will allow for content delivery to other devices, starting with an extension to the PC environment, according to Tranter. Later, it's conceivable that the common look and feel of the UI could be extended to portable and mobile devices. Cox, of course, is hot on the mobile trail, having recently won spectrum in the 700 MHz auction. (See Cox Waxes Wireless .)

For NDS, the deal with Cox marks its first significant traction in the U.S. cable market in some time. RCN Corp. used an NDS guide for an "interim" rollout of digital video services. Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), meanwhile, still uses NDS's VideoGuard conditional access system.

"This [deal with Cox] is really a major breakthrough for us in terms of getting our software into the set-top box," Tranter says, noting that U.S. cable's embrace of tru2way should create more opportunities for NDS.

Necessary says NDS's broad, global deployment of interactive program guides coupled with its experience with OpenCable/tru2way in the South Korean cable market factored heavily into Cox's selection of the NDS UI.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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