Now That's A Set-Top!

Jeff Baumgartner
The Bauminator
Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

11:50 AM -- As I mentioned on the boards earlier, the patent spat between Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) brought back some memories for me when I heard that Cablevision apparently intends to mount a defense in part by showing the court that it relies on technology that Scientific-Atlanta (now part of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)) developed for Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s Full Service Network (FSN) trial.

I suppose the idea is to prove that the technology developed for the FSN predates the intellectual property on which Verizon is basing its case. (See It's On: Verizon-Cablevision Patent Spat Heats Up, Cablevision, Verizon Brace for Court Collision and Verizon Lawsuit Targets Cablevision Boxes, ITV.)

TW Cable used the small FSN trial (it involved a few thousand homes) in the mid-1990s to gauge consumer interest in interactive digital services such as video-on-demand, program guides and apps that let customers play games and order pizza via the TV. It also set the stage for the MSO's "Pegasus" digital platform and an entrée into cable for companies like Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM).

TW Cable shut down the trial in 1997, with some pundits calling it a failure while not recognizing that this amounted to a proof-of-concept exercise (albeit a very expensive one) that served as the launching pad for a broadly deployable interactive digital video platform that would end up helping the industry create TV lineups that could compete with the then much larger offerings from DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH). And it set the stage for cable's foray into VoD.

After all, who in their right mind would build a business on set-tops that purportedly cost more than US$6,000 per unit? Back then, the industry was in a race to integrate componentry and develop the first $500 digital cable box -- the price needed to deploy interactive digital cable on a wide scale.

Speaking of that set-top, I first saw it in action when I was a fresh-faced kid out of college attending my first cable trade show event, which happened to be in Orlando, site of the FSN trial. The demo, which used a carousel-looking IPG and served up on-demand movies, was a sight to behold at the time. As was the super-sized set-top.

Here are a couple pics of that box, courtesy of cable engineering vet John Hildebrand, who served as the FSN's senior director of interactive software back in the day:


Backside View

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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