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Moxi Unveils Media-Based Home Network

Steve Perlman, founder of WebTV and his latest company Moxi Digital, unveiled at CES a multimedia entertainment server designed as the central hub in forthcoming home entertainment networks.

The system, which is called the Moxi Media Center (MC), was developed by Perlman’s current company the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Reardon Steel, which was recently renamed Moxi Digital.

The MC is a combination of a hardware set-top box and middleware riding on top of the Linux operating system. Cable and satellite TV operators can use the MC set-top boxes to deliver a broad range of home entertainment content and capabilities to subscribers, who can then choose to distribute it to multiple rooms in their homes using extension modules.

The central hardware component in the system is outfitted with a multi-purpose 80 GB hard-drive, TV-based Web browser and DVD drive, and can be designed to receive either cable or satellite television channels (depending on the needs of the programming distributor that signs on with Moxi). It will also include either a broadband cable modem or standard 56Kbps dial-up modem for satellite customers. DSL subscribers can connect an external modem to the MC inputs. Plans are to upgrade the system to include a broadband satellite modem if a program distributor eventually requires that.

Rita Brogley, Moxi sales and marketing VP, said Moxi will sell the hardware or license the middleware and reference designs to cable and satellite operators who wish to target subscribers looking to have multiroom access to multimedia content at an affordable cost. She estimated that cable providers who sign on for the system could distribute the central box and an extension box for about the same cost as a pair of baseline digital cable boxes.

Moxi Digital will license it’s MC reference design on a non-exclusive basis to EchoStar for inclusion in forthcoming DISH receivers that will be designed, built and distributed by EchoStar.

The home-networking portion of the system can use either wired (coax) or wireless (802.11A) connections to distribute programming to MC “extension” modules in remote rooms. The MC extensions enable television tuning independent of the central MC unit, and will allow viewers in different rooms to tap the central MC hard drive, DVD player, etc., to play programming on remote TV sets, audio receivers and other home entertainment devices.

Additionally, a broadband modem in the MC can be linked to PCs elsewhere in the house to access the Internet.

Initially, Moxi expects its cable partners to use their own conditional access security systems (activated at the head-end), but Brogley said future generation devices can incorporate point-of-deployment smart-card security systems to comply with the OpenCable initiative when cable providers are ready for that.

Digital connectors on the MC box include a pair of IEEE-1394 “FireWire” and USB ports. The FireWire connectors can be used for expansion storage through the addition of external hard-disk drives.

The first version includes a personal video recorder, personal juke box, DVD/CD player and Internet access. A second software generation, which will be downloaded automatically, will add support for PDAs, IP telephony and digital photos, Brogley said.

She said the MC will use program guide listings in a manner similar to TiVo or Replay PVRs, however, she added that Moxi Digital’s technology is substantially different from either of those competing systems, and does not require any special licensing arrangements.

Also planned for the MC is delivery of video on demand (VOD) content for cable systems through “plug-in” applications tied to VOD distributors (such as DIVA) that have been chosen by the providers.

Brogley said the browser used for Web surfing, email and other functions is different from the system Perlman and company designed for WebTV (now owned by Microsoft).

As for HDTV, she said the MC will eventually support delivery of HDTV content, but “the base product at the show [did] not support it. If an operator is interested in offering HDTV then we can implement it immediately.”