Portugal rolls out broadband MS set-top boxes

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hosted a launch of the service in Lisbon Thursday with TV Cabo Portugal, a subsidiary of Internet and cable TV company PT Multimedia. The cable operator is using Microsoft's TV Advanced software and TV Server software. It is Microsoft's third deployment of its interactive television software platform, but the first time it will run on high-speed Internet.

TV Cabo has more than 1 million pay-TV subscribers and 500,000 customers for its Internet service.

The platform allows viewers to e-mail, surf the Internet, shop, watch interactive programming and perform DVR (digital video recorder) functions such as rewinding and pausing live television on hardware developed by Portugal's Octal Engenharia de Sistemas. Both companies said video-on-demand functions would be available through the service in the near future.

Microsoft has experienced a number of delays deploying its interactive television platform, falling behind competitors such as Liberate Technologies in the global markets. AT&T Corp. began testing the Liberate platform last year after Microsoft failed to deliver its software to the communications company. The same scenario occurred with Europe's United Pan-Europe Communications.

Even Microsoft's rollout in Portugal has taken longer than expected. When the deal was originally announced in May 2000, the companies expected to have the service working by the first quarter of 2001.

Microsoft has managed to bring its UltimateTV product to market in the US, offering interactive television and DVR functions to customers subscribing to DirectTV's satellite service.

Also on Thursday, Microsoft announced that two other cable TV companies will launch trials of Microsoft's interactive television software. MATAV Cable Systems Media Ltd. in Israel and Cablevisión, a subsidiary of Grupo Televisa SA in México, will begin trial services in the third quarter.

Microsoft also launched last month a trial with Brazil's Globo Cabo to test its interactive television middleware with 250 initial trial customers running Samsung Electronics set-top boxes. Eventually, the cable operator said it will upgrade its system with Microsoft's TV Advanced and Server software.

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