NAB: Broadcasters buzz about interactive services

The buzz at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention this week centered around interactive services as cable, TV broadcast and telecommunications service providers compete to offer their customers more hands-on digital media experiences. Vendors at the show displayed everything from TV set-top boxes to streaming software for sending audio and video over the Internet to digital television products.

The buzz at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention this week centered around interactive services as cable, TV broadcast and telecommunications service providers compete to offer their customers more hands-on digital media experiences.

Vendors at the show displayed everything from TV set-top boxes to streaming software for sending audio and video over the Internet to digital television products.

The NAB show also attracted keynote speakers including William Kennard, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC), and U.S. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

While Kennard and McCain both see broadcast communications converging with digital and interactive services, they have different ideas about how to ensure that providers are given a fair shake of the market.

Instead of creating all new broadcast standards, the FCC plans to team with industry leaders to enhance existing standards, Kennard said during a keynote speech yesterday at the NAB conference.

However, McCain favors adopting new standards and feels that broadcasters need to be given greater flexibility from the FCC in order to be prepared for digital convergence. "Digital radio makes the old broadcasting rules obsolete," he said in his keynote address also yesterday.

Some interactive service-related announcements made at the NAB show include:

-- Intel and NBC are collaborating on a multi-year project to create and provide enhanced digital television programming, which NBC plans to launch during the fourth quarter. Whether viewers use a digital TV (DTV), DTV-enabled PC or set-top box, they will be able to watch NBC digital television and receive interactive content.

Viewers will be able to check an electronic program guide, chat, send electronic greeting cards, take interactive quizzes, watch movie trailers and check sports statistics. Intel will license software, tools and applications to NBC to enable the insertion of digital broadcast into NBC's existing programming. Content will comply with the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum's technical specification, the companies said.

Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-987-8080 or at http://www.intel.com/.

-- Oracle Corp. announced that it has begun to ship its iTV software, which broadcast, cable and telecommunications providers can use to deliver interactive services such as e-mail, chat, electronic commerce and video-on-demand. The software features an interactive repository companies can use to manage their businesses as well as capabilities for managing subscriptions; billing and accounts; content; and events and usage, the company said.

Oracle, in Redwood Shores, California, can be reached at +1-650-506-7000, or at http://www.oracle.com/.

Meanwhile, media streaming companies are also rolling out new software and services aimed at delivering content over the 'Net:

-- Apple Computer introduced its QuickTime Streaming Server software, which can be used with its QuickTime multimedia software to stream live and stored video and audio over the Internet. The QuickTime Streaming Server features: the ability to serve over 1,000 simultaneous audio and video streams at modem rate connections; a simple licensing model; support for RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) and RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol); a management tool for administration of the server; and easy set-up, according to Apple.

The streaming technology can be downloaded as Open Source software at http://www.apple.com/publicsource and is available as a free update to Mac OS X Server. The company also announced that IBM and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) are integrating QuickTime Streaming software into their product lines.

In related news, Apple released the public beta of QuickTime 4 multimedia software that runs on the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Features new to the upgrade include: enhanced user controls; a picture viewer for delivering still images in a range of formats; a Web browser plug-in; compression technologies; network protocol support for Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) streaming standards; support for video and animation formats and QuickTime for Java, which allows Java applets to interface with QuickTime's entire application programming interface, Apple said. QuickTime 4 is priced at US$29.99.

Meanwhile, Apple also announced and began shipping Final Cut Pro, a software application that combines video editing, compositing and special effects, for $999.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, can be reached at +1-408-996-1010 or on the Web at http://www.apple.com/.

-- Hewlett Packard Co. announced it has bundled its HP MediaStream servers with Sundance Digital's automation software. The MediaStream servers provide broadcasters with bandwidth, channel count, storage, scalability and networking capabilities, HP said.

HP, based in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-857-1501 or at http://www.hp.com/.

-- RealNetworks Inc. announced that it is teaming with broadband and ISPs (Internet service providers) to launch a distributed multi-tier Internet broadcast architecture based on RealSystem G2. The streaming media company will use the network broadcast hubs of Sprint Corp., AT&T Corp., GTE Corp., Teleglobe Inc., Enron Communications, Concentric Network Corp., Earthlink Network Inc., IDT Corp., MindSpring Enterprises Inc., SNET Internet and Verio Inc.

The new multi-tier network will provide Internet users with direct access to higher quality narrowband and broadband multimedia programming, the company said.

RealNetworks, located in Seattle, Washington, can be reached at +1-206-674-2650 or at http://www.real.com/.

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