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TW calls on SGI to help design set-top boxes

Time Warner is completing its interactive cable network by enlisting a computer maker’s help in designing the TV set-top boxes.

The second-largest cable operator announced it had picked Silicon Graphics Inc., manufacturer of powerful computer microprocessors, for boxes to be made by Scientific-Atlanta and Toshiba Corp. The new boxes will be ready for tests in 4, 000 homes in Time Warner Cable’s Orlando, Fla., franchise by year-end.

SGI is also providing digital video servers, or giant computer hard-drives, capable of storing hundreds or thousands of hours of video images. This is a critical component in providing video-on-demand to cable subscribers.

“The components and software they provide will be critically important in making the new services we will offer easy for consumers to access,” said Joe Collins, chairman and CEO of TW Cable.

The key to the two-way interactive network will be SGI’s processor, which is two to three times faster than the current crop of chips that operate desk top computers. It is also at the core of high-powered computers, called workstations , that produce 3-D images for the special effects community. By putting the chip into a cable box, said industry exex, subscribers will be able to see high-quality graphics and play videogames with others miles away.

“There’s no limit to what we can jam into a chip,” said David Bagshaw, vice president of marketing at SGI.

Time Warner’s pairing with SGI is just the latest in a series of partnerships between the cable and computer industry. On Sunday, Scientific-Atlanta and chipmaker Motorola Corp. announced it was teaming up to produce a new set-top box using software from Kalieda Corp., which is a joint venture between Apple Computer Inc. and IBM Corp. (Daily Variety, June 7). SA’s rival, General Instruments Corp. has linked up with microprocessor manufacturer Intel Corp. and software giant Microsoft Corp.