Microsoft to make TCI set-top box

Gates announced during keynote speech

ATLANTA — Microsoft has reached a deal with Tele-Communications Inc. to provide the software for the cable operators’ first 5 million advanced digital set-top boxes.

Microsoft topper Bill Gates announced the deal during his keynote speech to cablers gathered here for their annual confab. The boxes will include Microsoft’s CE software and will give subscribers the ability to browse the Internet and view several HDTV formats on regular analog television sets.

TCI topper John Malone confirmed Monday that the boxes will not be able to serve as set-top converter for the 1080-line interlace format currently favored by CBS and NBC. “This generation of set-top boxes will not be able to process 1080I,” said Malone during a discussion with reporters after Gates’ keynote speech.

Malone endorsed the progressive format which is currently used by computer screens. Unlike interlace, which weaves a picture one line at a time, the progressive format refreshes the entire image several times a second.

Malone said the interlace format is not spectrum efficient. However, he did not rule out adding the 1080I format to future set-top box orders.

An NBC source said it was “disappointing” that TCI has decided to move forward on the first 5 million set-top boxes without the ability to convert 1080I.