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Verizon FiOS Features Interactive Media Guide

Informitv reports that Verizon is previewing a new interactive media guide for its FiOS digital television service. The company took over the development of the interface from Microsoft, and has revealed a new "look and feel" that is improved from the initial launch version.

Verizon has also licensed interactive program guide patents from Gemstar-TV Guide, with whom it is jointly developing further enhancements. The shift in partners apparently occurred after Microsoft made numerous unsuccessful attempts to improve its user interface.

Verizon revealed that it has over a third of a million customers subscribed to its interactive television services delivered via fiber to the home. The FiOS services are being introduced in 16 states across America. The new interactive media guide will be deployed to FiOS TV customers over the summer of 2007.

The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) features full-color graphics with transparency, and a tabbed menu system with animated layers. Verizon claims a rapid response to user input, with network powered search across channels, video-on-demand titles and digital video recordings -- based on either multi-tap, virtual keyboard, or scroll-wheel predictive text entry.

Interactive TV widgets also provide the latest weather, traffic and local information, with more applications promised for the future. Most functions can be controlled using the directional arrow keys and central "OK" button on the set top box (STB) remote control.

Verizon is not alone in abandoning the Microsoft supplied IPTV user interface. As reported by Informitv, Comcast -- the largest U.S. pay-TV cable service provider -- has previously stopped using the Microsoft TV software it had been testing in the Seattle area. Comcast also replaced Microsoft's immature offering with a system jointly developed with Gemstar-TV Guide.

The initial Microsoft TV user interface was said to have been created as a "good enough" solution, at least until something truly innovative could be developed by their product design teams. That said, I had previously voiced my concerns regarding the risks associated with introducing this product into a mature pay-TV marketplace.

While many analysts believe that an IPTV launch should incorporate a distinctive -- substantively improved -- consumer experience, the telcos that initially deployed a pay-TV service based upon the Microsoft TV platform clearly did not meet this benchmark. The company's poor performance with product usability may be less of an issue in the enterprise market, but it's a major shortcoming in the consumer products space.

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