The reference design includes capabilities for digital video recording and home networking. With the design, set-top box makers can get a box into the hands of cable operators faster because the development work is already done.
"In this emerging market, all the players have to be ready to offer subscribers what they want immediately because you never know when you're looking at the take-off point when it comes to major interest," said Ed Graczyk, director of the Microsoft TV Platform Group.
Microsoft and Broadcom hope that set-top boxes using the design will attract new digital cable subscribers and allow the two companies to cash in on the growing market for interactive TV.
Others companies, such as Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta, have already developed advanced set-top boxes and could potentially decide to use the new reference design as well.
The announcement follows AT&T's recent decision to alter its strategy for advanced set-top boxes using Microsoft's interactive TV software.
Broadcom's reference design includes digital video recording, which allows people to record programs onto a hard drive instead of onto a videocassette. DVR also allows viewers to pause and play back live television. Microsoft already offers DVR in other versions of its interactive TV software, including UltimateTV and the set-top boxes that Portuguese cable operator TV Cabo launched Thursday.
The design also features a high-speed modem that allows a set-top box to act as a networking hub for the home. A Microsoft representative said a set-top box using Broadcom's design could be plugged into a phone jack and, with home networking software, could act as the distribution and access point for other devices in the home to connect to the Internet.
"These new features give cable operators more appealing services to attract subscribers while also giving subscribers more capabilities," Broadcom spokesman Rich Nelson said.
Broadcom also announced Monday a new chip that is part of the reference design. The BCM7041 chip will allow people to record one show while watching another on a different channel.
Nelson said there are cable operators and set-top box makers that are interested in the reference design, but he would not name them.