Thursday, May 29, 2008

No More Waiting For The Cable Guy?

Sony, cable providers sign digital TV agreement


May 29, 2008

Cable customers may soon have another alternative to the digital set-top box.

Sony Electronics and six of the largest cable companies, including Cablevision Systems Corp., have signed an agreement that paves the way for "two-way," digital cable-ready TVs to be sold on the market, according to Sony and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). The pact also ensures that the cable operators adopt the tru2way software as their standard interactive technology.

"It provides something consumers have been asking for and looking for in terms of the ability to not have a set-top box and to have two-way technology that allows for more interactive applications that can be deployed nationally so it will be a universal platform," said Brian Dietz, NCTA spokesman.

At the moment, most cable customers rent digital set-top boxes from a cable operator to receive digital cable programming. A few manufacturers like Panasonic, LG Electronics and Samsung have manufactured TV sets equipped to receive digital programming using a cable card.

But those TVs do not allow customers to use two-way services such as video on demand. Consumers also have complained about the narrow selection of TVs equipped to handle the cable cards and difficulties activating the TV and the card with their cable operator's system, industry experts said.

Sony is not the only manufacturer that has agreed to develop interactive devices with the tru2way technology. Panasonic, which will sell a tru2way-enabled TV in the fall, also signed a 2005 agreement. Sony's agreement goes further, Dietz said.

The pact -- also signed by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter and Bright House Networks -- sets July 1, 2009 as the deadline for the cable operators to have the technology deployed in 20 percent of the leased set-top boxes to show that their system can support the technology, he said. The deadline for Charter to roll out the technology is 2010.

The deal doesn't exclude any other manufacturers from joining and the technology could be used in other Sony products, said David Migdal, a Sony Electronics spokesman.

Cablevision and Time Warner Cable both voiced support for the new technology.

"Cablevision has supported the cable industry's commitment to one-way devices through the deployment of CableCARDs, and we will be supportive of two-way devices that may be developed by Sony and other consumer electronics manufacturers under tru2way specifications," the company said in a statement. The Bethpage-based cable operator has agreed to purchase Newsday from Tribune Co. for $650 million.

Verizon did not sign the agreement, calling tru2way a "proprietary cable initiative that does not embrace the variety of platforms in the entertainment space, including satellite, IP and Verizon's hybrid platforms."

While the new technology will eliminate set-top boxes for some customers, industry experts said the extinction of the boxes is far off in the future.

In the past, cable companies have expressed concern over piracy and insisted on controlling the equipment used with their systems, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst and president of the Enderle Group. Rather than allow regulators to set the requirements for two-way technology, the cable industry negotiated this agreement on their terms, he said.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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