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FCC Approves Plug And Play Agreement

9/10/2003 10:53:00 AM Eastern

Washington - The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved rules for digital cable plug and play interoperability between digital cable services and consumer electronics products.

'This represents another enormous advance in the high definition television transition,' said FCC chairman Michael Powell. 'We now will be able to have high definition television sets that people can more readily bring home and connect to the systems that are delivering high-definition content'

The decision came just in time for television manufacturers to begin plans for the production of 2004 digital televisions, many of which will be required to incorporate ATSC digital over-the-air tuners in compliance with an earlier FCC tuner mandate.

It will also enable two manufacturers – Panasonic and Hitachi – to deliver the first 'digital-cable-ready' HDTV sets this fall. Both manufacturers committed early on to introduce the first digital-cable-ready products and rolled the dice that the FCC would approve an agreement between the manufacturers and the cable industry.

Responding the FCC’s action, Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president, said 'history books will mark this as a momentous day in the U.S. transition to digital television. That sound you hear is the excited rumblings of millions of consumers preparing to join the HDTV era now that plug and play is a reality.'

Richard Lewis, Zenith senior VP, said, 'In addition to providing for plug-and-play cable reception, the new regulations address the importance of free over-the-air HDTV by also requiring broadcast DTV tuners in sets labeled as ‘digital cable ready.'

Lewis, who worked with the team of DTV manufacturers that negotiated the plug-and-play agreement with cable multiple system operators, said Zenith’s parent company, LG Electronics is preparing to introduce digital-cable-ready HDTVs in the first half of 2004.

The plug and play rules cover a base-level uni-directional cable interoperability system, consisting of two major parts: the first covers how cable operators send their signals to receiving products. The second covers encoding rules for the use of that content in the home.

Additionally, the agreement specifies the use of conditional access security cards, called Point of deployment modules or 'CableCARDs.' Cable operators will provide purchasers of digital cable ready TV sets with a Cable CARD to enable viewers to access scrambled premium channels to which they have subscribed.

This will also make it possible for a TV set to be transported from one cable market to another with the assurance that it will work with any digital cable system.

The approved plug-and-play rules provide for the use of two different digital interfaces – IEEE-1394 with DTCP and DVI or HDMI with HDCP as well as HD component video inputs, which accept broadband analog video signals.

The encoding rules also address digital content rights management, which stipulates the level to which a digital program can be recorded in the home. Under the system programs would carry digital labels — such as copy-once, copy never, etc. – instructing how the digital cable ready device outputs those signals.

The approval amended only slightly the agreement reached by the consumer electronics manufacturers and the cable television industry last December. It will be subject to review if a party petitions the commission for special relief.

Ken Ferree, FCC media bureau chief, said the plug-and-play rulemaking 'was not just a rubber stamp of the agreement that was presented to us by the cable and consumer electronics industries.'

He said the rules passed by the FCC amended the original CE/cable agreement to consider concerns from industries including content rights holders, broadcasters, direct-to-home satellite providers and the PC industry.

Responding the FCC’s action, Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president, said 'history books will mark this as a momentous day in the U.S. transition to digital television. That sound you hear is the excited rumblings of millions of consumers preparing to join the HDTV era now that plug and play is a reality.'

Richard Lewis, Zenith senior VP, said, 'In addition to providing for plug-and-play cable reception, the new regulations address the importance of free over-the-air HDTV by also requiring broadcast DTV tuners in sets labeled as ‘digital cable ready.'

Lewis, who worked with the team of DTV manufacturers that negotiated the plug-and-play agreement with cable multiple system operators, said Zenith’s parent company, LG Electronics is preparing to introduce digital-cable-ready HDTVs in the first half of 2004.

(For more on the FCC's plug-and-play decision, see www.TWICE.com and the September 15 issue of TWICE.)