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Cable, CE Find ‘Common Ground’ On OCAP

LAS VEGAS — If “convergence” and “finding common ground” are the key buzzwords of International CES 2006, there was no better example than the joint announcement from six major cable companies and a trio of top CE hardware makers of their commitment to make two-way digital interactivity a reality in the near future.

And the future is very near. Samsung and Time Warner are currently testing OpenCable Application Program- (OCAP) enabled HDTVs in Gastonia, N.C., and a variety of initiatives are underway between a number of cable companies and LG, Panasonic and Thomson.

OCAP is a middleware program, in effect an operating system, that allows consumers to easily connect OCAP-enabled TVs and other CE devices to a digital cable system to take advantage of two-way cable applications and the advanced functionality of the OCAP systems rolling out across the country starting this fall. Among the benefits are VOD, increased security, easy portability between systems and devices and a variety of interactive services.

At the press conference led by Richard Green, president of CableLabs, the organization spearheading development of the system, a veritable galaxy of cable stars professed their commitment to OCAP. The six high-powered execs represented over 65 percent of cable households.

They were Glen Britt, CEO, Time Warner Cable; Brian Roberts, CEO, Comcast; Patrick Esser, president of Cox Communications; Robert Miron, CEO Advance/Newhouse Communications; Thomas Rutledge, Cablevision COO; and Neil Smit, CEO of Charter Communications. Representing the CE manufacturers was Peter Fannon, Panasonic’s technology policy VP; Sang-Heung Shin, senior VP visual display sales of Samsung; and Woo Paik, president and chief technical advisor, LG Electronics. Paik, it should be noted, is the inventor of the Digicipher system and was acknowledged by Green as the father of HDTV, during the packed press event.

Britt noted the cable companies have been working on OCAP for years and one of the reasons for the event was to “show this is real.” Along with the test in Gastonia, Time Warner will be rolling out OCAP-enabled systems in New York; Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis.; Lincoln, Neb.; and Waco, Texas later this year. “The system is working very well,” he commented.

Roberts also announced tests with Panasonic’s new set-top box (see TWICE CES Daily Jan. 6, p. 1) for Philadelphia, Denver, Boston and northern New Jersey in 2006. Miron of Advance/Newhouse reported his company would be testing in Indianapolis as part of “a learning experience.” Although the other cable execs did not specify testing or rollout regions and dates, all professed their commitment to making two-way OCAP a reality.

Although Samsung is delivering an OCAP-enabled TV and SD set-top box, and Panasonic is readying a set-top box with a built-in 250GB HD DVR, LG’s Paik stated that it would not be until 2007 that his company would have a product. The general consensus among the group was a national footprint of two-way digital cable and its necessary hardware would not be fully deployed until late 2007/2008.