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Sony Inks Two-Way Cable Agreement

Sony Electronics has negotiated an agreement with the country’s major cable operators, which collectively pass more than 105 million U.S. homes, to begin producing Tru2way bi-directional digital-cable-ready products that will not require a separate set-top box.

The company, which made the announcement in conjunction with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), said the binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the six largest cable companies — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks — on the bi-directional cable initiative will open the doors for similar agreements with the cable multisystem operators (MSOs) and other consumer electronics companies. It is expected to make bi-directional cable-ready products available to more than 82 percent of U.S. cable subscribers.

Sony and the NCTA said other consumer electronics companies “have been invited to formally join the MOU.”

Sony said the negotiated industry agreement “establishes the fundamentals for a competitive retail market for ‘two-way’ digital-cable-ready devices. It addresses how such products will be brought to market with interactive services like video-on-demand, digital video recording and interactive programming guides.”

Consumers will have access to a selection of differentiated two-way products at retail and through cable operators from a variety of manufacturers. The agreement includes safeguards to facilitate the development of a robust, two-way retail market and to ensure that cable operators can continue to develop and offer new competitive services.

Sony and NCTA spokesmen also told TWICE that the agreement provides for the level of support cable operators will give this initiative.

“The MOU is a binding contract between the MSOs and Sony and it does provide for a certain amount of common reliance so that 20 percent of the new set-top boxes that the six MSOs will be using will include Tru2way technology in those devices, until there are a total of 10 million of those types of Tru2way devices, specifically set-top boxes, in the marketplace,” said Brian Dietz, an NCTA spokesman.

Under the agreement the parties will adopt the Java-based Tru2way solution as the national interactive “plug-and-play” standard, as well as new streamlined technology licenses, and new ways for content providers, consumer electronics manufacturers, information technology companies and cable operators to cooperate in evolving the Tru2way technology at Cable Television Laboratories (CableLabs), the cable industry’s research and development consortium, Sony said.

A key element of the agreement involved the use of “write once, run anywhere” applications, and to the incorporation of secure digital interfaces that protect consumers’ home recording rights along with copyright owners’ rights to secure their digital content, Sony said. Exact details of MOU terms were not released to give other potential signatories time to complete their review of the document.

“This marketplace agreement is good news for consumers,” said Edgar Tu, Sony Electronics’ TV operations senior VP of America. “A national plug-and-play digital cable standard for interactive TV receivers, recorders and other products that is transferable and viable wherever you live is ideal for today’s mobile society.”

Kyle McSlarrow, NCTA president/CEO, commented, “This is a landmark agreement which will provide a national, open and interactive platform resulting in more choices of services and products for consumers.”

Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said, “We are pleased that this technical challenge has been addressed through a voluntary, private-sector solution. We look forward to working with our cable colleagues to ensure Americans across the country have access to high value cable content while using the equipment of their choosing.”

News of Sony’s MOU followed demonstrations at the recent NCTA Show by Samsung and Panasonic of Tru2way compliant devices who are both working with Comcast on rollout plans.

Panasonic said it will roll out its first Tru2way plasma sets in Comcast territories on a market-by-market basis starting this fall.

“Basically, as they roll out we will introduce our Tru2way TVs as well,” said Vic Carlson, Panasonic display products group innovation director. “They will be cross-promoting our television set and partnering with us through all of the retailers we go into to sell these TVs.” He added that they are in active discussions with all other cable companies supporting OCAP.

Tru2way-based products featured in the Panasonic exhibit included the PCH2180 Tru2way HD-DVR set-top-box, Viera high-definition TVs and the Tru2way-enabled portable DVR model TZ-LC100.

Samsung also showed an HD DVR equipped with Tru2way bi-directional cable support.

The company said the SMT-3090 DVR will work with cable systems, whose operators are supporting the technology. It includes: two HD tuners capable of decoding MPEG-2, H.264, VC-1 and AC-3 content, and a 160GB hard drive that can store up to 20 hours of HD content.

Samsung also showed a Tru2way set-top box with Downloadable Conditional Access Security (DCAS) functionality, enabling cable operators to download secure client software from a DCAS cable head end and store it to the secure microchip embedded in the set-top box, Samsung said. The box can decrypt an encrypted video stream with a matched CAS key.