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Tru2way Agreements Mark Cable Future

A group of consumer electronics manufacturers, IT suppliers and set-top makers recently signed binding memorandums of understanding (MOU) with the nation’s six largest cable system operators to begin producing Tru2Way bi-directional digital-cable-ready products that will not require the use of separate set-top boxes.

Although Samsung and Panasonic had been working with Comcast on similar Tru2Way agreements, Sony cleared the way for broader acceptance within the cable community by negotiating the first MOU with the nation’s six largest cable multisystem operators (MSOs), which collectively pass more than 105 million U.S. homes.

Those companies include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks. Together the MSOs reach more than 82 percent of U.S. cable subscribers.

Shortly after Sony announced its agreement (see TWICE, p. 1, June 2, 2008), Panasonic, Samsung, Intel and set-top box makers ADB and Digeo also announced signing MOUs with the six cable firms.

The multi-industry agreement supports and endorses the Tru2way technology platform developed by CableLabs for delivering bi-directional interactive digital cable video services.

As this went to press, full details of the MOU had not yet been released while other potential signatories complete their review of the document.

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.”

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 the incorporation of secure digital interfaces that protect consumers’ home recording rights along with copyright owners’ rights to secure their digital content, Sony said.

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.

Manufacturers will be able to manufacture and sell integrated TV sets and other electronics devices with bi-directional interactive cable TV support. Through the technology, users will be able to access standard and premium digital cable services, including pay-per-view and video-on-demand offerings, using digital CableCARDs, without the need of a separate set-top box.

Intel said it plans to build a system-on-a-chip that will support a variety of Tru2way devices, including DTVs, set-top-boxes, DVRs and other devices.

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

At the recent NCTA Show both Samsung and Panasonic demonstrated products based on Tru2way technologies that may eventually enter the market.

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

Other Tru2way-based products from Panasonic included the PCH2180 HD-DVR set-top-box and the Tru2way-enabled portable DVR model TZ-LC100.

Samsung also showed a Tru2way HD DVR, model SMT-3090. It includes two HD tuners capable of decoding MPEG-2, H.264, VC-1 and AC-3 content, and a 160GB hard drive.