Bugs Turn Up in Cable-Ready DTVs

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Digital plug-and-play TV sets have hit the market, and it appears that, as with the rollout of any new technology, there have been a couple of snags that should be resolved over time.

In a recent filing, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association told the Federal Communications Commission that early technical difficulties were the responsibility of consumer-electronics companies.

The problems have caused cable companies to deploy technicians to resolve installation problems. But the NCTA said that once first-generation issues have been addressed, it expected the truck rolls to stop and self-installation to become the routine.

The trade group cited just two problems in the Sept. 30 FCC filing. The NCTA did not name the manufacturers that put the faulty units on the market.

One plug-and-play set, the association said, had weak pins due to a “soldering-temperature error,” causing the pins to bend when consumers installed CableCARDs, the credit card-sized devices that authorize reception of scrambled programming.

Another unit “will not boot with CableCARDs that work in other manufacturers’ DTV sets,” the NCTA said. Although the set maker developed a code to resolve the problem, units in the pipeline that need fixing can’t be adjusted until “after consumer purchase,” the trade group added.

The NCTA informed the agency that through August, the top 10 cable companies had deployed 700 CableCARDs. Some MSOs are giving them to consumers, while others are charging up to $2.95 per month.

“CableCARDs are equipment like set-top boxes and remote controls. The FCC regulates the price, which is cost plus 11.25% markup. Some companies choose to waive this fee,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said.

Consumer-electronics industry sources said they’ve gotten word that some cable operators have not been diligent about making CableCARDs available and some are directing cable customers to retail outlets.

NCTA members and the consumer-electronics industry reached a deal endorsed by the FCC on the development of digital-TV sets that are compatible with one-way digital-cable services, HDTV formats and premium services. The digital plug-and-play units were intended to serve consumers who didn’t want to lease cable set-tops.

Cable companies agreed to invest the resources to respond to in-home consumer problems as they arose.

The NCTA said 11 major-brand TV-set makers — including Sony Electronics Corp., Panasonic Consumer Electronics and Samsung Electronics America Inc. — are marketing 60 new plug-and-play digital sets.

NCTA also said it was going to great lengths to supply consumers with information about the availability and use of CableCARDs.

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