Cable, CEA Seek Compatibility

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The cable and consumer-electronics industries continue to
move closer to finalizing specifications for interoperability between digital-cable
set-tops and digital-television sets.

The Consumer Electronics Association (formerly the Consumer
Electronics Manufacturers Association) announced last week that it had issued a
specification for compatibility between the digital devices. The news came less than two
weeks after Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s OpenCable group released similar
specifications.

Both sides admitted that there are still some issues to be
ironed out. But according to David Broberg, director of OpenCable requirements for
CableLabs, "We're on track to proceed with this. There is every indication that
we're taking steps toward operability, and we expect [compatible] products to be on
the market next summer."

Early next month, CableLabs will host an interoperability
event where digital televisions and digital-cable boxes can be tested for compatibility.
And high-definition television sets and compatible cable equipment will be on display
during the CableNET exhibit at the Western Show next month.

Some technical differences between the two trade
groups' specifications will be relatively easy to resolve, Broberg said.

But there are philosophical issues that may take longer to
work out, such as differences in system-information design related to electronic program
guides. Cable uses proprietary technology, Broberg said, while the CEA is looking for
guide information that can be made available to any device.

The CEA has yet to resolve the copy-protection
specification that will be included in digital connections between televisions and cable
set-top boxes.

CableLabs has endorsed the so-called 5C copy-protection
standard for all OpenCable-certified equipment. The cable industry is also calling for
television manufacturers to include Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 1394
connections with 5C copy protection on every digital television sold in the United States.

"It doesn't make sense to include a 1394
set-top-box interface on every DTV set, since more than 50 percent of consumers today
prefer to attach their cable directly to their set without a box," CEA president Gary
Shapiro said in a press release last week.

A point-of-deployment interface will allow
digital-television sets to be digital-cable-ready in markets where cable operators deploy
removable PODs that grant conditional access to cable programming.

The CEA also announced last week that it has formed a new
cable-compatibility engineering committee, R-8. It will hold its first meeting Dec. 8 in
Washington, D.C.

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