CableLabs Picks Fire Wire for Interface


Cable Television Laboratories Inc. has tapped a high-speed
interconnection standard known as "fire wire" as the method of choice to link
future OpenCable digital set-tops and other consumer-electronics devices, like television
sets and digital versatile disc players.

Last week, CableLabs and OpenCable settled on the IEEE 1394
interface, also known as fire wire. The move is important because it provides a way to
send digital information securely over the yard or so of coaxial cable that connects
set-tops and TVs.

John Malone, chairman and CEO of Tele-Communications Inc.,
which has 11.9 million OpenCable boxes on order from General Instrument Corp., said in a
statement that the MSO required the 1394 connections "on a wide array of the boxes
that we have ordered under the OpenCable process.

"We have made access to television sets and other
devices via 1394 a centerpiece of our plans to deliver enhanced services," said
Malone, who is also CableLabs' chairman.

The decision also gives cable a way to pass
information-crammed high-definition television signals through digital set-tops, instead
of including circuitry in OpenCable boxes that decodes and converts the signals for
display on TVs, said Laurie Schwartz, project director of digital-video technologies for

"This is an important development, especially in the
short term, because it gets us a solution for handling high-definition," Schwartz
said. "If we don't want a multilevel decoder in each box, this gives us a way to pass
the signal through."

Other interconnection methods wouldn't work simply because
of the volume of bits -- between 200 million and 400 million -- that comprise a digital

Plus, a joint effort between the cable industry, the
computer industry and Hollywood recently also achieved preliminary consensus on the use of
fire wire.

In a prepared statement, Joe Collins, chairman and CEO of
Time Warner Cable, called fire wire "a critical element," because the interface
"gives us a cost-effective way to provide our customers with the advanced services
that are central to the OpenCable initiative."

Collins said OpenCable products with the 1394 interface
should be out "within a year."

IEEE 1394 is a standardized interface that allows for
high-bandwidth connections. It is physically contained in a four- or six-wire, shielded,
twisted-pair bundle that will plug into future TV sets and advanced digital set-tops.