Deal Sets Stage for `Plug-and-Play' TVs


After six months of negotiations, the cable and consumer-electronics
industries announced a groundbreaking agreement Thursday that will marry
digital-cable and TV-set technology in the consumer marketplace.

Provided that the Federal Communications Commission signs off on the deal and
adopts its tenets as regulation, the "plug-and-play" agreement between seven top
cable MSOs and 14 consumer-electronics companies will set the foundation for
high-definition digital-TV sets with built-in cable set-top-box functions,
eliminating the need for separate boxes.

The agreement only covers one-way services delivered to consumers, such as
digital TV. A follow-up agreement covering bidirectional services such as
video-on-demand is already under way.

Under the memorandum of understanding, the MSOs and electronics manufacturers
have voluntarily agreed to a set of rules surrounding these
digital-cable-enabled TV sets. That includes a set of technical standards and
device-test procedures; a framework for supporting digital TVs and devices; a
draft security-technology license to protect valuable content as it moves around
in a home network; and encoding rules dealing with copyright issues related to
home recording and viewing.

In a press conference Thursday, those involved in the agreement stressed that
it would spur the adoption of digital TV, offering TV sets able to work in any
cable system.

"The consumer will be able to take the device home, plug it in and it will
indeed work," said Bob Perry, vice president of marketing for Mitsubishi Digital
Electronics America.

MSOs that signed the agreement are Comcast Corp.; Time Warner Cable and
Advance/Newhouse Communications; Cox Communications Inc.; Cablevision Systems
Corp. parent company CSC Holdings Inc.; Insight Communications Co. Inc.; Charter
Communications Inc.; and Cable One Inc.

That leaves Adelphia Communications Corp. and Mediacom Communications Corp.
as the only top cablers not joining the initiative.

Provided that the FCC adopts the recommendations as regulation, plug-and-play
products could be available as early as 2004.