Panasonic Eyes Tru2way Launch In Boston


Panasonic plans to begin selling tru2way-based Viera HDTVs in Comcast's Boston market Dec. 15, the consumer-electronics company said in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

The company disclosed the plans in an ex parte filing detailing meetings between Panasonic representatives and FCC staff on Dec. 1 regarding tru2way cable retail products.

Panasonic's meeting was primarily to discuss its new tru2way "set-back boxes," to be sold at retail, which would convert existing Viera HDTVs into bidirectional digital-cable ready tru2way TVs. The company, which showed off the set-back box at the SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo in Denver, hasn't said when the device would be available commercially or how much it would cost.

Panasonic has been selling integrated tru2way HDTVs in three Comcast markets -- Chicago and Denver last fall, and Atlanta in February 2009 -- and will bring them next to Boston next week.

Tru2way, developed and maintained by CableLabs, is the technology the cable industry and major CE makers settled on to resolve the years-long battle to open up access to interactive cable services without the need for an operator-leased set-top.

Five of the six biggest U.S. operators signed agreements with Panasonic, Sony and other CE companies to fully support tru2way devices by July 1, 2009 -- a deadline they missed. Comcast has since claimed its entire footprint will be tru2way-enabled by the end of 2009.

Panasonic, in its ex parte filing, said consumer feedback "indicated very high satisfaction with tru2way" but added that the company wants to offer a separate set-back box to provide a greater variety of screen sizes and to accommodate slimmer chassis designs. The SBB would attach to any Panasonic Viera HDTV from model year 2009 forward using the HDMI interface.

FCC rules for labeling products "cable-ready" require the capability to tune analog channels, which the set-back box would lack.

Panasonic said it wanted to avoid integrating an analog tuner into the set-back box because that would increase its size and cost, and be redundant anyway given that the TVs already have an analog tuner. It also pointed out that in all-digital tru2way cable systems "there would be little need to access any analog channels given the typical digital simulcast of ‘analog' programming on such systems." In any case, the company said, analog programming could still be accessed by switching the TV's input from HDMI to the RF interface.

In its filing, the company said it "requested the Media Bureau to confirm our belief that integration of analog tuning in the SBB is not required by the FCC rules, so long as the SBB is designed to be used only in combination with a television that supports analog tuning."

Panasonic execs who met with FCC staff included chief technology officer Eisuke Tsuyuzaki -- who has taken over the role from Paul Liao, named CEO of CableLabs earlier this year -- Jeff Cove, vice president of alliances and business development and Peter Fannon, vice president of corporate and government affairs. On the agency side, participants included Media Bureau chief Bill Lake and Policy Division chief Mary Beth Murphy.