Set for Tru2Way Switch

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Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives said they’re on track to enable support for retail devices compatible with CableLabs’ Tru2way interactive TV specification across their footprints by July 1.

The six biggest U.S. MSOs committed to the July 2009 deadline in pacts with major consumer-electronics companies signed last summer. The deal effectively resolved the cable industry’s disagreement with CE companies — a matter that is still technically pending before the Federal Communications Commission — about how operators will provide access to two-way cable services.

Ten of Time Warner Cable’s 22 divisions have now deployed Tru2way, which represents about 50% of its digital base or 12 million homes passed, said Kevin Leddy, the operator’s executive vice president of technology policy and product management.

“We’re on track to get all of our divisions, both Motorola and [Cisco], rolled out by July,” Leddy said, speaking on the International Consumer Electronics Show panel “Tru2way Here and Now.”

Bob Faught, Comcast senior vice president of retail and alternate channel sales, said the company also is getting ready to have all its systems up and running by July 1. Comcast in October turned on Tru2way support in Chicago and Denver systems, as part of working with Panasonic to sell Tru2way-based HDTVs through limited retail outlets in those markets.

Also by July 1, the six MSOs pledged that 20% of all new cable set-tops would be tru2way-enabled, to ensure common reliance on the spec. “The idea was that this would be the cooperative path forward to interactive TV for everybody,” said Jud Cary, CableLabs vice president of video technology policy.

On this front Time Warner Cable has led its peers, having deployed 2.4 million Tru2way-capable set-tops to date. Of those, 1.4 million set-tops run TWC’s Digital Navigator interactive program guide. Leddy added that Bright House Networks has rolled out 300,000 Tru2way-based boxes.

Leddy said he was hopeful that Tru2way technology would let CE manufacturers deliver more sophisticated cable-ready devices, such as those that incorporate Blu-ray Disc players. Such advanced devices are too expensive for an operator like Time Warner Cable to justify buying in volume, he said.

Time Warner Cable buys about 2 million set-tops every year. “Adding any incremental function to the boxes means we’re spending a lot more capital,” Leddy said. “Cable can provide a good, middle-of-the-road set-top to customers. But we can’t afford to build and lease [the equivalent of] a TiVo Series 3 [which provides broadband-delivered content and home-theater features].”

Stephen Goldstein, Samsung Electronics business-development manager, said the CE maker was committed to Tru2way and that he’d like to see more programmers exploit its capabilities.

“It’s a great platform for the cable programmers so we’d really like to see them out there writing applications and promoting the benefits of interactive cable,” he said.

Another one of cable’s goals with Tru2way — the consumer-facing name for OpenCable, which the industry still uses internally — is to increase supplier diversity.

Of the 1.4 million Tru2way boxes TWC has deployed, 300,000 are from Samsung, “which by the way are working extremely well,” Leddy said. “We’re able to bring Samsung set-tops into our mix a lot more easily with Tru2way.”