Sony Unveils Dual Conditional-Access Scheme


Anaheim, Calif. -- Sony Corp. provided a rare buzz here with announcement of
a technology that it claims can give cablers safe passage out of the "two sizes
fits all" world of digital-video conditional access and open up the market to
more set-top box makers.

Sony's "Passage" system provides a way to create two versions of encryption
that can flow side-by-side in a digital headend.

Digital-video signals transmitted into a video hub would be separated into
critical data and noncritical data. Critical data -- including vital information
about changes to a frame image, constituting about 10 percent of the total
video-data payload -- would be sent to the legacy system and any alternative
conditional-access system.

Two encrypted versions of the critical data would be produced, and both would
be recombined with the unencrypted noncritical data for transmission to digital
set-top boxes.

Such a system could loosen the traditional hold Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and
Motorola Inc. have preserved in digital-video gear. By giving operators the
opportunity to add another conditional-access system, they could diversify the
vendor list for encryption, headend controllers and digital set-tops, said
Gregory Gudorf, vice president of business planning for Sony's digital platform
division of America.

"Passage is our attempt to open up what has been a closed market," he said in
a crowded Sony booth -- one of the few such traffic jams seen on the Western
Show exhibition floor Wednesday. "We've been through successful lab trials
already with Motorola and S-A systems. We've been in discussions with several
MSOs about lab tests. We are ready to go."

Sony has gathered a laundry list of technology partners to support Passage,
including box maker Pace Micro Technology plc, Digeo Inc., Cisco Systems Inc.,
Terayon Communication Systems Inc., Broadcom Corp and NDS Group plc.

Gudorf added that Sony would be ready to start full market trials as early as
late spring or early summer, and from there, it could go live with the dual
conditional-access system with a cable MSO customer.