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Cable, CEA to Announce Plug-and-Play

After long negotiations and at least one delay, it looks like the cable and
consumer electronics-industries are going to announce an agreement Thursday that
could lead to digital-cable set-top functions being built directly into
digital-TV sets.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Consumer
Electronics Association have scheduled a joint press conference in the nation's
capital at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss the "plug-and-play" agreement.

The agreement is aimed at spurring adoption of digital and high-definition TV
by making more products available at retail.

While details have yet to be announced, industry sources said the agreement
will pave the way for unidirectional devices sold at retail.

Lacking a return channel to process interactive applications including
video-on-demand and network-based digital-video-recorder commands, the units
nevertheless would be able to display cable-television signals with the addition
of a point-of-deployment interface card supplied by the cable operator.

The POD cards, created under Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s OpenCable
specifications, would carry the authorization and decryption to view
cable-television content.

Consumer-electronics manufacturers building the unidirectional plug-and-play
devices would have to sign the POD Host Interface License Agreement (PHILA)
included in OpenCable.

If consumers wanted two-way services such as VOD, they would have to get
digital-cable boxes from their cable providers. In the future, the agreement
could be expanded to include bidirectional devices.