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Sony, Cable Bury Two-Way Hatchet

Sony Electronics, after years of rejecting cable’s technology for accessing interactive video services, has reached an agreement with the six largest cable companies to adopt the industry’s tru2way specification.

For the cable industry, the deal potentially establishes tru2way as the national standard for interactive TV applications—and indicates that Sony has dropped its proposal for a “digital cable ready plus” specification, which cable had opposed.

Sony and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced the agreement Tuesday with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks. Together those six operators pass more than 105 million U.S. homes and serve 82% of all U.S. cable subscribers.

The binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached by Sony and the six operators addresses how two-way, cable-ready products will be brought to market with interactive services like video-on-demand, digital video recording and interactive programming guides.

Detailed terms of the MOU have not yet been released, while “other potential signatories” complete their review of the agreement, according to the NCTA. The trade group said other consumer-electronics companies have been invited to formally join the MOU.

Sony previously had demanded that cable should open up its two-way services in a protocol-based architecture. Dubbed “DCR-plus,” the proposal as submitted to the Federal Communications Commission would standardize access to four cable services that require two-way communication: video-on-demand, on-screen program guide data, switched digital video channels and pay-per-view.

Cable operators and the NCTA had claimed that “DCR-plus” would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead the cable industry was pressing for the FCC to adopt tru2way (formerly referred to as OpenCable) as the standard for giving retail CE devices access to cable services.

The move received the endorsement of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said in a statement: "I congratulate Sony and the major cable operators for achieving consensus on a set of core principles that will speed the introduction of new two-way plug-and-play devices."

In general, according to Sony and NCTA, the agreement “includes safeguards to facilitate the development of a robust, two-way retail market and to ensure that cable operators can continue to develop and offer new competitive services.”

As part of the agreement, Sony will adopt the Java-based tru2way solution and new streamlined technology licenses. CableLabs announced Samsung Electronics was the first CE maker to sign the streamlining tru2way license.

The deal also provides new ways for content providers, consumer-electronics manufacturers, information-technology companies and cable operators to cooperate in “evolving the tru2way technology” at CableLabs, the cable industry's research and development arm.

According to NCTA and Sony, key elements of the agreement relate to the deployment of a platform for "write once, run anywhere" applications and to the incorporation of secure digital interfaces that protect consumers' home recording rights along with copyright owners' rights to secure their digital content.

"This is a landmark agreement which will provide a national, open and interactive platform resulting in more choices of services and products for consumers," NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said, in a statement.

"This marketplace agreement is good news for consumers," said Edgar Tu, Sony’s senior VP of TV operations for America. "A national plug-and-play digital cable standard for interactive TV receivers, recorders and other products that is transferable and viable wherever you live is ideal for today's mobile society."

Also weighing in was Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro: "We are pleased that this technical challenge has been addressed through a voluntary, private-sector solution. We look forward to working with our cable colleagues to ensure Americans across the country have access to high value cable content while using the equipment of their choosing."