IN PERSPECTIVE: The timely death of the set-top box

Sun, 06/01/2008 - 8:20am
Brian Santo, Editor

It is feasible for consumer electronics dealers to conceive of,
design and build TV sets that incorporate the functionality of the set-top.

Panasonic North America chairman and CEO Yoshi Yamada is quoted in this month’s “Memory Lane” as predicting the death of the set-top box.

Brian SantoSuch predictions are nothing new. What’s new is that several prerequisites for eliminating set-tops are gradually, finally, being fulfilled, among them the widening commercial deployment of STBs with separable security schemes and the growing acceptance of tru2way (the former OCAP).

Together, these factors make it technologically and politically feasible for consumer electronics dealers, including LG, Samsung, Yamada’s Panasonic, and recently Sony, to conceive of, design and build TV sets that incorporate the functionality of the set-top.

The question is, when will market conditions be ripe for that type of product? Adoption of tru2way among MSOs is still in its beginning stages, and the optimal manifestation of security technology – CableCards? DCAS? DRM? – is far from settled.

Yet cable operators have always wanted to remove all that set-top inventory from their books, and if that means getting rid of set-tops entirely, well, alright.

The obstacle has always been the Motorola-Cisco duopoly. The cable industry has been explicit in its desire to break the duopoly, but hadn’t the means. In reporting on the DCAS story that begins on page 20, the depth of antipathy against the duopoly revealed in off-the-record comments by many people not quoted in the article was eye-opening.

As a practical matter, changes as profound as eliminating the STB always take more time than one imagines. On the other hand, the rest of the cable industry is incredibly eager to get out from under Motorola’s and Cisco’s thumbs. So maybe this is one change that might happen faster than expected.


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