The Federal Communications Commission last month unanimously voted in favor of adopting "Plug-and-Play" (P&P), a proposal from the cable and consumer electronics industries that sets a technical baseline for set-top-free digital TV sets.
The initial agreement, proposed late last year, covers "unidirectional" services. Cable and CE parties are currently working on a more complex, two-way version of the agreement that accounts for video-on-demand and other interactive services.
As expected, top associations for the cable and CE industries lauded the FCC decision, despite the fact that the agency reportedly approved a modified, broadcast-friendly version of the agreement that calls for P&P sets to house off-air digital tuners.
NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs said the agreement will be good for consumers because it will "hasten the day when 'digital cable-ready' television sets will reach the market, making it easier for cable customers to access digital television services such as high-definition television programming without the need for set-top boxes."
But the agreement is not without its share of critics. EchoStar Communications, for one, complained that its concerns about the agreement were not addressed because it claims it was left out of the process.
Many P&P elements run parallel to OpenCable, a CableLabs-led initiative designed to separate conditional access and encryption and to usher in a retail market for digital cable set-tops.
P&P sets, like those that comply with Open-Cable, will contain slots to house CableCARDs, which, when authorized by the cable operator, enable consumers to access the services they are paying for.
To date, CableLabs has awarded OpenCable qualification to CableCARDs made by Motorola Broadband, NDS Group and Scientific-Atlanta, and has granted OpenCable certification to four TV models from Panasonic, including the PT-53WXD63, a 53-inch, 16:9 projection set that lists for $2,299.95.