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FCC adopts 'plug-and-play'

Tue, 09/09/2003 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted in favor of adopting "Plug-and-Play," a proposed agreement from the cable and consumer electronics industries designed to establish a technical baseline for the delivery of programming to digital TV sets without the need for a separate set-top box.

The FCC approved P&P in a 5-0 vote, the Associated Press reported. The initial agreement, proposed late last year by the cable and CE industries, 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.

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."

He added that the FCC approval demonstrated that the cable and CE industries could reach agreements voluntarily and without regulatory mandates.

"That sound you hear is the excited rumblings of millions of consumers preparing to join the HDTV era now that plug-and-play is a reality," added Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro, in a statement. "This is what many consumers have been waiting for. It's what they want and what they deserve."

Still, the agreement is not without its critics.

DBS providers such as EchoStar Communications have complained that their concerns about P&P are not addressed because they were left out of the process. Premium programmer Starz Encore Group, meanwhile, has expressed fears that subscription VOD content would be subject to "copy-never" conditions.

Many elements that make up plug-and-play run parallel to OpenCable, a CableLabs-led initiative designed to separate out conditional access and encryption and to usher in a retail market for digital cable set-tops.

Like TVs that comply with OpenCable, digital P&P sets will contain slots to house CableCARDs, which, once provided by the cable operator, allow consumers to access the services they are paying for, including premium services such as HBO, Showtime and Starz!

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 will go for $2,299.95 MSRP.

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