Sony Electronics, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and six cable operators inked an agreement yesterday that brings Sony into the tru2way fold.

The terms of the agreement with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision and Bright House Networks – which together pass more than 105 million homes and serve 82 percent of the nation’s cable subscribers – were outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among the parties.

The cable industry, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and consumer electronics manufacturers (CEMs) have for years been embroiled regarding what technology to use for two-way devices on set-top boxes (STBs), TVs and other devices. The CEA has advocated DCR+ as the technology of choice, but cable operators have opposed it as too costly and have instead put forth tru2way, or the OpenCable Platform, as the best way to provision interactive digital and high-definition (HD) video services.

TiVo, Samsung, and Panasonic have previously backed OpenCable, or tru2way, as the technology of choice for two-way services. Earlier this month, CableLabs announced that Samsung was the first CEM to sign up for its new tru2way Host Device License Agreement (story here).

The tru2way Host Device License Agreement provides manufacturers of retail consumer electronics devices with a streamlined license process for technology that is required to interface two-way interactive cable networks. CableLabs said the new host device license agreement also aligns with the “openness” focus that was announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

As part of the Sony agreement, the parties will adopt the Java-based tru2way technology as the national interactive "plug-and-play" standard, new streamlined technology licenses, and new ways for content providers, CEMs, information technology (IT) companies and cable operators to cooperate in evolving the tru2way technology at CableLabs.

Detailed terms of the MOU, such as when Sony expects to have tru2way TVs available for purchase, were not released. Another benefit of tru2way is that it will allow Sony and other TV manufacturers to deploy TVs without STBs.

"This marketplace agreement is good news for consumers," said Edgar Tu, Sony Electronics' SVP of TV operations of 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."

At the tru2way conference in New Orleans earlier this month, Panasonic CTO Paul Liao said that his company expects to have 42-inch and 50-inch tru2way TVs on the market this fall, while the company’s 150-inch plasma TV that was shown at CES in January is still one or two years out (story here).

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to designate tru2way as “interactive digital cable ready,” yesterday’s news was greeted with some enthusiasm on Capitol Hill.

Representative Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of the leading advocates in Congress for new technology and consumer freedoms, said: "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.

“With this groundbreaking compromise, these industry-leading companies and other major cable companies will ensure that consumers will have broader access to innovative, competitive, cable-ready navigation devices from commercial retailers, and will have expanded options to enjoy cable programming, including video-on-demand and other interactive programming options."

A spokesman for the CEA said the that organization was pleased with the Sony announcement, “as we prefer marketplace solutions to regulatory mandates, and this development is positive for the companies involved and for our industries.”

As for DCR+, the spokesman said “it is difficult to say whether alternative technical proposals for cable equipment compatibility will be chosen by some cable operators or equipment manufacturers in the future.”

OCAP was originally part of the broader OpenCable initiative, which CableLabs launched in 1997 to promote the deployment of interactive services over cable. OCAP consists of a stack of middleware software that resides between applications and the operating system within a consumer electronics device, such as a STB or OCAP-compliant TV set.

JAVA-based OpenCable devices can have new information or applications ported to them because of their two-way capabilities, with enhanced television (ETV) and EBIF being designated as lighter-weight applications that can run on legacy STBs before porting over to a full OpenCable environment.

For developers, content providers and broadcasters, OCAP holds the promise of “write once, deploy everywhere,” as opposed to writing to various proprietary platforms. Customers not only benefit from the new services and applications but will also be able to take their OCAP-devices from one MSO footprint to another when they move.

More Broadband Direct:

• Sony steps up to tru2way plate 

• Parts of U.S. still not ready for digital transition 

• Verizon is steps away from offering FiOS TV in NYC boroughs 

• Akimbo shuts down, looks to sell assets 

• Cisco tightens mobile integration 

• Mickey on-demand: TiVo signs VOD deal with Walt Disney 

• Broadband Briefs for 5/28/08