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More Firms Go the Way of Tru2way

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
6/9/2008
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The tru2way floodgates have busted open... at least when it comes to support by some of the major players (and even a few minor ones) from the consumer electronics (CE) arena.

Just two weeks after Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) broke a deadlock by signing a "binding" memorandum of understanding with six major cable MSOs that paves the way for interactive, two-way set-tops and digital TVs based on the tru2way platform, five other companies followed suit on Monday: Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) , Digeo Inc. , Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC), and Samsung Corp. . (See Sony Supports tru2way and tru2way Gains CE Support.)

While Sony's involvement was a breakthrough in that it has been slow to embrace tru2way and historically has backed a controversial alternative called DCR+, the latest vendors to join the MOU have all previously developed products based on the tru2way platform, which includes a common middleware (the OpenCable Application Platform) and the licenses necessary to support the removable CableCARD.

Panasonic and Samsung already have set-tops and set-top-free digital TVs in the mix that support tru2way. ADB marked its official entry to the U.S. market last year. Digeo, meanwhile, introduced a CableCARD-based set-top at last month's cable confab in New Orleans. (See ADB Aims for US Set-Top Market and New Moxi Boxi.)

As for Intel, signing the MOU reaffirms that the chipmaker is still serious about making some hay on cable devices, though it's been relatively quiet for about a year. Last June, Intel signed the OpenCable Platform accord in tandem with a plan to develop system-on-a-chip (SOC) products, including some set-top models Comcast will deploy. (See Intel Goes Inside Cable... Again and Cable Intel-ligence.)

Gathering support from this latest handful was "inevitable," according to Gary Sasaki, president and principal strategic analyst for digdia, a research firm based in Cupertino, Calif.

LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , an early supporter of OpenCable and tru2way, remains notably absent from the list of MOU signees. "The fact they weren't there was a surprise," Sasaki says. Late last month, an LG spokesman said the CE company was reviewing the MOU.

The cable industry has yet to release the details of the terms outlined in the MOU as other companies, including LG, take a long look at it. One item of interest will be how the MOU addresses a "monitor application" that polices how the TV or set-top allocates processing resources. Some consumer electronics parties have expressed worries that the monitor gives too much control to the cable industry. However, the cable industry recently has made some concessions that will allow upcoming CableCARD-based TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) boxes to run in different modes that preserve TiVo's applications as well as guides and other services that are native to the cable operator. (See TiVo à la Mode .)

"Like most resolutions of complicated technical and business disputes, this [MOU agreement] is a compromise. But I am convinced it is a resolution that is good for the American consumer," National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) CEO Kyle McSlarrow said Monday morning during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

From the MSO side, the tru2way MOU is supported by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. , and Bright House Networks , operators representing 80 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers and about 105 million homes passed. Still missing among U.S. cable's top 10 operators are Suddenlink Communications , Insight Communications Co. Inc. , Mediacom Communications Corp. , and CableOne .

Among some operators already on board with the MOU, Time Warner Cable has distributed almost 1 million tru2way devices. Comcast expects to have 95 percent of its network tru2way-enabled by year-end, while Cox is looking to have it supported across the board by mid-2009. (See MSOs Open Up on Tru2way.)

So far, some of the nation's largest telcos have not shown any interest in supporting tru2way. (See Do the Telcos Fear tru2way?)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News




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