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CableLabs Clears Panasonic Tru2way Box

CableLabs has "verified" a Docsis Set-Top Gateway (DSG) that will get housed inside a new tru2way-based Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) digital set-top that, sources say, is based on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Residential Network Gateway (RNG) specifications.

According to data posted by CableLabs, the Colorado-based R&D house stamped the DSG as "verified for interoperability" during Certification Wave 73, and linked it to a Panasonic model called the PCH2200.

Panasonic lists no such product on its Website, but it's believed to be a tru2way-based HD-DVR that the consumer electronics giant intends to sell to Comcast and other MSOs. A source says Panasonic doesn’t intend to sell the box at retail, as it's done to a limited degree with two tru2way-certified HD sets. (See Cable's Tru2way Build Continues and Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs.)

Panasonic has yet to provide Light Reading Cable with any specific answers about the model in question, but it appears to be a close cousin (in product number and name, anyway) to the PCH2180.

Not The PCH2200

According to the specs for that box, it is a multi-tuner HD-DVR powered by the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP, the middleware piece of tru2way). It contains a slot for a CableCARD and supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4, VC-1, and the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI).

The DSG component (based on Docsis 2.0) paired with the PCH2200 set-tops is not there to deliver IP video, but instead to provide a standard signaling path for the MSO to deliver guide data and other info to the set-top box. DSG is also a specified requirement for any tru2way device. Some future Docsis 3.0-based gateways under development will enable operators to deliver video over IP, however.

Will Comcast use it?
Getting DSG verification gets the Panasonic box one step closer to deployment, though it will still have to go through a battery of tests before it sees the light of day on a cable system. Although it's not believed to be tagged for retail, the PCH2200 may still end up going through the trouble of getting full tru2way certification from CableLabs.

As for how all this connects to Comcast, the MSO has developed an "open" RNG project that covers product specs for a range of digital box products and could give Comcast and other operators a way to obtain set-tops from sources beyond the so-called US box "duopoly" of Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). (See CableLabs Stamps New Cisco Set-Top .)

Panasonic also happens to have a box deal with Comcast. In 2006, Comcast awarded Panasonic with an initial order for 250,000 HD-DVR boxes outfitted with OCAP and hard drives with a minimum of 250 gigabytes of storage. Comcast also had an option to buy up to 1 million more during the first year of that deal.

But getting from that point to field deployments has not happened quickly. Comcast has not revealed when it will begin to use Panasonic boxes, but it's believed to be conducting tests as it preps for that day.

In 2008, Panasonic and Comcast announced the joint development of a portable, tru2way-based DVR. Last year, Comcast confirmed that it was "revisiting" that product to see what other features, including HD capabilities, might be included in a final version. However, sources now say that it's growing unlikely that the product will ever get deployed. (See Comcast, Panasonic Unveil Portable DVR and Comcast, Panny Polishing Portable DVR .)

Panasonic is also developing a tru2way "set-back set-top" that can be mounted on its line of HD sets. Panasonic has not announced a specific launch date for that product. (See Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling and CableLabs Specs Tru2way Set-Back Box.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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