CableLabs Stamps Panasonic TVs
Panasonic, successful after receiving a much-publicized failing grade in June, is entering the market with high-definition (HD), truway models that sport 42-inch and 50-inch screens. (See Tru2way Troubles?) CableLabs and Panasonic officials confirmed the certifications.
Those models are capable of delivering digital cable services, including interactive applications such as video on demand (VOD), without the need for a separate set-top box. But they will require a cable-operator supplied CableCARD to authorize service.
The CableCARD-based digital televisions available so far can only deliver one-way applications and, based on adoption levels, have been pretty much dead on arrival. (See CableCARD Update V.) Manufacturers hope the tru2way models do better.
Several major U.S. cable operators, including Comcast, have agreed to provide network support for tru2way middleware and to support tru2way in the headends serving all digital cable systems by July 1, 2009. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)
The elements required for tru2way TVs, including the CableCARD interface, are estimated to cost manufacturers about $200. Panasonic isn't talking about the pricing or marketing plans for its tru2way sets, though. "We're just focused and excited about delivering the 2008 holiday launches," says Vic Carlson, director of marketing for Panasonic's TV group.
Panasonic earned CableLabs certification about the same time it was conducting live demonstrations of a tru2way TV earlier this month at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo in Denver. There, Panasonic showed off the capabilities of the 50-inch Viera PZ80Q as it received live signals from a Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) headend, and ran the MSO's interactive program guide along with VOD and other applications. (See Panasonic Plays With Live Ammo .)
Panasonic will likely be the first TV manufacturer to find out how tru2way TVs truly fare at retail, but Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) was first to win CableLabs approval, back in August 2005, and LG hit the mark in January 2007 with a 42-inch plasma HDTV. Neither of those products have made it to retail.
To date, just one set-top box -- a device made by Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) -- has been certified for tru2way. (See ADB Scores tru2way Certification.)
However, there are indications that Panasonic is also closing in on acceptance for its tru2way set-tops. According to recently posted CableLabs testing results, Panasonic obtained Docsis 2.0 certification for a Docsis Set-Top Gateway (DSG) and embedded cable modem following Certification Wave 62. That element, which provides a non-proprietary signaling path for guide data and for other communications with the cable operator, applies to tru2way TVs and set-tops.
A Comcast spokeswoman said the MSO is presently testing Panasonic set-tops in the lab, but would not say when the operator will begin commercial deployments.
Panasonic forged a deal in early 2006 to supply Comcast with 250,000 HD-DVR set-tops outfitted with the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware -- which is used in tru2way devices -- and dual MPEG-2/MPEG-4 support, with an option for up to 1 million boxes in the first year.
The companies' work together doesn't end there. Panasonic has been developing a line of residential network gateway boxes for Comcast, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Panasonic and Comcast unveiled a standard-definition, tru2way-based portable DVR called the "AnyPlay." Comcast is expected to begin offering it in early 2009. (See Comcast, Panasonic Unveil Portable DVR .)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News