Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling

Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) is nearing launch of a new tru2way set-back box (SBB) that would convert the company's Viera brand high-definition TV sets into two-way "digital cable ready" units, but it's asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to lift a rule requiring that the box embed an analog tuner.

Panasonic highlighted the plan in an ex parte document filed Dec. 2 that describes a meeting between several Panasonic executives and FCC officers, including Panasonic CTO Eisuke Tsuyuzaki and FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake.

Panasonic unveiled the tru2way-based SBB at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo last month. The hideaway box is designed to latch to any Panasonic Viera HDTV (from model year 2009 forward) and communicate via an HDMI interface.

Although the SBB would be hidden from view, it would perform all of the functions of a regular tru2way set-top, capable of accessing the MSO's parental control features, electronic program guide, video-on-demand, switched digital video (SDV) lineup, and any other interactive apps supported by the MSO.

Target: Retail parity
Panasonic visited the FCC to make a case that its SBB should not have to be saddled by a rule requiring the box to house an analog tuner, a rule that would only add costs and put constraints on the physical size of the device, the CE giant contended.

The consumer electronics giant also argued that sidestepping that rule would also help it obtain "retail parity" with leased, all-digital set-tops being deployed by major cable MSOs.

And there's one important caveat in the company's argument: "Panasonic requested the Media Bureau to confirm our belief that integration of analog tuning in the SBB is not required by the FCC rules, so long as the SBB is designed to be used only in combination (our emphasis) with a television that supports analog tuning."

As Panasonic sees it, consumers could, if necessary, simply access cable analog programming by switching the TV's input from HDMI to the RF interface.

The Panasonic retail SBB will follow in the wake of two tru2way-certified HDTV sets (a 42-inch and a 50-inch model) that it's been selling in Chicago, Denver, and Atlanta in tandem with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). Panasonic also noted that it will start selling those TVs in Boston "soon." (See Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs and Tru2Way in Atlanta.)

While the controlled deployments of those integrated tru2way sets have received "very high satisfaction" feedback ratings, Panasonic hopes the newer SBB will offer more flexibility, allowing consumers to pair the box with a greater variety of screen sizes. In turn, the strategy will "accommodate slimmer chassis designs."

While it appears Panasonic is making some progress with a tru2way set-back strategy, it's not the first to give it a shot. Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) has already obtained CableLabs certification for its version, and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) has shown some interest in selling that device alongside some of its Bravia TV models. (See ADB Develops Tru2way 'Set-Back', Sony-Comcast Store Has Tru2way 'Set-Back' Box , and Sony Drives ADB's Set-Back.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:51:39 PM
re: Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling

I can't speak for Atlanta, but in Denver I haven't seen them anywhere beyond the Circuit City store in Highlands Ranch, which has been looong since shut down. But I'll check back w/Comcast to reconfirm which stores in the three systems that have the plant ready for Tru2way (Denver, ATL, and Chicago) are actually selling the sets these days, or, if not, which stores will be selling them.

It's quite possible that they aren't being sold in any stores here in Denver, though I suspect you could buy one directly from Panasonic...if you just HAD to have one. But I don't think anyone's saying this initial work has been anything beyond a controlled retail experiment. and with the FCC taking another look at the CableCARD and the relative lack of a retail market for CableCARD TVs and set-tops, I'll be surprised to hear if there's much tru2way/cablecard retail activity that will be going on this holiday season.  I

n fact, I'm starting to wonder if there will be much tru2way activity to come at all in the nearer-term until we know what the FCC wants to do about this.   As the CE guys go, it appears they are far more interested in developing broadband-connected TVs with Netflix, widgets  and other over-the-top bells and whistles that going through the integration and distribution pain of develping tru2way products...and then crossing their fingers that they'll actually sell.  


gleapman 12/5/2012 | 3:51:39 PM
re: Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling Where in Denver are Panasonic tru2way sets being sold? We had this exchange 5 months ago. Nobody from Panasonic corrected my post that there were no stores in Denver or Atlanta selling those models. Do you have some new information or do you just enjoy spreading this misinformation?
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:51:38 PM
re: Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling

Point taken. We may have to clarify those markets going forward to say that consumers would be, ummm, hard-pressed to actually find any of these tru2way sets in a retail environment. 

Pretty much confirmed that they are nowhere to be found in Denver area stores. However i think the set-back concept isn't a bad one...if some cable MSOs and Panasonic (and perhaps Sony later on) look to move forward on that. Makes sense not to go through all that integration INSIDE the TV set, and offers some flexibility for the TV makers so they aren't weighted down with tru2way-based sets that few people really want. if consumers hate the idea of having a set-top clutter things up, the set-back might offer a nice answer.

Of course, we're going to have to wait to find out what happens at the FCC on all of this. It looks as if the FCC has come to the right conclusion that cablecard has failed to spur much in the way of a retail market...so an alternative makes lots of sense.

ap99 12/5/2012 | 3:51:38 PM
re: Panasonic Appeals Over 'Set-Back' Ruling

I don't know if you can find the tru2way sets at this point.  It was a pz80q series and it was pretty much a failure.  The sets worked perfectly but comcast seemed to be the only content provider and was doing little to back it.  This should improve however if you are able to convert any 2009 set and forward.  The pz80q was a 2008 cosmetic and wasn't a top of the line set.  It was available at circuity city and sears.  It may still be available at Sears.

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