In preparing this week's Blog, there are several topics that are on my mind. The CableCARD situation continues to come to my mind. As I mentioned in my weekly newsletter, I've been going through various press material from CES over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed a trend among many TV manufacturers for their upcoming 2006 models. It appears that many brands a removing the Digital Cable Ready with CableCARD functionality from many of its new HDTVs. While CableCARD still appears on several top-of-the-line models, it is visibly absent on many other HD televisions in their respective lines. In querying several manufacturers, the answer was YES, they are pulling back on CableCARD for a couple of reasons. And. I can't blame them.
First, the CE companies are dismayed by the complete lack of support by the Cable Industry as a key factor in their decision as well as a cost-saving measure. The individual Cable operators don't make CableCARD aware to its subscribers. It doesn't promote them in any way. New HDTVs from most manufacturers will include NTSC, ATSC and QAM tuners for 2006. Presumably, this situation will change if and when 2-way CableCARD becomes available (2009?). When will that be? It's anyone's guess. Some manufacturers, who are fed up with the whole tuner mandate scenario, are bringing back display-only (tunerless) models. Their rationale is that the consumer is going to attach either a HD satellite box or cable HD box anyway. So, why put extra circuitry in the set? And, it lets the consumer save a few dollars, and also skirts the government tuner mandate. While some folks may be concerned with the lack of a CableCARD-enabled HDTV, all of the manufacturers who offer monitor-only models also offer sets with integrated ATSC and QAM HD tuners. It simply gives the consumer choice. We'll see if it flies this year. Personally, I like monitor-only models.
In related cable industry matters, the cable TV industry has agreed to deploy an open, Java-based software platform starting in October 2006. According to published reports, chief executives of the top six U.S. cable operators pledged at the Consumer Electronics Show, which was held in January 2006, that all of their digital networks will be ready for the new platform by July 2009. Spurred by a government mandate, cable operators are committed to embrace the OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP), which is a middleware layer that has been the subject of debate and development for a decade. OCAP, as specified by the industry's CableLabs R&D arm, will allow a broad range of third-party systems and applications to operate on cable networks for the first time — and are expected to initiate the phasing out of the closed cable set-top box, and bring on two-way CableCARDs. It is staunchly supported by Panasonic, and will launched the first set-top boxes that are OCAP-enabled later this year.
Clearly, 2009 will be the time that the Cable Industry will finally support HDTVs that are Digital Cable Ready with 2-way CableCARDs and include OCAP technology. Let’s face it, Cable wants to sell services, movies, video-on-demand, and the like, and the only way to do that is with 2-way CableCARDs. Of course, the Cable Industry is also threatened by Internet-protocol TV (IPTV), which could clearly undermine their stranglehold on close to 70-percent of the TV viewing public. Microsoft is a strong supporter of IPTV, and hopes to make an initial foray later in the year with SBC. Of course, Microsoft covers all of its bases by adding CableCARD slots to the 2006 Windows Media Center PCs.
Since this Blog is getting a little long, I will wait until next week to talk about my concerns with Component Video, and the passage of 1080i signals by next-generation optical disc players. Stay tuned!