Manufacturers: Approve Plug-and-Play Now

TV makers looking ahead at their product development cycles have told the FCC to quickly approve standards for digital plug-and-play cable compatibility, and they warn that delays could keep the advanced sets from hitting the market until after the 2004 holiday season.

The comments came in response to questions from the FCC Media Bureau to various players in the DTV transition. Several TV makers also took the opportunity to highlight their historical contributions to advanced TV and to keep pressure on other industries, particularly broadcasters, who they say are stifling the transition by broadcasting limited amounts of high-quality programming and getting by with low-power signals.

But most of all, they want approval of the landmark agreement reached in December between several cable and consumer electronics companies. Consumers will be hesitant to buy new TVs that don't offer both over-the-air and cable DTV, they said.

"Mid-2004 product development timetables essentially require a final decision on Digital Cable compatibility by August 2003," lawyers for Philips Electronics North America Corp. wrote, echoing several other companies. "We strongly urge the FCC to expeditiously approve the 'plug-and-play' cable agreement to help remove consumer disincentive to purchase integrated DTV receivers in 2004."

The issue is especially timely given that the largest sets will be forced to include over-the-air ATSC tuners starting July 1, 2004. The manufacturers would like to include the arguably more useful cable compatibility in those sets also.

"Simply put, the Commission's mandate for integrated digital tuners ... coupled with delay in putting in place rules for cable compatibility, will result in consumers being forced to buy expensive technology they cannot use," lawyers for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc. told the commission. "The 67 percent of the American public who rely primarily on cable will find the mandated digital tuners useless and an unfair 'tax' if the product enhancement does not include cable functionality."

But not everyone appreciates the cable-CE agreement reached in December. The Motion Picture Association of America has argued that the copy-protection scheme in the agreement is inadequate. Starz Encore Group has complained that the scheme would classify subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) as "copy never" programming, which Starz Encore called "inconsistent with consumer expectations."