Panasonic signs on for cable “POD”

For years the POD — addressable content protection in a plug-in module — has been touted as a way to deliver pay television services without the need for an outboard set-top box. FCC-approved PODs have been shown for years at television industry trade shows as part of the “OpenCable” initiative at CableLabs, the cable industry’s nonprofit research and development consortium.

Panasonic Consumer Electronics has become the first major television set manufacturer to license the technology. Panasonic signed a POD-Host Interface License Agreement (PHILA) that allows it to build consumer DTV sets that can receive high and standard definition digital cable programming through a cable-company provided plug-in security module.

Developed by CableLabs, the POD-Host interface provides the standardized and secure communications link between an individually addressable “POD” (point of deployment) security module, which provides the necessary customization for operation with the consumer’s local cable system and the “host” digital television.

The card-sized POD module, supplied by cable operators to their customers, is inserted in the card-slot in the TV or other outboard device to authorize access to encryption-protected digital programming, including premium cable services. In essence, it puts the full functionality of a cable set-top box on a removable card.

Although there was some initial concern that Panasonic’s action could derail negotiations to create wider cable/broadcast TV connectivity standards, the deal appears to be too limited to have a negative impact on more extensive efforts to create full plug and play consumer electronics products. Panasonic’s license covers only “unidirectional products,” which vastly limits the operational control a cable operator can have over the display device.

The OpenCable initiative, managed by the Advanced Platforms and Services group at CableLabs, began in 1997. Its goal was to help the cable industry deploy interactive services over cable. When fully deployed, its specifications would allow standard interoperable receivers to be sold at retail, rather than as proprietary products from cable providers.

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