Sony, Cablers Plot the End of the Set-Top Box

Sony Electronics has signed a deal with the nation’s six largest cable companies that will enable the production of two-way digital televisions, providing advanced services without a set-top box.

It’s the biggest announcement yet concerning the cable industry’s tru2way technology that it says will help cable systems reach the goal of a retail market for two-way devices that would work in cable systems across the country.

Read more about the Sony-cable deal in the June 25 print and digital editions of TV Technology.

The six cable companies—Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks—pass more than 105 million U.S. homes and serve more than 82 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said other consumer electronics companies will be beneficiaries of this new national two-way “plug-and-play” platform and have also been invited to formally join the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Sony.

NCTA said the agreement makes it clear that consumers will be able to enjoy a choice of differentiated two-way products at retail and through cable operators from a variety of manufacturers.

The agreement includes safeguards to facilitate the development of a robust, two-way retail market and to ensure that cable operators can continue to develop and offer new competitive services.

“I congratulate Sony and the major cable operators for achieving consensus on a set of core principles that will speed the introduction of new two-way plug-and-play devices,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “With this groundbreaking compromise, these industry-leading companies and other major cable companies will ensure that consumers will have broader access to innovative competitive cable ready navigation devices from commercial retailers and will have expanded options to enjoy cable programming, including video on demand and other interactive programming options.”

As part of the agreement, the parties will adopt the Java-based tru2way solution as the national interactive “plug-and-play” standard; new streamlined technology licenses; and new ways for content providers, consumer electronics manufacturers, information technology companies and cable operators to cooperate in evolving the tru2way technology at industry consortium Cable Television Laboratories (CableLabs).

tru2way, its backers have said, enable “write once, run anywhere” applications and incorporation of secure digital interfaces to handle copyright issues.

Detailed terms of the MOU have not yet been released, while other potential signatories complete their review of the document, NCTA said.