DTV deal needs FCC help


The Consumer Electronics Association and cable operators (led by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association) have
reached an agreement on "plug-and-play" for digital-TV sets -- a move that will
allow consumers to buy digital-TV sets sometime in 2004 that will not require cable
set-top boxes to receive high-definition-TV content via cable.

The 2004 date relies on the Federal Communications Commission approving some
of the proposals in a timely manner. FCC chairman Michael Powell said the FCC
will work expeditiously on the requested FCC actions after interested parties

"This agreement wears down totally what was probably the largest obstacle or
bump to HDTV," CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro said.

A total of 14 consumer-electronics companies and seven major cable operators
representing more than 75 percent of all cable subscribers signed the memo of
understanding, which includes voluntary commitments, as well as technical
proposals for FCC rules.

Among the manufacturers signing on are Hitachi America Ltd., JVC, Panasonic Consumer Electronics,
Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc., Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics America Inc. and Thomson Consumer Electronics. Cable operators include Comcast Corp., Time
Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Advance/Newhouse Communications, Insight Communications Co. Inc. and
Cable One Inc.

The proposals go beyond simple viewing of content to include the tricky
issues involving recording devices and copy protection.

The Motion Picture Association of America said it had not yet reviewed the
agreement and could not comment on its substance, so it remains to be seen
whether it will pass muster with Hollywood.

Under the terms of the agreement, cable operators will use IEEE 1394
(fire wire) connections on HD set-top boxes to allow consumers to record content
and also to protect current digital-TV sets from immediate obsolescence.

Consumer-electronics manufacturers, in turn, have agreed to support FCC
labeling regulations that specify Digital Visual Interface (DVI)/High-bandwidth
Digital Content Protection (HDCP) or HDMI/HDCP, when available.

"This gives us a way to move into the future with appropriately protected
content protected according to rules we're sending to the FCC," Comcast vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz said.