DTV plug-and-play not far away

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One of the major impediments to popularizing high-definition TV may finally
be falling.

Cable operators and TV manufacturers are close to a deal on standards that
would make DTV sets 'digital cable-ready.'

The deal would create standards among cable systems that allow consumer
electronics manufacturers to incorporate cable tuners and descrambling
technology in TV sets sold in retail stores.

By ensuring that a digital TV set is 'plug-and-play' on any cable system, an
agreement would take a lot of the hassle and risk out of buying HDTV sets.

A key element in the negotiations, industry executives said, is that cable
operators have relaxed their insistence that digital tuners not be allowed to
relay high-quality signals to VCRs or other recording devices.

They have also backed off their insistence that Cable operators' research
arm, CableLabs, certify digital TVs as it does cable modems.

Currently, even the highest end digital TV set requires a separate $250 or so
(wholesale) set-top box in order to receive cable signals.

Cable operators have never agreed on a single standard, even for the boxes
they own and lease out to subscribers.

Nor have they been comfortable with consumers owning the equipment.

The consumer electronics industry wants standards that ensure that TV sets
will work anywhere in the country, plus they want to share the set-top wealth
beyond Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola, which between them claim 85%-90% of the
digital cable set-top market.

Cable operators, in turn, see delivering packages of HDTV signals as a key
competitive advantage over bandwidth-constrained DBS rivals.

The National Cable Television Association and Consumer Electronics
Association acknowledge that talks are progressing, but say nothing has been
finalized.

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