NCTA Holds OpenCable Open House

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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) showed off some interactive bells and whistles Monday for FCC officials and others at a showcase of its OpenCable platform.

 It was a mini, road show version of its techno extravaganza at the annual Cable Show, with NCTA

President Kyle McSlarrow pointing out that with new ethics rules,

Washington

travel has been curtailed (the show was in

Las Vegas

).

 OpenCable is an effort to provide a standardized content tools so that developers can write software

for interactive applications that will work across systems and with a variety of set-top boxes, TVs and PC's.

NCTA said Monday that Cable Labs was teaming up with Microsoft to work on ways that cable, two-way

interactive service could operate on a PC. Intel is also working on a chip for a variety of electronics devices that would include the OpenCable standard.

 Time Warner is currently testing the OpenCable enabled services for a handful of digital subs in New

York, Charlotte, and Raleigh.

 At the NCTA demonstration, companies like Comcast, Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, and Microsoft were

demonstrating cable's interactive future.

 That importantly includes switched digital video, which will free up bandwidth for advanced

applications by delivering only the channels a viewer wants to watch, a sort of bandwidth a la carte that will only deliver a channel to a set-top box when it is surfed to.

 McSlarrow also said that cable's future is "wideband," which is a broadband-on-steroids service of

100 megabits per second and higher bit rates.

 The cable industry argues that to make this future a reality, it needs to convert customers to

digital cable and reclaim analog bandwidth, aggregating those channels to deliver wideband, for instance. It also argues that the industry should not be saddled with additional broadcast carriage requirements that reduce its flexibility to provide interactive services like the ones it demonstrated Monday.

 Among the services being shown off Monday were video games that could be played on one portion of

the TV screen while a show was airing and a weather report or traffic report was available at the click of a remote.

Then there was the feature that allowed an imbedded DVR to be set to scout for and record all the Tom Cruise movies airing across all those vaunted 500 channels, or however many there were in the relevant system.

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