The cable industry and TV manufacturers last week removed-mostly-the last big roadblock preventing the rollout of cable-compatible digital TV sets.
The two sides, determined to protect their own marketing positions, for years have debated what labels should be used to differentiate TV sets that contain two-way connections necessary for interactive services from simpler ones that allow viewers to watch digital programs over cable but without using the most advanced services envisioned for cable broadband networks.
Under an agreement between the National Cable Television Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, sets with full interactive capabilities will be labeled "digital TV-cable interactive." Sets lacking the two-way connections will be called "digital TV-cable connect."
The cable industry pushed for separate labels out of fear that consumers would be confused-and become angry at cable operators-if both types of sets were described as "cable ready" even though some were not equipped to take advantage of interactive cable services such as e-commerce.
Set makers say the connection, known as the IEEE 1394 "firewire," isn't needed for small counter-top TVs that are unlikely to be used for interactive services.
Sets bearing the new labels should reach retail stores by fourth quarter 2001, CEA officials said.
The trade groups cautioned, however, that labeling agreements must still be reached for digital set-top boxes. They also noted that a pact with the motion picture industry for copying safeguards remains a long way off.
Without copy-protection agreements limiting the number of times digital content can be reproduced, filmmakers and other content providers will be reluctant to make digital productions. Consumer acceptance of DTV is expected to be sluggish until movies and other top offerings are available.
Recognizing the lingering problems, FCC Chairman William Kennard said in a written statement, "I am pleased that the cable and electronics industries are continuing to press forward with industry solutions. Final resolution of these issues will contribute significantly to the swift rollout of digital television capabilities."
Broadcasters complained that yesterday's deal took too long to reach and accomplished too little. For starters, they said, all cable-compatible DTV sets must contain the firewire connection necessary for interactive services. The National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television urged the FCC to impose rules for labeling and copy protection and enforce earlier NCTA-CEA agreements.