Cable Operators

Tru2way Stalls At Retail

8/03/2010 12:01 PM Eastern

Cable’s Tru2way initiative
has fizzled on the retail
front, more than two years after
the industry reached what was
billed as a historic “plug-and-play”
deal among major MSOs
and several big consumer-electronics
manufacturers.

The hope was that Tru2way,
a specification developed and
maintained by CableLabs, would
unleash a panoply of devices that
could access cable’s two-way video
services, such as on-screen guides
and interactive TV apps, without
the need for an operator-leased
set-top. For cable operators, Tru2way also was seen as a way to
meet the Federal Communications
Commission’s requirements
to provide open access to TV services
from third-party devices.

But Panasonic, the only CE
company that
had offered
Tru2way-enabled
products
at retail,
confirmed
last week that it is no longer selling
HDTVs compatible with the
two-way cable technology from
store shelves in three Comcast
markets (Denver, Atlanta and
Chicago).

“We currently have no Tru2way
products at retail, and there are
no announced release dates for
Panasonic Tru2way retail products
at this time,” the company
said in a statement.

NCTA ‘DISAPPOINTED’
Under the June 2008 accord and
subsequent agreements — signed
with CE manufacturers including
Sony, Panasonic, Samsung
Electronics and LG Electronics
— Comcast, Time Warner Cable,
Cox Communications, Cablevision
Systems and Bright House
Networks committed to supporting
Tru2way across their footprints
by mid-2009 (while Charter
Communications
was given
until July
2010).

“We’re disappointed,
I think that’s obvious,
in the failure of CE [companies] to
show up as we had hoped,” National
Cable & Telecommunications
Association general counsel Neal
Goldberg said.

Panasonic, though, hasn’t abandoned
Tru2way. Jeff Cove, Panasonic’s
vice president of technology
and alliances, said the company
has products in the works, including
a standalone “set-back” Tru2way adapter for TVs.

“We decided that the most
scalable way to approach Tru2way was on the set-back box,”
he said.

Even with the CE industry’s
lack of support, Tru2way is far
from dead.

MSOs including Comcast, Time
Warner Cable and Cox Communications
are relying on the spec,
also referred to as the OpenCable
Application Platform (or OCAP), to
give themselves more flexibility
in choosing hardware suppliers
and to shorten ITV development
cycles.

Comcast, for example, now supports
Tru2way in almost 90% of its
headends and is in early trial deployments
with leased Tru2waybased
set-tops from Panasonic
and Samsung, spokeswoman
Jenni Moyer said. The MSO also
has enlisted NDS to help develop
a “hardened” version of the Cable-
Labs OCAP reference implementation
code for its internal use
(“Comcast Wants Box Options,”
June 21, 2010, p. 45).

Even in retail, Tru2way still
may have a future.

CableLabs CEO Paul Liao —
previously the chief technology
officer of Panasonic — said several
retail-oriented devices are
currently in development that
are Tru2way-compatible. “As
those come to market, the situation
could change,” he said.

But Tru2way has undeniably
been a tough sell to the CE industry.
One of the issues: integrating
Tru2way support adds cost
to a TV — $300 per unit, according
to Panasonic’s Cove. Without
multiple manufacturers jumping
on board, economies of scale that
would have reduced those costs
have failed to appear.

“It’s very, very difficult for a single
company to make a market,”
Liao said.

COVERAGE GAPS

Another issue: Tru2way covers
only cable, and today that’s just
about 63% of the pay-TV universe,
according to research firm Magna
Global. To reach the broadest
possible market, consumer-electronics
makers want a way
to plug into satellite, as well as
telco TV services.

The FCC this spring initiated
a proceeding examining how to
create an “AllVid” standard that
would require all multichannel
video programming distributors
to use standardized interfaces
for their video services, as well
as incorporate video from Internet
sources.

Depending on how the commission
defines the rules, Tru2way could still emerge as a
component of an AllVid device
to tap into interactive cable services,
according to Liao.

“The AllVid device should provide
options,” Liao said. But “it
can’t be all things to all people
because that will drive up the
cost.”

Why Tru2way has been a nonstarter for CE,
according to industry executives:


Higher cost: Initially adds significant cost per unit.
Cable-centric: Spec covers only cable; FCC's AllVid proposal would cover all pay TV distributors.
Negligible benefit: Most consumers not interested in alternatives to leased set-tops.
SOURCE: Multichannel News research

September