News

Tru2way Believers

6/13/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Traffic was heavy last week on cable's two-way boulevard.

As operators tooted their own horns over deals with five more manufacturers on revised licensing terms for tru2way interactive TV technology, one of the industry's key partners in the initiative — Panasonic — apparently crashed on its first test drive in CableLabs certification testing.

Meanwhile, Comcast submitted a copy of the industry's binding tru2way licensing agreement in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, revealing that consumer-electronics manufacturers are allowed to displace an MSO's own navigation screens only under specific circumstances.

The eight-page “memorandum of understanding” outlines specific commitments the operators must meet in deploying and supporting tru2way.

The agreement was first signed last month by Sony Electronics in a breakthrough deal with the six largest cable operators. Five other licensees were announced last week — Panasonic, Samsung Electronics, Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB), Digeo and Intel — each of which were prior licensees of the technology.

The tru2way specification theoretically will let any certified two-way device access interactive cable services, including switched digital video channels, video-on-demand and an MSO's interactive program guide.

Comcast included the MOU as part of a June 10 filing with the FCC's Media Bureau after agency staffers requested a copy of the agreement. CableLabs initially said the agreement was not being made public because other consumer-electronics companies were reviewing the terms.

Among other things, the agreement restricts the way third-party CE devices may use on-screen real-estate. The issue had been one bone of contention in the years-long standoff between the Consumer Electronics Association and cable on opening access to two-way services.

Tru2way-based products — such as HDTV sets or digital video recorders — may display the CE manufacturer's navigation controls only if a user has initiated an action to access those controls, they appear the same way regardless of channel and are “transitory.” Licensees are also prohibited from displaying on-screen ads.

With respect to guide data, the MOU requires the operators to provide only a pass-through of the CBS broadcast signal containing Gemstar-TV Guide International's electronic programming guide data.

As previously reported by Multichannel News, under the terms of the MOU, five of the operators — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks — have committed to rolling out tru2way in 100% of their systems by July 2009. Charter Communications will do so by July 2010.

In addition, according to the agreement, the MSOs are required to include tru2way support in 20% of their own set-top boxes bought after July 1, 2009, a commitment that will end when 10 million tru2way-based devices have been deployed industrywide.

There's also a “sunset” provision that ends the operators' obligation to support tru2way if CE makers ship fewer than 500,000 tru2way-based devices over the course of any 24-month period after July 1, 2009.

Meanwhile, the agreement calls for the formation of an advisory board, with representatives from operators, content companies, CE manufacturers and information-technology vendors.

Members of this board will meet at least once a year. If a change to tru2way is being considered, each of the six MSOs will have one vote on whether to accept or reject it.

The three other constituencies on the advisory board — content, CE and IT companies — will have one vote each, so the cable operators could overrule any proposed changes if they voted as a bloc.

In another two-way development that surfaced last week, Panasonic's first tru2way TV units encountered “dozens and dozens” of bugs in testing, according to telecom-industry blogger Cynthia Brumfield, citing anonymous sources.

The unusually poor results may indicate that Panasonic's first tru2way-based products won't be ready in time for the 2008 holiday shopping season, according to Brumfield's post last week on IPDemocracy.com.

However, Panasonic spokesman Jim Reilly said the company still expects tru2way-enabled HDTVs to deliver in time for the holiday selling season this year.

Panasonic announced plans to launch 42- and 50-inch models of plasma HDTVs with tru2way digital cable capability at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

CableLabs responded to the blog post with a statement saying that Panasonic has entered an upcoming certification wave and will have “ample time” to meet its rollout schedule.

“It is common for devices to require multiple test runs before achieving CableLabs certification,” the R&D organization said. “Manufacturers generally account for such timing in their product plans.”

September