About Two Years Away
the OpenCable retail standard finally in place, product
development cycles place launch in 2002.
if negotiating national standards for a retail OpenCable
set-top box was not enough of a challenge, the cable
industry also must learn how to work with the consumer
electronics industry, the product manufacturers expected
to design and build retail cable-ready digital TV sets.
Satisfying both the
OpenCable requirements and the requirements for retail
competition among CE products, say observers, will not be
standard specifies the interoperable hardware interfaces
for retail digital cable set-top boxes, as required by
the federal government. A certified OpenCable box sold
anywhere in America is supposed to work on any
OpenCable-compliant cable headend elsewhere in the United
Don Dulchinos, VP
advanced platforms and services at CableLabs, says the
OpenCable specification was essentially completed in 2000
with finalization of a removable point of deployment
(POD) card by Motorola and Scientific Atlanta (barely
meeting the federal deadline).
Next comes the
OpenCable certification process for set-top
manufacturers, a cycle of development and testing that
averages about a year for DOCSIS cable modems, he
reports. Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta have formally
applied for OpenCable set-top box certification, and
eight more companies are doing "dry runs" to test their
preliminary box designs.
certification process applies for OpenCable television
sets, Dulchinos says, noting that the average development
cycle for a consumer electronic product is at least 18
months. Retail deployment of OpenCable CE products,
therefore, can't happen until 2002 or 2003.
"An OpenCable TV
set assumes the POD card slot will be built into the
front of the television itself," he says. "An example is
the prototype Panasonic TV set shown at the Western Show
and then at CES. There's a card slot in the chassis
forming the base of that TV."
A related step was
the announcement at CES that TeleCruz Technology inked a
product development agreement with Zenith to integrate
TeleCruz interactive TV (iTV) technology into Zenith's
multimedia television platform. The deal advances
Zenith's first generation of integrated interactive TV
working on integrated OpenCable TV sets, he believes,
include Samsung, LG Electronics, and Philips. "But no one
so far has formally applied for OpenCable certification
for a television set." Another wave of OpenCable
certification began in February.
manufacturers are not going to put anything in a TV set
unless they feel a standard is totally finalized," says
Matt Wong, VP engineering for Canal+ U.S. Technologies.
"Merging together the digital cable box and digital ATSC
TV set will not be easy, and there are many layers of
integration to address, such as differences in the signal
modulation and power supply, let alone the fact cable is
still reluctant to support wide-screen HDTV."
"We're working on
digital TV sets able to handle both HDTV terrestrial
reception and OpenCable-compliant communications," says
Haig Krakirian, VP software engineering at Pioneer
digital technologies. He anticipates one vendor or
another eventually will be the first to launch an
OpenCable TV set, proving the market, and then the rest
of the CE industry will jump in.
step toward national cable standardization is
finalization of the OpenCable Applications Platform
(OCAP) software interface standard, the interoperability
standard for interactive TV (iTV) middleware, being
released in early 2001.
Once adopted by iTV
software vendors (e.g., Canal+, Microsoft, OpenTV,
PowerTV, Wink, Worldgate, etc.) iTV content authored for
one cable operator should play equally well on the cable
system of any other OCAP-compliant MSO nationwide. The
same goes for the box.
cable-ready television sets able to handle the full range
of interactive TV services, Dulchinos says, "involves a
collaborative process between all the vendors and
CableLabs to develop a viable spec, to prove it works,
and then introduce it into the competitive marketplace.
If you understand the TV business, you understand what
has to happen here."
"The situation at
the moment is pretty stagnant," says Strategist Group
broadband analyst Keith Kennebeck. "The OpenCable push
into set-top boxes hasn't yet come to fruition with
actual boxes in the retail market, and that needs to
happen before there is any substantial effort by cable's
'old boys network' to push OpenCable into cable-ready TV
consumers do not yet even know about OpenCable, he says,
so they cannot appreciate the value proposition of having
a box they can plug in and play interactive content
anywhere in the country.
incentive now to buy an analog cable-ready TV set,"
Kennebeck says, "so it will take a massive public
education campaign before consumers will want OpenCable