I've posted about this before in prior months and it looks like the wheels are really starting to turn..This will be good for the cable folks who don't want to pay for a box and still have some capabilities outside of a cable card (which there is still quite a bit left to desire from a cc).
Set-Top Boxes Fading Out
Cable operators hope a new internal system—dubbed tru2way—will keep Internet competition out of the living rooms of their customers
In the quest for the ultimate home entertainment system, the days of the cable television set-top box may be numbered.
As soon as this holiday season, televisions will become available with the familiar cable box effectively embedded in the set, giving consumers easier access to interactive digital cable, including on-demand services, digital video recording and other features cable subscribers currently control through their set-top boxes.
With a built-in cable connection, viewers would need just one remote control to operate both the set and cable service.
But the cable industry mainly sees the new technology as ushering in the next generation of two-way services allowing viewers to interact more with programming and advertising.
The cable operators say that as momentum builds for the internal system—dubbed tru2way—a variety of interactive features such as gaming, shopping or voting for a reality show contestant will be built into TVs. Sets might eventually have broadband connectivity so viewers can check their e-mail on their TVs while they watch a program, for example. In addition, the technology will be embedded into consumer electronics such as portable media players or mobile phones so the different devices can interact with each other.
The technology is "about providing a national platform for consumers to buy televisions that don't need a set-top box," said Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which includes the country's six largest cable operators, covering more than 82 percent of U.S. subscribers.
Sony Electronics came onboard Tuesday, announcing it has signed an agreement with the association to support the technology. Other big manufacturers have also agreed to adopt the standard for their products.
If the interactive services touted by the cable industry sounds like what consumers already do on the Internet, it's because cable operators want to protect their traditional business from the onslaught of online media. The ongoing race to integrate the Internet with television has created a confusing array of on-demand services and gadgets, many of which compete with cable services.
Consumers can record programs on their TiVo devices or watch streaming TV shows and movies for free on Web sites such as Hulu.com. Last week, online movie rental company Netflix introduced its own set-top box that lets its customers stream a limited catalog of movies on their TVs. Apple has a device that can rent films from iTunes and play stored media such as digital photos on a TV set.
The tru2way initiative comes "at a time when the cable industry needs to distract you from the Internet," said Forrester analyst James McQuivey. "They're trying to celebrate the fact that Sony is onboard. What they're really trying to say is: 'We've got you taken care of, family. … You don't need Internet in the living room.' "
The cable industry touts its "triple play" services: voice, broadband and television. If consumers find an easy way to link their personal computers to their TV, they might cancel their cable TV subscription and just keep the broadband connection. Cable companies want to keep viewers using their premium services. They believe the Internet-like, interactive features enabled by the new technology will help "stem the tide of users fleeing toward online types of sources for content," said Sean Wargo, president of The Market Sage, a consumer electronics consulting firm.
Besides Sony, big manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and Panasonic have already embraced the technology. No TVs with tru2way are on the market yet, but Dietz said some Panasonic sets might be available by this year's holiday season. Sony Electronics spokesman Dave Migdal said in an e-mail the company doesn't yet have a release date for its first tru2way products.
"HDTV sets are an obvious starting point," Migdal said, with other products such as Sony's VAIO computers, Blu-ray players and PlayStation 3 systems eventually incorporating the technology. Sony is also looking into Internet video-enabled TV sets, as it manufactures a separate device that can stream Internet video from providers such as CBS and AOL onto a TV.
Industry executives say the familiar set-top boxes will still be around for many years, given the millions of consumers whose current TVs are still working fine. Anya Chambers, a spokeswoman for Motorola, a major manufacturer of set-top boxes, said none of the company's cable customers have plans to change their business models.
The new technology is "not a straight replacement" for the traditional boxes, Chambers said. "There's room for both."
Wargo said he believes the new TV sets could have appeal. The majority of cable subscribers are more comfortable navigating a traditional cable television channel guide than sorting through Web sites and online services to watch their favorite programs. When they upgrade their sets, they might be ready to chuck their set-top boxes but not cut their cable connections entirely.
"There's a strong installed base of users who will probably find this compelling as they look to adopt more advanced features like DVR or video on demand," Wargo said. "For more main or late adopters who are still on the fence, … they might see this as a safe way to get in the pool."