Panasonic introduced last week the first of four digital TV sets that connect directly to cable systems without a set-top box. These cable-ready sets will be available by early November and represent an important first step in the movement to a full digital television world.
The four sets are the first certified by research consortium CableLabs under its OpenCable program. They willshepherd the migration of digital TV from a specialty item to a mass product, said Dr. Paul Liao, president of Panasonic Technologies Co. and chief technology officer of Matsushita Electric Corp. of America, best known for its Panasonic brand. “It really is the beginning of making digital TV available. [It is] one of the important first steps in the transition to a completely digital system,” he said.
For cable operators, the rollout of integrated sets, from Panasonic and other consumer electronics manufacturers, eliminates the need for a truck roll when a consumer signs up for services. Viewers will still need to procure a point-of-deployment removable security module, the security card that is now called CableCARD, to handle encryption.
The first of the four Panasonic DTVs was slated to be introduced at CEDIA, the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association show held in Indianapolis late last week. The PT-53WXD63 has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,999.95.
The next phase is to develop a fully digital interactive TV that can handle video-on-demand, digital video recording and other interactive features, Dr. Liao said.
An integrated TV set eliminates the capital expense for cable operators of investing in a set-top box, said John Hildebrand, VP, multimedia technology, at Cox. That means cable operators can generate revenues immediately from services provided rather than after recouping the box investment.
The growth of digital and HDTV over the past year has reinvigorated the OpenCable program, said Don Dulchinos, VP, advanced platforms and services, at CableLabs.
The availability of such leading-edge sets is important in the competitive race, since cable has been losing customers to satellite, Mr. Dulchinos said. “The near-term is competitive value. Long-term is innovation,” he said.
CableLabs is working with 12 other DTV manufacturers. The next certification wave occurs in late October, when Mr. Dulchinos expects more sets to be certified. “TV guys are very competitive with each other. The rest are bound to follow to stay competitive,” he said.
The introduction of integrated sets is an important first step, but cable operators shouldn’t expect an immediate consumer response, said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst with Leichtman Research. “[It doesn’t] mean that consumers will rush to Circuit City,” he said. However, as momentum builds and more TV sets are truly cable-ready, the marketplace will shift and consumer behavior will change, he said.