FCC Approves Plug n Play

On Wednesday, September 10, the Federal Communications Commission approved a package of standards designed to make digital televisions compatible with a wide range of digital and high definition cable television programs. The "plug and play" agreement will allow consumers to connect digital televisions directly into cable systems, without a set-top-box.

Television sets adhering to the new standard are to be labeled "digital cable ready" and will contain a rear slot that will house a "CableCard," supplied by cable providers, that resembles a PCMCIA device. The CableCard contains the necessary codes to allow a subscriber to view scrambled premium high defintion programs as well as standard definition programs seamlessly, using only the digital television's remote control. The agreement eventually should simplify equipment hookups and operations for millions of viewers.

The agreement contains other rules. One will prohibit the shut-off of present day analog high defintion component outputs on existing cable and satellite boxes. Another will require (upon the current subscriber's request) the availability of a FireWire jack on cable company-supplied boxes that will give consumer the ability to record programs in high definition, including local and premium HD programs.

Panasonic plans to roll out the first Digital Cable Ready sets next month in at least eight markets. Other television makers expect to offer models nationwide by the fall of 2004.