Plug and Play DTV?
By Jim Bray
Get ready for digital cable ready, one of the next
steps in the move from analog to digital broadcasting.
If you're as old as me (which my kids seem to think is in
Methusela territory), you probably remember when TV's and VCR's went
cable ready back in the old days of analog broadcasting. These were
products that included more sophisticated tuners that could bring in all the
channels a cable company was likely to offer up to 180 or so (regardless
of how many channels were actually offered by a particular cable company!).
The point was to ensure that TV's and VCR's could handle the
widest variety of signals, without the consumer having to buy an add-on device
such as a separate set top cable tuner. This is also why manufacturers started
adding A/V jacks to their TV monitor/receivers (to facilitate
better quality hookup for VCR's and, later, laserdisc/DVD players). It was a
consumer friendly move, in that all the owner had to do was
plug in the cable, program the channels, and play the
Just about everything on the market is cable ready now
- but that just doesn't cut it any more. Thanks to satellite television and
digital cable - and HDTV - the traditional analog cable ready
tuners that are built into modern televisions are basically superfluous.
After all, what difference does a 180 channel tuner make (or two
tuners, if a TV has true picture in picture capability) when you don't use the
built in tuner in the first place?
A personal example: my HD-ready big screen was state-of-the-art
three years ago and has two tuner PIP built in. But even when it was brand new,
I never used its tuners because I get my TV from a set top receiver that
interfaces directly with the TV's component video inputs, bypassing the
Which brings us to Digital Cable Ready.
Digital cable ready means that, when you've signed up with a
compliant cable system, you'll be able to merely plug the cable into your
compliant HD TV, then play high definition and digital cable (depending on what
the cable company offers) without having to use a set-top box.
Good idea, yes?
Digital Cable Ready is the official term for a high
definition television that meets the plug-and-play digital cable TV standard
using POD (point of deployment or point of delivery, depending on who you ask)
CableCARDs. CableCARDs are where the cable rubber meets the TV
road, and they look like a PCMCIA card for a computer.
CableCARDs enable a device (TV, PVR, etc.) to decode encrypted, or
scrambled, content delivered from cable systems. This could be specialty
channels, HD, PPV, or whatever. It appears to be really just an interface that
gives the cable company control over what your digital cable ready
TV will display in basically the same way the digital cable box does now,
but without the box.
The TV's themselves are also going upmarket as far as their tuning
capabilities are concerned, with a lot of flexibility built in via new
ATSC/NTSC/QAM tuners that should make available just about any type of signal
You'll be seeing digital cable ready TV's from various brands
almost as you read this. But don't expect the first generation to offer the
full meal deal. According to my sources, they won't allow access to
on screen channel guides or Pay Per View products, though the second generation
wearing the new Interactive Digital Cable Ready label -
should take care of this shortcoming.
Alas, there'll be copy protection built in so Hollywood can have
its cake and eat it, too.
Of course the TV's and recorders are only one part of the
equation: the receiving end. The sending end the cable companies - also
need to get on board for the system to work, though this is probably
Canadian consumers, at least initially, won't see as many digital
cable ready models of TV offered as in the US, and this is par for the course.
Panasonic, for example, will offer a full line of digital cable ready models in
the US, but Canadian models will initially be limited to one rear projection
DLP unit. If and when the market demands more, however, this will undoubtedly
In the meantime, this is a good first step toward getting rid of
set top boxes. Other advantages include the associated reduction in the number
of connecting cables you need to buy and not needing a set top box will
free up a valuable wall socket!
Having one more place to plug some new and exciting gadget would
certainly be a nice benefit in my home theater, where there are never enough
plugs (let alone circuits!) to go around!
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think