This article may not be Mr. Pogue's best efforts. He makes it sound like a cable card is virtually the equivalent of a cable set-top box, rather than the security device that it is. Pogue correctly asserts that a "two-way cable card" will NOT work with a first generation (one-way) cable ready digital television; but he does not explain why? The fact is that the cable box is built into the set; the cable card simply provides the security function (pod) to allow the internal cable receiver to work. The current generation of digital cable ready receivers do not have the ability to work with the cable systems program guide, or to accommodate the signaling required to order two-way services. Bottom line, this article explains why many consumers are going to bypass the current generation of cable ready sets, opting for a monitor, until these anti-competitive tactics are abandoned. Regards Craig http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/30/technology/circuits/30stat.html?th=&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1104493639-tXPCcA0XMMmvuDAGcmLThQ December 30, 2004 STATE OF THE ART Streamlined Cable TV in a Card By DAVID POGUE WHAT if I told you about a new product that could improve your TV picture, eliminate one of your remote controls, simplify your home-theater setup and save you money every month? And then what if I told you that your local distributor wished, in its heart of hearts, that nobody even knew about it? The brilliant invention really exists. It's the CableCard, a small metal card (a so-called PC card, actually, like the ones designed for laptops) that slides into a slot on the back of many new high-definition TV sets from nearly every manufacturer. The CableCard's simple mission is to eliminate your cable box. The card stores all the account information that used to be monitored by the box, like descramblers for your movie channels - a bit of circuitry miniaturization that's about 15 years overdue. Life without a cable box is blissfully simple. The cable-TV cable from the wall plugs directly into the TV. You change channels using the TV's own remote control. (Both the box and its remote go back to the mother ship. Incidentally, getting rid of the box makes an especially big difference when it comes to smaller screens, like kitchen-counter TV's.) Losing the box frees up one power outlet on your wall, one valuable input on the TV and one component's worth of space in your equipment rack or wall unit. Furthermore, if you ever move, you won't have to learn how to use a new cable company's box. You'll operate the same TV using the same remote in the same way. Eliminating a detour through the cable box also spares your video signal an analog-to-digital conversion or two. As a result, the picture may be noticeably clearer and sharper (depending on which box you had and how it was wired to your system). On top of all these advantages, it costs a lot less to rent a CableCard than a cable box. For example, the monthly CableCard fee is $1.25 at Cablevision, $1.50 at Adelphia and $1.75 at Time Warner, as compared with $4 to $7 a month for a cable box. (Your cable programming package costs the same. This parenthetical remark is provided for the benefit of the customer who, according to a cable-industry spokesman, bought a CableCard TV last week because she thought it would provide her with free cable TV.) Could all this be true? Is it really possible that the government, cable companies and TV makers all sat down one day and cheerfully agreed to a new, advanced standard designed to save you money and simplify your life? Don't be silly. As it turns out, hammering out the CableCard standard wasn't especially quick or amicable. In fact, it took years. What everyone wanted was a technology that duplicated every feature of today's digital cable box. But the cable companies and the set makers first had to learn to work with and trust each other, and meanwhile an F.C.C. deadline was looming. So what emerged at the end of Round 1 was only a partial solution: a one-way CableCard. In other words, today's CableCard can't send information back to the cable company from your television set, a loss that has several ramifications. First, you no longer receive the cable company's onscreen TV guide. Of course, most CableCard TV sets (marketed as "Digital Cable Ready") have their own built-in channel guides, and so do hard-drive recorders like the TiVo. Second, you lose the ability to order pay-per-view movies with your remote control. You have to order them using your cable company's Web site or by calling its toll-free number. Third, today's CableCard can't handle video-on-demand services. (They're like pay-per-view movies, except that you can start a movie whenever you like, and even pause it while it plays.) Now, you may not particularly care about losing these features. Plenty of people, perfectly content with sources like HBO, Blockbuster and Netflix, have never ordered a movie through the cable box and never will. But there are people who care deeply about pay-per-view and video-on-demand services: the cable companies. They've spent years and millions of dollars cultivating these services, some of which satellite services can't match. To the cable companies, the one-way CableCard represents not only a huge new headache (involving billing, inventory, business development, customer service, installer training and so on), but also a potential kick in the spreadsheet. So if you're interested in the CableCard at this early stage, you may have to take on a relentless "60 Minutes" persona. All cable companies offer the CableCard, but few promote it, and the front-line operators may not even know what you're talking about. Last week, for example, Cablevision mailed a brochure to its customers listing the price increases for 2005 and describing its latest services, with nary a word about the CableCard. In fact, you may get the distinct impression that the cable companies are trying to talk you out of a CableCard. At a Web site for Time Warner Cable, a Frequently Asked Question about CableCard televisions (also called Digital Cable Ready sets) reads; "Q: Why should I get one? What are its advantages over a set-top box? A: A Digital Cable Ready television may not be for you. If you want to take advantage of Time Warner Cable's interactive services, such as iControl or our Interactive Program Guide, then you want the expanded features of a digital set-top box." (Um - those are advantages?) Eventually, all this caginess will evaporate, as soon as the industry settles on a standard for two-way CableCards. By most estimates, however, two-way CableCards are at least two years away. Meanwhile - listen up, pay-per-view patrons - the two-way CableCard won't work in today's CableCard-equipped TV sets. Before kissing your cable box goodbye forever, there's one final consideration: TV-set compatibility. At this early stage, different TV makers have designed their CableCard slots with different degrees of gracefulness. I learned this fact from the knowledgeable Cablevision installer who put CableCards into my two testing sets: Panasonic's gorgeous Viera TH-42PX25U/P, a 42-inch plasma, and Sharp's 45-inch Aquos LC-45GX6U. (You can't install a CableCard yourself. A cable-company technician must do the job, which includes programming the card to work only with your specific TV set in your specific location, all part of an elaborate registration process that makes these cards a lot more difficult to hack than either cable boxes or satellite security cards. The installation charge is usually around $40 or $50, although it's free from Time Warner.) The Panasonic Viera worked flawlessly with the CableCard; using the TV's own sleek remote to change channels, rather than an ugly cable-box remote, feels infinitely more natural and obvious. (Changing channels takes about the same amount of time.) The cable guy reported similar good luck with Panasonic sets across its CableCard line (and recommended Sony's sets, too). The Sharp Aquos wasn't quite as accommodating. For some goofy technical reason, the Sharp set treated analog and digital channels differently once the CableCard was installed. So if you have Cablevision (a company whose channels aren't yet all digital), for example, you have to switch video inputs on the remote whenever you want to view a channel higher than 84. Yuck. If you use, or think you might someday use, video-on-demand and similar interactive features, don't invest in the CableCard until the two-way version arrives in 2006 or whenever. But otherwise, if Santa brought you a Digital Cable Ready set - meaning one with a CableCard slot - becoming an early adopter of this promising technology means lower monthly fees, fewer wires and remotes, and maybe even a slightly sharper picture. Those are gifts of an especially rare sort: the kind that simplifies your technological life instead of complicating it. David Pogue's video companion will return next week. He can be reached via e-mail at Pogue@xxxxxxxxxxx Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company ---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways: - Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org - By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.