Not Boxed In: Sony, Six Cable Companies Sign Agreement

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The binding agreement was signed by Sony and The National CableTelecommunications Association (NCTA), which represents the six largest cable companies in the U.S.: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks. Combined, these companies serve more than 82 percent of U.S. cable subscribers.

The companies agreed on measures that support a competitive market for both retail electronic companies and cable operators. The memorandum of understanding addresses issues such as how two-way products will be brought to market with interactive services like video-on-demand, digital video recording and interactive programming guides.

Detailed terms of the agreement have not been released as the group is waiting for other potential signatories to complete their review of the document.

In a statement, the companies said that the agreement's key elements relate to the deployment of a platform for "write once, run anywhere" applications, as well as incorporate secure digital interfaces that protect consumers' home recording rights along with copyright owners' rights to secure their digital content.

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As part of the agreement, the group made the Java-based "tru2way" solution the national interactive "plug-and-play" standard. Tru2way technology, formerly known as OpenCable, was developed by Cable Television Laboratories, a nonprofit research and development consortium. The technology provides access to two-way digital cable programming without a cable operator-supplied set-top box.

Tru2way is built into televisions, set-top boxes and other devices, and allows cable companies and other interactive television services and application developers to "write" interactive applications once and see them "run" on any device that supports the specification. Existing applications include interactive guides, "start over" applications and games. Future applications might include interactive ads, chat, Web browsing, and t-commerce, or television commerce, according to the NCTA.

Other companies have already signed separate deals with Cable Television Laboratories, including Panasonic, Samsung and LG Electronics.

An NCTA spokesperson said the agreement has been received positively and has the support of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), an advocate in Congress for new technology for consumers.

"These industry-leading companies and other major cable companies will ensure that consumers will have broader access to innovative competitive cable-ready navigation devices from commercial retailers and will have expanded options to enjoy cable programming, including video-on-demand and other interactive programming options," Boucher said in a statement.