Sony's agreement to use tru2way technology will eliminate set-top boxes, but not right away

sony logoDon’t count out the set-top boxes just yet.

The news this week that Sony has signed a deal with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is essentially good. The agreement will allow people to rid themselves of clunky, mostly ugly, space-consuming set-top boxes and still receive “two-way” cable services such as pay-per-view and video-on-demand movies.

tru2wayTo do this, Sony will incorporate a cable TV technology called tru2way in new televisions. Tru2way is an open java-based platform that allows developers to create all sorts of applications like games, eBay notifications, or interactive guides.

Tru2way televisions from Sony and other manufacturers means that set-top boxes could become extinct. Plug your connection directly into your TV and get HD, DVR, VOD, and programming guides without the STB.

Set-top boxes are mostly manufactured by Motorola or Cisco Systems, which owns STB pioneer Scientific Atlanta. Also affected by the agreement may be Apple, maker of AppleTV, TiVo, and Netflix, which recently announced its new set-top box partnership with Roku.

TiVo is moving into licensing its interface as there one day may be no need for its set-top box. And with studios like Warner Bros. releasing its movies on video-on-demand the day they are available for purchase on DVD, one use of the AppleTV is depleted.

The agreement is between Sony and the six largest cable companies in the U.S.: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communication, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, and Bright House Networks. These six account for 82 percent of cable subscribers.

But there is a rub. Actually, two.

dodo birdOne: So far only Sony has an agreement to incorporate the cable TV technology directly into televisions, which will not be available until later in the year at the earliest. Granted, Sony makes a pretty nice TV with the Bravia, but what if you want to buy a Sharp or Samsung LCD or plasma? You keep your set-top box(es).

And two: People have been upgrading their primary TVs to flat panels for several years now. Are they going to go out and buy another set just to eliminate a set-top box or two, especially since we’ve been living with them for years?

As with any technology, set-top boxes will go the way of the Dodo bird over time as new solutions become available. For now, though, the set-top box’s extinction is greatly exaggerated.


last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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