Panasonic to Begin Selling tru2way HDTV's in Boston, Seeks FCC Waiver for tru2way Set-Back Box

In an ex parte letter, filed with the FCC December 2nd, Panasonic Corporation of North America revealed that it will shortly be offering integrated tru2way HDTV sets in Boston (note: it already offers them in Chicago, Denver and Atlanta), and outlined its plans to launch a retail tru2way "set-back box" (SBB) that would "take advantage of the continuing nationwide roll-out by major cable operators of tru2way capability in their systems" and would "convert Panasonic HDTV's into fully bi-directional 'digital cable ready' tru2way TV's." The box was demo'd by the company at last month's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

The letter--which provides an account of a December 1st meeting between Panasonic representatives and FCC staff, and which is signed by Panasonic's VP of corporate and government affairs, Peter Fannon, and its senior manager of government and public affairs, Paul Schomburg--states that "consumer feedback from Panasonic's controlled deployment of integrated tru2way HDTV's in three markets (Chicago, Denver, and Atlanta--plus, coming soon in Boston, too) indicated very high satisfaction with tru2way and the access it can provide to [a] cable system's digital services using only the TV's remote control to operate both TV and cable features. In response to feedback indicating consumers' desire for a greater variety of screen sizes, and to accommodate slimmer chassis designs," the letter continues, "Panasonic also plans to provide tru2way functionality in the future using a separate SBB that would attach to any Panasonic VIERA HDTV (from model year 2009 forward) using the HDMI interface. The SBB would be capable of receiving all the digital cable content provided by tru2way cable systems, including access to the electronic program guide, video-on-demand, switched digital video, and interactive content provided along with a given program. Further, the tru2way SBB would provide access to all public access, education and government ('PEG') programming on digital channels (even if provided via switched digital video). It would also provide support for closed captioning, allow use of parental controls, and respond appropriately to emergency alerts."

Panasonic is seeking a waiver for the new SBB from an FCC requirement that products labeled as "cable ready" must incorporate the ability to tune analog channels (note: ADB has received a waiver for a similar device): "Panasonic expects that, in all-digital tru2way cable systems, there would be little need to access any analog channels given the typical digital simulcast of 'analog' programming on such systems," the letter continues. "But the Panasonic representatives described the set-up of a VIERA HDTV with a SBB and showed that access to analog programming, if necessary, could be accomplished using the analog tuner integrated into the television itself, simply by switching the TV's input from HDMI to the RF interface. The Panasonic representatives indicated that they desired to avoid integration of an analog tuner in the SBB because this would increase its size and cost--both undesirable for consumers--and be duplicative of the analog tuner in the TV itself. While the FCC rules for labeling of digital cable-ready products and cable-ready consumer electronics products require the capability to tune analog channels, this capability would be fully supported by the combination of the SBB with a VIERA HDTV. The Panasonic representatives emphasized the need for retail parity with leased, all-digital set-top boxes being deployed by major cable operators. Panasonic requested the Media Bureau to confirm our belief that integration of analog tuning in the SBB is not required by the FCC rules, so long as the SBB is designed to be used only in combination with a television that supports analog tuning."

North America