OCAP Cuts Both Ways
An emerging middleware standard promises two-way interactive cable, with or without a set-top box. But does anything ever come easy when it comes to collaboration between the cable and electronics industries?
By Cliff Roth
Cable TV and consumer electronics are two industries with a long history of mistrust and lack of cooperation, but at January's Consumer Electronics Show, relations appeared decidedly warmer. Samsung and Panasonic announced television sets with integrated OCAP (OpenCable Applications Platform), while several of the biggest cable TV companies, including Comcast, Time Warner and Cox, announced they will begin deploying OCAP in several markets.
What's OCAP, you might ask? After all, the dust hasn't even settled yet on the long and somewhat tortured rollout of CableCARD (Digital Cable Ready) technology, which is intertwined in all of this.
OCAP is part of the OpenCable initiative. Back in the 1990s, the cable TV industry agreed, as part of a larger cable TV deregulation bill, to allow customers to own their own cable TV set-top boxes. There was even talk of retailers being able to offer cable boxes to consumers as off-the-shelf products. Of course, this hasn't yet come to pass; today, most subscribers still lease their cable TV boxes from their local cable systems as part of their monthly packages.
The big sticking point for many years was security, but about three years ago, the cable TV industry finally relented and agreed to a security system that would be independent of the box or other hardware device—a plug-in security device called CableCARD. In 2004, CableCARD-compatible HDTV sets began appearing. A big advantage of building CableCARD into the TV, rather than using a separate set-top box, is that it makes it easier for the TV to handle two-channel tuning, as needed for picture-in-picture.
OCAP continues the trend that began with CableCARD—building new cable TV compatibilities and capabilities directly into the TV set, rather than housing them in a separate set-top box.