Opening the POD Door
Cable-Compatible TV, at Last!
By Cliff Roth
It's been over 20 years since the first "cable-ready" TV sets and VCRs hit the market. But as any installer can tell you, a funny thing happened on the way to cable compatibility. The signals got scrambled.
While it was true that a "cable-compatible" TV set could use its built-in cable tuner to view all the unscrambled basic channels, the same technology was essentially useless for all the premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime. With the advent of digital cable service, the "cable-ready" tuner became even more useless. And in some cable TV markets, such as New York City, even "basic" channels like CNN, ESPN and Lifetime get scrambled, making the cable-ready tuner completely useless, except for broadcast TV channels.
Fast-forward to 2003, and all this is about to improve, thanks to a recent agreement between consumer electronics manufacturers and the cable TV industry. Last December, their respective Washington lobbying organizations, the EIA (Electronics Industries Association) and NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association), helped forge a pioneering agreement, commonly referred to as the "POD agreement." If you build home theater systems and your customers haven't been asking about "POD" yet, rest assured they will be soon.
WHAT'S A POD?
POD stands for "point of deployment," but a better name might be "independent conditional access module," or simply, "Plug and Play." What POD does is free the consumer electronics TV devices — TVs, VCRs, PVRs, etc. — from the need to first "decode" the cable TV signal in a cable TV set-top box. POD puts the conditional access — the descrambling of the "premium" TV signal — right into the TV set, VCR, PVR or other video device.
Purchasers of high-end sets, and in particular HDTVs, will benefit the most from POD, because these TVs have advanced features like PIP that, until now, have been hamstrung when hooked up to cable TV — especially digital cable TV.