Opening the POD Door
HDTV sets will now be assured of direct access to the digital cable signal, too, without regard to what type of HD connections the local cable TV system offers on their set-top boxes. Those connections are part of a separate agreement that is also being worked out between the two industries. The connection will most likely be a security-enhanced version of the "raw" (uncompressed) DVI — digital visual interface. This is good for displaying "live" on a TV screen, but bad for recording. The DVI connection is relevant if you decide to use a cable box — but with a POD TV, you don't need a cable box.
By way of analogy, cable TV today is a bit like the old Ma Bell phone system of the 1960s, before customers were allowed to hook up their own phones and accessories. (Remember the "acoustic coupler"?) With today's digital cable TV, the only thing you can hook up is the "official" set-top box issued by the cable company. All sorts of clever schemes — such as the IR blasters used by TiVo and Replay — have been concocted to allow automated selection of cable channels. But these techniques have been cumbersome. POD promises to change all that, essentially allowing the consumer — or custom installer — to hook up all sorts of equipment directly to the cable TV feed.
The cable TV industry dragged its heels to this POD agreement. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act required the cable TV industry to develop a standard for retail set-top boxes (so that consumers could buy their own boxes), and to work out a solution with the consumer electronics industry that would allow advanced features — like PIP — to work properly. In 1998, the FCC ordered a POD agreement by 2000. It is true that CableLabs, the cable TV industry consortium charged with creating these new standards, has mostly met the government timetables for creating the standards. The problem has been getting the cable TV industry to actually deploy them, and make the POD modules available. That time appears to be at hand.