Opening the POD Door
A ONE-WAY STREET
The POD agreement, as worked out thus far, is strictly a one-way affair, covering TV signals moving from the cable system to the home. Not covered is the reverse — signals going from home to cable headend. Which means that POD-equipped TVs will have one big drawback compared with using a set-top box: You can't order pay-per-view or video-on-demand movies. Those services require sending commands in the opposite direction.
The two industries are still talking, and there's hope that they'll also work out this aspect over time. But custom installers looking to take advantage of POD TVs as soon as they become available should
probably design systems offering both capabilities — a direct POD connection as well as a cable-box connection.
Meanwhile, the electronics industry is in the process of getting the FCC to codify the agreement into law, so that cable TV companies — even the ones that weren't covered by the initial agreement — are
legally required to supply the POD modules on demand.
"Plug and play will be good for the future of these industries, good for the digital transition, and most importantly, good for consumers," says FCC Chairman Michael Powell. But the rulemaking "will probably take between six to eight months," Powell said at an appearance at CES in January.
Meanwhile, Panasonic says they'll have their first POD TVs available in time for Christmas.
Cliff Roth is director of interactive television for Gist, an electronic program guide (EPG) service, and author of The Low Budget Video Bible.