While the ruling is all well and good for the four or so stations likely to broadcast in your area, it's not the same story for the cable services that most of us have. Happily, yet another FCC agreement has opened the floodgates of digital-cable-ready (DCR) televisions with the creation of CableCard TVs, which will accept an authorization card provided by the cable company.
If you buy one of these sets and your cable service supports the DCR standard, you'll be able to plug the cable from the wall straight into the TV, without the box. At CES, almost all major TV makers, including Panasonic, Pioneer, and RCA, have announced full lineups of digital-cable-ready TVs. Panasonic, for example, announced that all 10 of its forthcoming Viera plasma and LCD HDTVs, as well as two LCD rear-projection sets (like the PT-50LCX64
, pictured), four CRT-based rear-projection sets, and one 36-inch tube TV will feature both ATSC tuners and CableCard compatibility. Take care
There's just one caveat: CableCard sets are currently one-way only, meaning they don't work for video-on-demand (VOD) and other services that require you to contact the cable provider. If you want a VOD movie to play on one of these sets, you'll have to make a phone call. And according to Paul Dempsey, Pioneer's president of the business solutions division, two-way capable IDCR (interactive digital-cable-ready) TVs won't be available until late 2005 at the earliest.