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The end of the cable set-top box? Yes, Comcast says

CEO Brian Roberts predicts that by the end of the year, "virtually the entire cable industry will support Tru2way," an "open cable" platform rendering the box moot.

Comcast, the United States' largest cable operator, says the set-top box's days are numbered.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, CEO Brian Roberts predicted in a keynote address that by the end of the year, "virtually the entire cable industry will support Tru2way," an "open cable" standard that would render the bulky boxes moot by directly integrating any U.S. cable provider's service with a variety of devices. Initial partners in the Tru2way endeavor include Motorola, TiVo, Intel, Samsung Electronics, Microsoft, LG Electronics, Cisco Systems, and Sun Microsystems.

Photo: Comcast's AnyPlay device

Roberts also showed off a device, unveiled on Monday, that Comcast has co-branded with another partner, Matsushita Electric Industrial unit Panasonic. The AnyPlay, which has an 8.5-inch display screen, can record up to 60 hours of video, and it plays DVDs and CDs. It is slated to begin selling in the United States later this year.

Although Comcast CEO Brian Roberts indicated earlier to Reuters that Tru2way marks a step toward an "open, national, and interoperable structure between cable companies," the Consumer Electronics Association has argued that Tru2way would not be the truly open system that the Federal Communications Commission wants because it would not be compatible with the technologies of noncable video suppliers.

Ahem, DirecTV and Verizon Fios? The "era of closed cable" may be coming to an end, as Roberts said, but the wars between providers of television, broadband, and telephone services are far from over.

Indeed, the AnyPlay device is designed to play and record shows from any U.S. cable operator's system--but not those of satellite providers.