The agency said Wednesday that with the new rules, digital TVs can receive cable signals without the need for a set-top box. The rules allow manufacturers to make sets with so-called plug-and-play capabilities, so consumers can just "plug in" their equipment to receive digital services. Customers insert a security card, or a cable card they would get from their cable operator, to decrypt scrambled cable signals on the sets.
Televisions with the new capabilities are expected late next year, according to Aditya Kishore, an analyst with research firm The Yankee Group.
Consumers would still need a set-top box for interactive services, such as video on demand or electronic programming guides. The FCC said in a statement that efforts are under way to eventually eliminate the need for a set-top box for those advanced services.
"Until now, many consumers have been reluctant to invest in the newest televisions because of uncertainties about compatibility with cable systems and set-top boxes," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. "The FCC's actions today are a major step toward alleviating those problems."
The plug-and-play rules are meant to ease the transition to digital television, which was initially slow to gain market acceptance from broadcasters and consumers alike. High costs of equipment meant slower-than-expected consumer sales of digital TVs and scarce digital programming.
However, as set prices came down and sales picked up, cable and satellite operators as well as broadcasters increased their digital TV products.
"The new rules will add impetus to the market for transitioning to digital television," Kishore said.
About 46 million homes in the United States will have HDTV (high-definition television) sets by 2007, according to The Yankee Group.
The FCC has been promoting the adoption of digital TV signals so it can take back the analog spectrum used to transmit TV signals and sell it off in auctions.
About 80 percent of households in the United States get their TV reception from cable or satellite service, according to The Yankee Group.