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The rocky road to Tru2way

Do the reports of a "disastrous" certification test for Panasonic's Tru2way TVs mean that the successor to CableCard will be stillborn?

Tru2way logo

Update: Subsequent to the publication of this story, Panasonic has released a more detailed statement on the status of its Tru2way TVs.

CableLabs' Tru2way got a big boost last month when Sony signed on with a pledge to design and deliver TVs that incorporate the standard, bolstering an already impressive list of backers. The Web was flooded with optimistic reports of a post-cable box Valhalla where you could simply buy a Tru2way TV, screw in your coaxial cable, and have plug-and-play access to your 1,000-channel universe. Before those miracle TVs hit the market, however, they need to be certified by CableLabs--and there are rumors that the initial trials aren't going well. According to IP Democracy, the initial certification tests for Panasonic Tru2way TVs were unsuccessful--to say the least. The post cites "folks close to Tru2way" as calling the Panasonic tests a "'disaster of spectacular proportions'" that resulted in "'dozens and dozens' of bugs."

In an attempt to verify those dire--but anonymous--quotes, we contacted Panasonic and CableLabs for their responses. Panasonic gave us a quick "no comment," but CableLabs provided a [somewhat] more detailed retort:

Certification test results are not published by CableLabs. While we cannot address speculation made in the media about specific tests results, it is important to understand that it is common for devices to require multiple test runs before achieving CableLabs certification. Manufacturers generally account for such timing in their product plans. CableLabs conducts multiple test waves throughout the year in order to accommodate additional testing. Panasonic has entered an upcoming certification wave, which provides ample time for products to reach the marketplace to meet the company's rollout schedule. Other tru2way products, including products from Samsung and ADB have already been Certified by CableLabs.

The Samsung certification was actually a 2005 product that--to my knowledge--has never been commercially released. The ADB products are set-top boxes and media centers that appear to be intended for cable companies to license to consumers. To me, the ADB products seem counterintuitive to the whole idea of the Tru2way model--I thought the idea here was for Tru2way to provide a framework that would allow for the release of TVs and DVRs that consumers could buy at Best Buy or Circuit City, and hook up as easily as a standard DVD player.

So, what's it all mean? The nondenials from Panasonic and CableLabs make me think that the substance of the IP Democracy report is true: the initial wave of Tru2way TVs aren't ready for prime time. But that's to be expected from a new technology that hasn't yet been released to the public (thus the whole point of certification testing--the bugs get extinguished before the products reach the public.)

A follow-up post on the IP Democracy post that purports to be from CableLabs says that the company is "confident in the technology and are on track to introduce this software platform and services at retail later this year in select markets." While they may technically hit that milestone with products like the ADB boxes, I think the real test will be whether or not we can buy Tru2way TVs--from Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, or any other company. And at this point, I still wouldn't be surprised if we don't see those products until sometime in 2009. But I hope I'm wrong.

IP Democracy via Gizmolovers