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Will It Be Cable-Ready in '09?

The federally mandated transition to all-digital television in 2009 has prompted a lot of questions from readers, not all of them easy to answer right now (see BW Online, 1/12/06, "Analog TV: Fade to Black"). One reader, Patrick Murphy, says no one has been able to give him an definite response to this query:

Will a cable-ready analog TV with no cable box, such as a Sony (SNE) Wega [24-inch set] that is currently hooked to Comcast (CMCSA), be able to receive digital TV? Is the Comcast broadcast signal digital even without the extra-charge box?

There's a good reason why everyone seems to dance around that question: We really don't know. It's technically possible that after the 2009 analog-broadcast shutdown, cable companies could continue to offer analog-cable service, converting the signals as needed. This would allow you to continue to receive cable service by hooking up the cable directly to a "cable-ready" analog TV set.

But there are regulatory issues that haven't been resolved. The House version of the digital-transition legislation included language that would have specifically authorized cable operators to do this, but it was dropped in the House-Senate conference that produced the final bill containing the digital-transition provisions.

FADING OUT. There's some talk of reviving the provision as part of a bill dealing with franchises for phone companies that want to deliver TV services, but its chances of passage aren't great. That would leave the matter, if it is to be regulated, in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission.

By the time 2009 rolls around, the question may be moot anyway. Cable operators, especially in big metropolitan areas, are doing everything they can to phase out their analog services. And digital cable requires either a set-top box or a device called a point-of-deployment unit and a CableCARD that allows the TV set to function as its own set-top box (see BW Online, 2/17/05, "Too Many Remotes? Thank Cable Outfits"). These devices serve both to decode and decompress the digital signals, and to notify the cable network of which services the customer is entitled to receive.

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