07.06.2006 12:00 AM
Thinking Inside the Box: CableCARDs Flounder
Remember the promise of convenient CableCARD technology not too long ago that was going to help spur the rapid deployment of HD? The card that was mandated for HD sets by the FCC; to be simply plugged into the "Digital Cable Ready" set to replace that cumbersome set-top box? How soon we forget.

As the New York Times reports this week, the original idea agreed upon by both cable interests and CE makers has pretty much fizzled due to consumer ignorance, or perhaps apathy, caused by a lack of cable industry enthusiasm to get the word out to its subscribers. And maybe with good reason: Current CableCARD technology cannot deal with VOD, PPV or other interactive cable services which are becoming more popular among STB-equipped subscribers--and more lucrative for cable.

The Times reports that while an estimated six million CableCARD-ready DTV sets have been sold to consumers, only 170,000 TV units (under 3 percent) are actually using CableCARDs. The rest are going the more familiar box route.

As a result, most manufacturers have drastically reduced the number of CableCard-ready models on store shelves, with as much as 80 percent fewer CableCARD models available this year than in 2005, according to one analyst.

Although next-gen card technology that presumably would work with VOD and other advanced services is being developed, the specs are still being debated and its ramp up is a couple of years away, if at all.

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