Consumer electronics industry support for CableCards--the small PC Card-like devices that fit into the back of some digital TVs and set-top boxes to decrypt digital cable signals (in lieu of a cable box)--has been waning. But two FCC mandates should stimulate CableCard adoption beginning next year.
By March 2007, all new TVs must have digital tuners, and since CableCard slots add relatively little cost, observers say vendors may simply add them as well. The FCC has also said that as of July 2007, cable operators must make CableCards the sole means of decrypting digital TV signals. This means any new set-top boxes will have to use a CableCard, says David Broberg, vice president of consumer video technology for CableLabs, the company that develops cable TV specifications including for CableCards. (Companies won't have to replace existing cable boxes, though.)
However, first-generation CableCards of today can only receive programs; unfortunately, cable operators, the consumer electronics industry, and other concerned parties have made little progress agreeing on a two-way CableCard standard to support interactive features such as electronic program guides and video on demand.
Some efforts are under way. Steve Panosian, Samsung's director of marketing for DLP and CRT televisions, says that by the time you read this, Samsung will have rolled out an Interactive Digital Cable Ready DLP set, the HLS5686C, but only in Milwaukee, where Time-Warner Cable is testing a two-way cable system.
In September, NuVision began shipping the 52-inch 52LEDLP, an LED-illuminated DLP set; in October, Samsung began shipping another LED DLP, the 56-inch HLS-5679W. Containing an LED array, the sets can achieve full brightness in 5 seconds, as opposed to as much as 45 seconds with a traditional DLP model. In addition, LED arrays are supposed to last seven to ten years in typical use--a much longer life span than that of conventional DLP lamps.
Expect to pay a premium for these new technologies, if you find them. If you can't, holiday prices for conventional sets should prove consoling: Haruki says 720p plasmas may go for as little as $1000.
This story, "New HDTVs Bring Higher Def, Better Color" was originally published by PCWorld.