BY ANTHONY CRUPI Now that the first bit of business between the cable industry and the consumer electronics side has been put to rest, the race to get cable-compatible hi-def sets on the market is underway. Alliances are being formed, technologies merged. It’s as if everyone involved is playing a particularly heated game of Risk — nothing less than world domination is at stake. Two players looking to be the first to amass their forces in North America are Pioneer and Motorola. Before the paint had dried on the booths at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), both companies had announced that compatibility tests between Motorola’s MediaCipher conditional access system and Pioneer’s plasma (flat screen) HD sets were soon to be underway. Paul Dempsey, president and COO of Pioneer’s business solutions division, emphasized the magnitude of the agreement, saying that this will be the first attempt at marrying independently developed point of deployment (POD) and plasma HD-compatible host technology. “I’ve been in the cable business for 25 years, and this is one of the first sincere efforts on both sides to bring something of lasting value to the consumer,” Dempsey said. The marriage couldn’t be more fortuitous. Pioneer has developed a basic digital cable-ready TV that is fully compatible with OpenCable POD modules, Dempsey said. For its part, Motorola has expanded its MediaCipher CA system, which is deployed in nearly 25 million digital boxes, to include a POD module based on OpenCable specs. If everything goes as planned, retail could be in the cards as early as 2004. “We’d like to bring the first unit to market,” Dempsey said. “We’re looking to have at least a basic plasma cable-ready set ready by the end of the year.” The OpenCable compatibility testing will begin at Motorola’s MediaCipher integration lab in San Diego, Calif. Dempsey said he believes the FCC will act quickly to approve the technical specs, although digital rights management issues may continue to be a sticky wicket. Once the FCC gives the thumbs-up, it’s off to the races. As Dempsey sees it, all the pieces are coming together to ensure a strong showing for HD. “The cable industry has the ability to carry multiple channels of HD,” he said. “Pricing is coming down. I think this is our year.”

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