January 7, 2008 / 5:04 AM / 12 years ago

Comcast, Panasonic launch portable digital video player

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast (CMCSA.O), the largest U.S. cable operator, and consumer electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial’s (6752.T) Panasonic unit will launch a co-branded portable digital video player that can show videos like Apple’s (AAPL.O) iPod and record shows from any U.S. cable operator’s system.

The AnyPlay device is the first of a range of new electronic devices based on technology developed jointly by the cable industry and consumer electronics makers intended to increase interoperability among cable operators — and increase their threat to satellite TV rivals.

AnyPlay can record up to 60 hours of video and plays DVDs and CDs. It also features an 8.5-inch display screen. The device will be unveiled on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts told Reuters ahead of the show that the industry had been working on the technology standard for several years and now plans to roll it out across the United States this year.

“We knew we needed an open, national and interoperable structure between cable companies,” said Roberts, who is also chair of industry technology trade body Cable Labs.

Cable companies have faced increasing competition for video subscribers from both satellite pay-TV companies such as DIRECTV Group DTV.O and EchoStar Communications Corp (DISH.O) as well as nascent video services from phone companies such as AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon Communications (VZ.N).

“We also knew there would be more competition and we had to change,” said Roberts. “The era of closed cable is over and the era of open cable is here.”

Electronics devices compatible with the technology, called Tru2way and previously OpenCable Platform, are expected to be available at retail outlets later this year and will be able to work without a cable operator-supplied set-top box.

Roberts said the industry has been working with other manufacturers including South Korea’s Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) and LG Electronics (066570.KS) on other Tru2way devices.

The cable industry, through its trade body NCTA, has been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to support Tru2way.

The FCC’s stated goal is for cable companies and consumer electronics makers to develop “two-way” plug and play devices that don’t need a cable operator’s set-top box to receive cable services and can access interactive offerings such as video-on-demand and electronic program guides.

The cable industry’s concern is that operators may be forced by the FCC to work with a system known as Digital Cable Ready DCR+ supported by the Consumer Electronics Association.

CEA has argued that Tru2way would not be the open system that the FCC wants for all video navigation devices such as set-top boxes, as it would not work with other non-cable video suppliers such as satellite.

However, the cable industry has received support for Tru2way from Hollywood, including the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Disney (DIS.N), Fox NWSa.N, Warner Bros TWX.N, Paramount VIAb.N, Universal (VIV.PA) and Sony Pictures (6758.T) (SNE.N).

Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; editing by Jean Yoon

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