Panasonic has announced limited availability of two Tru2way plasma TVs. The two plasma flat-panels, the 42-inch TH-42PZ80Q and the 50-inch TH-50PZ80Q, become the first products available to consumers that are Tru2way compatible, making good on Panasonic's pledge to have the debut products in stores by year's end.
Tru2way is a new technology that allows full interactive ("two-way") access to digital TV and HDTV cable systems without the need for a standalone cable box. That's an improvement on the earlier CableCard technology, which couldn't be used to access interactive services (such as pay-per-view and video-on-demand) via third-party devices such as the TiVo HD DVR.
The Panasonic Tru2way models will be priced at $1,600 and $2,300 for the 42-inch and 50-inch model, respectively. Compared with their non-Tru2way predecessors, the TH-42PZ80U and TH-50PZ80U, it looks as if the new technology will cost consumers a premium of $500 to $670.
For now, distribution will be limited to the Denver and Chicago areas, where the cable systems have been certified to be Tru2way-ready. That area should widen as more cable operators around the country add the capability. Additional manufacturers--including Sony, Samsung, and RCA--are planning to release Tru2way products in 2009 and beyond.
So my prediction that we don't see (Tru2way TVs) until sometime in 2009 was dead wrong. But, to my mind, the technology still needs to address three key points before it's truly ready for the mass market:
1. The "Tru2way tax" needs to drop to almost nothing. Few people are going to accept a 45 percent surcharge for privilege of losing their cable box. The premium for Tru2way compatibility needs to get closer to the $100 range--at maximum.
2. The cable industry needs to guarantee universal Tru2way compatibility. Buy a Tru2way TV, plug it into your wall, and it should work--no matter what state you're in, or who your cable provider is. The industry is said to be working toward this goal, but it needs to be a reality sooner rather than later.
3. Tru2way TVs need to have built-in DVRs. For me, the best thing about TV today is the box--the DVR sitting under the TV. I'm not going to give up that functionality, but if the manufacturers can build that into the TV as well, then they've got a premium product that'd be worth paying extra for. (We've seen a handful of TVs with built-in DVRs, but--to date--they've been limited to recording over-the-air programming or analog cable, or they've only included a single tuner. Adding Tru2way to the mix should remove those limitations.)
What do you think? Will Tru2way make for a better cable TV experience? Or is this a solution in search of a problem?