Sony Electronics has signed an agreement with six major cable operators in the United States that will enable consumers to buy digital televisions and other devices that can receive interactive video services without needing a separate set-top box. They will use the Java-based Tru2way system which promises to provide “plug-and-play” compatibility and “write once, run anywhere” applications.

Sony joins LG, Samsung and Panasonic who have previously pledged support for the Tru2way standard, formerly known as OCAP, which is based on MHP.

The six operators — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks — collectively serve over 80% of all cable subscribers in the United States.

“This marketplace agreement is good news for consumers,” said Edgar Tu, who heads Sony Electronics television operations in America. “A national plug-and-play digital cable standard for interactive TV receivers, recorders and other products that is transferable and viable wherever you live is ideal for today’s mobile society.”

Over the last decade there have been attempts to open up the cable market to retail consumer electronics products. The cable industry rather reluctantly developed CableCard but the solution they provided did not support interactive services, such as video on demand.

On the one hand the cable guys would be happy not to have to subsidise the cost of set-top boxes, but on the other hand they do not want to lost control of their customers.

The industry initiative avoids the prospect of further regulatory intervention to open up the market to consumer electronics companies.

“We are pleased that this technical challenge has been addressed through a voluntary, private-sector solution,” said Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Electronics Association. “We look forward to working with our cable colleagues to ensure Americans across the country have access to high value cable content while using the equipment of their choosing.”

Although Tru2way may address the technical issues of interoperability, the practical and operational difficulties involved in getting interactive services to run reliably across multiple networks and devices should not be underestimated.

Nevertheless, the Tru2way platform has the best prospect yet of eventually providing an interactive platform with a national footprint, providing a viable market for the development of interactive services.

The announcement was made through the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents the cable television industry in the United States. It seems to have come a week too late for the NCTA Cable Show, recently held in New Orleans.

The NCTA said that detailed terms of the memorandum of understanding have not yet been released, while other potential signatories complete their review of the document.