CableCARD Conspiracy?

I am currently in the market to replace my 32" Sony LCD television with a larger (37" or 40") model. I like Sony and my preference is to stay with the brand. Looking over Sony's 2008 line-up, I had pretty much decided on a 37" model (KDL-37XBR6), when I made a disturbing discovery: the television did not have a CableCARD slot.

The Sony I now own does have a CableCARD slot, and I have a CableCARD in it. I had assumed that Sony's high-end televisions would maintain this CableCARD capability. Not so.

The CableCARD allows me to get all of Comcast's stations without having to pay for or make room for a set-top box. True, I can't access the online program guide or use On Demand, but that's an okay tradeoff, as this is not my primary TV anyway. For me, not being able to transfer my CableCARD to a new television is a significant negative.

Perhaps I could find a CableCARD slot in a different Sony model? Nope. A closer look at Sony's 2008 line-up reveals that not one of the models have the needed slot. I called Sony to inquire why this was so. Not surprisingly, the low-level person I spoke to had no official explanation -- other than to suggest that it may have been dropped to save costs, as so few people were using it.

Of course, more people might be using the slot if the cable companies offered more than grudging support for the option. It is no secret that cable companies would much prefer that you use a set-top box, and typically don't even tell you that a CableCARD is an option, unless you specifically ask about it.

There had been talk of a CableCARD 2.0 technology coming soon, that would allow CableCARDs to work with all cable features, including On Demand -- but that now seems dead in the water. The CableCARD option in televisions, rather than expanding, appears to be vanishing.

But here's the kicker: CableCARDs are not really disappearing. To the contrary, the Federal Communications Commission's Separable Security mandate actually requires that CableCARDs be used in all new cable set-top boxes. They're similarly used in TiVo Series 3 boxes.

CableCARDs are thus doing just fine; it's only CableCARD slots in televisions (which would eliminate the need for a set-top box) that are vanishing. This works out well for Comcast, but leaves viewers as the losers. I can't help but wonder if television manufacturers have capitulated to cable companies here in their decision to drop CableCARD slots from their televisions. It certainly smells like some sort of conspiracy to me.

In the end, it may not matter much. Even the cable companies are predicting a future that will see the end of all set-top boxes. But that's still years off. In the meantime, it appears that I will be forced to get a set-top box with my new TV. Too bad.