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Panasonic Inks OCAP Deal With Comcast Cable

Las Vegas — Panasonic highlighted plasma as the center of its “HD Lifestyle,” whether it is the prototype 103-inch, 1,080p display at its CES booth or its new deal with Comcast Cable to build OpenCable Platform Applications (OCAP) digital set-top boxes.

Panasonic sought to downsize the numbers of remote controls cluttering the coffee table with the integration of OCAP software into a new digital set-top box, several new plasma televisions, DVD recorders and home theater components. Using the CableLabs-certified standard, Panasonic and partner Comcast Cable will streamline the ordering and viewing of HD content, television and home theater control in a single remote control, said Yoshi Yamada, chairman/CEO Panasonic.

Yamada then presented Comcast CEO Brian Roberts with the first of 250,000 “next-generation” digital set-top boxes based on OCAP standards and announced a partnership to license Panasonic’s OCAP middleware applications technology for future Comcast set-top boxes.

Using OCAP “will unleash the creative potential of cable and the CE industries for home entertainment,” Yamada predicted. “It is part of our effort to encourage a high-definition lifestyle for consumers that is easy to use. And the plasma television will be the center of the experience.”

“With OCAP it is our goal to create a strong retail presence for our products,” Roberts said.

The Panasonic digital set-top boxes will have high-definition digital video recording capabilities with a minimum of 250GB storage capacity, double the amount of existing Comcast DVRs. They will also sport CableCard slots, MPEG-2 and H.264 decoder capabilities. The latter offers offer higher video compression rates for “enjoying media elements commonly available on the Internet,” Roberts said. The boxes will also be Downloadable Conditional Access System (DCAS)-ready, Panasonic executives said.

The set-top boxes will be digital media-friendly, Roberts added, with built-in USB 2.0 support for connecting digital cameras and music players.

John Iacoviello, sales and marketing senior VP, hailed the company’s success in plasma television and claimed strong plasma sales have enticed dealers to broaden their assortment of Panasonic products. Building off of plasma’s momentum, the company will focus aggressively on building its digital still camera business and devote more energy to retail training and marketing, Iacoviello said.

The company also announced a power line-based home networking device for moving digital content across a home’s existing power lines at speeds of up to 190MBps. The BL-PA100 HD-PLC Ethernet Adaptor will be available in March for a suggested $129.95; a two-adaptor kit will retail for a suggested $199.95.

Panasonic made its first VoIP announcements as well, introducing a new 5.8GHz digital cordless phone system to work with Vonage’s VoIP network and announcing a technology partnership with peer-to-peer VoIP service Skype to develop dual PSTN/Skype handsets.