Comcast Corp. has turned up the volume on a partnership with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., which has agreed to license its Open Cable Applications Platform-compliant middleware for deployment in Comcast systems.

Matsushita, better known by its Panasonic commercial brand, has an existing deal with Comcast to provide OCAP-compliant set-top boxes. The new deal extends to licensing for Panasonic's OCAP-compliant middleware, to be installed in set-tops it will build for Comcast and consumer devices that will be available at retail.

The deal also calls for the two companies to jointly develop a certification program for OCAP-ready devices and digital TV sets to make sure they are interoperable with the OCAP standard. Panasonic plans to introduce an OCAP-compliant set-top cable box to the U.S. market in 2005.

The end goal is to speed adoption of OCAP devices in the American market, according to Paul Liao, vice president and chief technology officer for Matsushita's America division.

"OCAP provides the software platform that opens a new world of systems flexibility for cable operators, and is an essential component to the future growth of interactive applications. We expect this agreement will expedite the adoption of OCAP and digital interactive cable-ready TV and deliver benefits to both consumers and the cable industry," he said, in a release.

Developed by CableLabs Inc., the OCAP standard has had its challenges in finding its way from the drawing board to deployment, including a recent period where middleware fell out of fashion among cable set-top deployments. But with the recent one-way Plug and Play agreement signed between the cable industry and electronics manufacturers that is based in part on OCAP, the specification appears to be getting back on track.

Installed in a set-top box, OCAP middleware will interoperate with any OCAP digital television application fielded by any cable MSO, opening the door for retail box distribution and portability of boxes from one cable system to another. It also will lay the foundation for interactive applications ranging from video-on-demand to games and e-commerce.

"It also will benefit other manufacturers who will build devices, application programmers who will have OCAP as a national platform for application development, and other cable operators as together, Panasonic and Comcast work to make portability available," noted Steve Silva, Comcast's executive vice president of new business development.