Thomson has become the latest major consumer electronics (CE) company to sign on the dotted line for the CableLabs CableCARD Host Interface License Agreement (CHILA).

The $5,000 license also gives Thomson the green light to build two-way digital "host" devices for North America, including set-top boxes and other consumer premise equipment. Those devices will contain an interface for the removable CableCARD, which contains the conditional access system that authorizes digital cable services. CHILA-based gear will also support the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a CableLabs-specified middleware.

The agreement follows Thomson's introduction of a hybrid cable-IP set-top and VoIP wireless cable modem aimed at delivering a full suite of voice, video and data applications.

"We have recently established solid commercial relationships with major MSOs in Europe, Asia and Latin America, who are leveraging our STB technologies to provide their customers with the ultimate in broadband services. Embracing CHILA and OCAP is the most logical next step in our development," said Frédéric Kurkjian, VP of Thomson's worldwide cable business unit.

A step beyond the initial unidirectional CableCARD products, this new breed of two-way gear will support video-on-demand and operator-supplied interactive program guides (IPGs).

Others to sign on for CHILA include Video Without Boundaries, Panasonic, LG Electronics, ATI Technologies, Broadcom Corp., Digital Keystone , Micronas GmbH, Stexar Corp., and Sunplus Technology Co. Ltd.

Although CableCARDs are presently the current method operators are using for removable conditional access, the industry is pushing ahead on a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) that would essentially replace the more expensive, hardware-centric CableCARD.

At last count, cable operators have supplied more than 80,000 CableCARDs to their customers.

Earlier this month, the U.S. cable industry formally submitted a DCAS proposal to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for two-way, set-top-free digital televisions. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said the DCAS approach is feasible, and expectations are that it could be rolled out by operators nationwide by July 1, 2008.

Samsung was the first CE company to sign a formal agreement with CableLabs that will result in two-way digital cable-ready devices based on DCAS.