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In a landmark agreement, Comcast Corp. has picked Panasonic Consumer Electronics to provide new digital set-top boxes and middleware that will comply with the cable industry's OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) specifications.

The agreement calls for Panasonic, the U.S. subsidiary of Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., to make and supply Comcast with an initial 250,000 HD-DVR (digital video recorder) set-tops, all of them stocked with Panasonic's OCAP middleware. The deal also gives Comcast the option to buy up to 1 million set-tops in the first year, with options for additional boxes in later years. The companies didn't disclose the financial terms of the deal.

The two companies said the new series of Comcast digital set-tops, known as "RNG," will feature at least 250 gigabits of hard-drive storage space, roughly doubling the amount of DVR storage now available on Comcast's DVR set-top boxes. The set-tops will also have both MPEG-2 and H.264 decoding capabilities, enabling them to offer higher video compression rates.

In another industry first, the companies agreed to make Panasonic's OCAP middleware available to Comcast. They also agreed to jointly explore and develop extensions to the OCAP specifications developed by CableLabs.

OCAP is a CableLabs middleware standard that lets application developers create new interactive TV services that can run on a wide range of advanced digital cable-ready TV sets and set-top boxes. Among other things, the two companies plan to develop OCAP software extensions that will enable Comcast set-tops to work with Panasonic plasma TVs, home theater systems, DVD recorders and other electronics devices.

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