DirecTV's New Satellites

The near future looks mighty promising for HDTV fans. On September 8, DirecTV announced an ambitious plan to launch its next generation of satellites, a move that could dramatically expand the availability of high-definition programming. The development comes in the wake of DirecTV's acquisition earlier this year by News Corp., which now owns an 82% stake in the direct broadcast satellite operator.

Spaceway 1 and Spaceway 2, the first of the new satellites, will be launched into orbit in 2005, with programming to be delivered to consumers by the middle of the year. The two satellites will have a combined capacity for more than 500 local HDTV channels, according to an announcement from the El Segundo, CA company. Spaceway 1 and Spaceway 2 are near completion after a recent upgrade making them capable of offering both video and broadband Internet service.

The move to put more "birds" in orbit is part of an expansion campaign that DirecTV hopes will bring HDTV and advanced interactive services to "every household in America."

A second pair of satellites, DirecTV 10 and DirecTV 11, will go aloft in early 2007, with capacity for more than 1000 additional local HD channels, and more than 150 national HD channels. Boeing is building all four of the new satellites, plus another Spaceway satellite to serve as a backup.

DirecTV 10 and DirecTV 11 will be among the largest and most powerful Ka-band satellites ever launched, the company claims. With DirecTV's transmission techniques and video compression technology, they will deliver national HD programming and will be capable of supporting spot beams carrying local HD broadcast channels in all 50 states, according to the announcement.

DirecTV continues to win defectors from cable providers by offering a wider variety of programming and technical options. The company earlier this year debuted the DirecTV HD DVR (digital video recorder), allowing subscribers to record and play back HD programming, record a show while watching another or record two shows simultaneously, all via an advanced programming guide. The DVR is capable of capturing more than 30 hours of HD material or more than 200 hours of standard-definition programming, DirecTV asserts.