HDTV Developments

Several new developments in early June promise to boost the market penetration of high-definition television.

Pace Micro Technology Americas has announced what it is calling "the world's first ultra low-cost Digital Cable Adapter (DCA)." Intended for the vast North American cable market, the DCA converts digital video signals for viewing on analog television sets, such as those owned by more than 95% of consumers. The DCA is a compact, low-cost device that, if deployed in sufficient numbers, could free tremendous bandwidth for cable providers. Analog transmission occupies approximately 480 MHz of bandwidth (about 80 channels), leaving only 330 MHz available for digital. An all-digital network could support as many as 135 channels, or 1350 channels using "256 QAM" multiplexing technology that interleaves 10 channels in each 6MHz segment of the band.

The benefits could be huge for all involved in the changeover to a digital television system, according to Neil Gaydon, president of Pace Micro Technology Americas. "Cable operator technologists are discussing the benefits of having an all-digital network, and the FCC is chomping at the bit to regain the analog spectrum for other uses," he stated. "Having an all-digital network is a win/win situation for both parties, and our Pace Digital Cable Adapter will accelerate this revolutionary change." The Pace DCA was unveiled at the annual gathering of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

This fall, News Corporation's Fox Cablevision will launch four high-def regional sports services. Fox Sports Network North will serve Minnesota and Milwaukee, FSN South will serve Raleigh, NC and Tennessee, FSN Southwest will serve Houston and San Antonio, and FSN West and West2 will serve Los Angeles. The ventures will be News Corp's "first formal foray into HDTV service in the US." According to Broadcast & Cable. Fox has not announced whether it will use 720p or 1080i.

Time Warner is expanding its carriage of HDTV feeds. The media conglomerate announced in June that it would make some HDTV channels available at no extra charge to customers that pay to receive the analog versions. Among the HDTV offerings are Discovery HD Theater and Fox Sportsnet channels.

Satellite broadcaster DirecTV is staying competitive with cable, of course. The El Segundo, CA–based service has announced new high-definition offerings with ESPN HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet, and HDNet Movies. The new programming packages will be available beginning July 1 at subscription rates of $10.99 per month. As in the past, DirecTV will also broadcast special events in HD, "such as USA’s coverage of the Masters Tournament, NBA games, and NBA TV programming blocks," according to a June 3 press release.

"Our customers have told us they want more HD programming," said DirecTV's senior vice president of programming Stephanie Campbell. "The launch of this HD package reinforces DirecTV’s commitment to the category, and to offering our customers the best quality high-definition programming." ESPN HD is a 24-hour high-definition simulcast service of ESPN that includes games from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Discovery HD Theater is the new 24/7 channel filmed entirely in high-definition, covering nature, science and technology, geography, travel and world culture.

High-definition cable service is now available to approximately 55 million US households, according to new figures released in early June by the NCTA. HDTV offerings by cable companies have grown by 50% in the last five months in terms of number of homes reached, according to the association.