Industry Roundup

St. Louis–based Charter Communications, Inc. has become the first cable provider in the US to rollout an all-digital network, according to a January 16 announcement. The new service was implemented without the use of analog set-top boxes, using an existing HFC (hybrid fiber-coaxial) network. The service, in Charter's Long Beach, CA system, combines digital programming with basic analog programming. The bandwidth-intensive service is made possible by use of a digital compression system consisting of "Harmonic DiviCom MV 50 variable bit-rate encoders and third-generation DiviTrackXE closed loop statistical multiplexing system," according to the announcement. For Charter subscribers, the new digital service can be activated "remotely and instantly" without the need for in-person service calls, said Charter vice president of engineering Wayne Davis.

In early January, Salt Lake City's U.S. Digital Television (USDTV) launched a unique system that delivers HDTV programming and productions from eleven cable networks over the air. The "mini wireless cable system" does so by using "spare DTV capacity of local TV stations," according to a January 15 report. USDTV's lineup includes Lifetime, Discovery, ESPN, ESPN2, HGTV, Disney, FoodTV, Toon Disney, TLC, other cable networks, and local HDTV fare for $19.95/month. For $99, USDTV also offers an HD-capable digital set-top converter (STB) that serves as a tuner for any subscribers with HDTV monitors lacking tuners. USDTV president Steve Lindsley calls his company's service "a low-cost alternative to cable and an opportunity for a new market." He projects eventually offering the service in as many as 30 communities. USDTV has contracted to buy 100,000 STBs from Chinese electronics manufacturer Hisense Electric. Hisense will also provide another 300,000 STBs to other US users in 2004, according to an announcement made at CES.

On January 16, Mountain View, CA–based Kaleidescape introduced its proprietary "Kaleidescape Movie Guide Service," which automatically provides detailed information about thousands of DVD titles, so that users of the Kaleidescape movie server "can easily navigate and select a movie from their personal DVD library stored on their Kaleidescape System." When DVDs are imported into a Kaleidescape System, the Movie Guide Service automatically provides the information about that movie, including:
title, cover art, genre, MPAA rating, cast, directors, synopsis and certain video bookmarks. Video bookmarks enable the Kaleidescape System to link together long
movies that come on multiple DVDs (or on two-sided DVDs) to create a seamless viewing experience, and to provide "event cues" to the home theater control system that enable it to lower or raise the lighting, open or close curtains, and automatically adjust the screen masking at appropriate times. A lifetime subscription to the Movie Guide Service is included with every purchase of a Kaleidescape System, which debuted late last year.

Sirius TV? Maybe. Sirius Satellite Radio, Inc. has announced plans to deliver TV programming to vehicles, using existing bandwidth, possibly by next year. The company claims that "it does not need permission from federal regulators to add video programming to its product line," according to a January 16 news report. "Our licenses from the FCC permits us to offer satellite radio and other ancillary services over the radio spectrum that has been licensed to us," said Sirius spokesman Jim Collins. Federal Communications Commissioners have not ruled on the company's intended expansion.