RCA to offer Dolby Digital via Satellite

Digital Satellite System dish owners could soon be enjoying Dolby Digital surround sound. Next month, DSS dealers will start taking delivery on RCA's new DS5451 receiver. The new receiver will incorporate an optical Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format (S/PDIF) jack that sends a Dolby Digital signal to an appropriate surround decoder or A/V receiver.

The upgrade from conventional 2-channel audio to 5.1 channels is a breakthrough for the direct-broadcast satellite industry. "RCA will be the first to have this capability," says Dave Spomer, Thomson Electronics VP of product management for DSS. Like its predecessor, the DS5450, the DS5451 will retail at $449. Dolby Digital surround sound will initially be offered on a pay-per-view basis, as will High Definition programming when it becomes available, likely late this year.

A software upgrade in the DS5451 lets users view a full two hours' worth of program listings for seven channels at a time while running the current program in the background. When a desired program is found in the listing, it can be brought up with a click of the remote control.

There is no firm word yet on the progress of other satellite-based providers like Primestar and EchoStar, who reportedly also have plans to incorporate Dolby Digital into their programming. Primestar's new high-power service will not include Dolby Digital, although it will become available when Primestar's Dolby-equipped receivers are deemed ready for the market.