Deployment Issues Keep HDTV Fuzzy

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Anaheim, Calif. -- While cable operators are apparently resolute about deploying high-definition television, how to deal with the myriad bandwidth, content and business issues remains a fuzzy picture at best.

A Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing luncheon session Tuesday delved into the issues surrounding bringing HDTV to market -- and there was no shortage.

To start with, cablers need to find ways to fit bandwidth-sapping high-definition channels into a digital-video plant already crowded with standard channels and needing to embrace video-on-demand offerings.

"We are going to have to be better at offering more efficient ways to manage that bandwidth," said Bill Geppert, vice president and general manager of Cox Communications Inc.'s San Diego division. Cox recently deployed HD service in San Diego, and Geppert said that so far, there have been about 1,000 service orders and 750 HD set-top boxes installed.

While the MSO can gain back bandwidth by converting analog channels to digital, making the system more dynamically efficient by sending high-def streams only to high-def customers will make a big difference, according to Jamie Howard, chief operating officer at BigBand Networks Inc. BigBand is working on a switched broadcast system to do just that.

Content is on the way. ESPN executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches said the sports network is about 118 days away from an HD offering with major-league sports, which should drive HDTV. "We're very optimistic about it and we're charging forward," he added.

But consumer confusion is degrading HD's product resolution, panelists agreed. Various reports indicated that as many as 27 percent of cable customers believe they already have high-definition service, even though only a handful have the necessary HD boxes and TV sets.

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