Dishing Video on the Go

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EchoStar Communications Corp. is preparing to roll out a line of portable media players, allowing subscribers to transfer content from digital video recorders to the “PocketDish” devices.

The launch of the PocketDish, which spokesman Mark Cicero said would be available through Dish Network retailers as early as this week, will make EchoStar the first U.S. pay-TV provider to market portable media players. EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen first previewed the media players, which range in size from 2.2-inch display screens to a 7-inch model, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January.

Electronics hardware manufacturer Archos is producing PocketDish portable media players for the direct-broadcast satellite provider. EchoStar invested $9 million in the Igny, France-based firm in June.

Cicero said the 2.2-inch PocketDish model has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $329. The 4-inch model will sell at retail for $499, while a PocketDish model with a 7-inch screen will cost consumers $799.

EchoStar won’t charge monthly subscription fees for the portable media players, Cicero said.

While EchoStar will be the first multichannel provider out of the gate with a portable media player, rivals DirecTV Inc. and Comcast Corp. are also exploring the rollout of the devices, which could take advantage of the popularity of digital video recorders.

DirecTV jumped into the mobile media space last year, when it cut a deal with KVH Industries Inc. to deliver live DirecTV programming to cars with rooftop satellite antennas. But it doesn’t appear that the DBS leader will bring a handheld media player to market in the near future.

“It remains to be seen if there is a market for this type of device, but we are exploring options for portable media players,” DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said last week.

Comcast plans to roll out TiVo Inc.-branded DVRs to its subscribers in 2006. Comcast senior director of business development Mark Swan said in an interview in June that the MSO may eventually look to market TiVo-branded portable media players, but that ensuring the security of the programming for content providers remained a concern.

EchoStar’s PocketDish media players will enable customers to record video in real time, in addition to facilitating the transfer of content from a DVR. Cicero said it takes about five minutes to transfer an hour of programming to the media players.

The PocketDish devices will be able to transfer content from EchoStar-branded DVRs, in addition to DVRs from TiVo and other vendors, according to Cicero.

The smallest PocketDish player can store up to 20 hours of video programming. The device can also store up to 10,000 songs or up to 200,000 digital photos, in addition to the ability to record and play digital music files, according to EchoStar.

The 4-inch display model can store up to 30 hours of video fare, while the 7-inch widescreen display model can hold up to 40 hours.

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