EchoStar’s PocketDish Takes On iPod

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When EchoStar Communications Corp. launched its PocketDish portable video player six weeks ago, it made sure the press received its mano-a-mano fact sheet comparing the device with Apple Computer Inc.’s new video-enabled iPod.

Both have 30-Gigabit hard drives. Both provide video, music and photo storage. That’s where the similarities end, according to EchoStar.

PocketDish uses a 4-inch screen, compared to the iPod’s 2.5-inch screen. EchoStar said it can store 300,000 photos and 20,000 songs, compared to the iPod’s 25,000 photos and 15,000 songs. The battery life for video on PocketDish is twice as long, four hours versus two hours.

But the biggest difference concerns consumer’s pocketbooks. Subscribers can download up to 30 hours of content from their Dish Network digital video recorders without paying fees, versus $1.99 per episode for Lost and Desperate Housewives through Apple’s iTunes.

EchoStar’s pitch: Why pay for content you can “tape” and store for free on your DVR and PocketDish?

“PocketDish enables consumers to get the most out of the content they are already paying for,” EchoStar spokesman Mark Cicero said. “And, it’s not just limited to Dish Network subscribers. Anyone who owns a piece of equipment with analog outputs can use the PocketDish as a DVR.”

He added, “IPod users will have to pay about $45 to store and watch an entire season of Desperate Housewives. With PocketDish, the cost to transfer content is free, and you don’t have to wait a day to download the broadcast.”

EchoStar currently is marketing the product on its Web site, as well as on www.pocketdish.com and through an 800 number. The company hopes to have the product available in retail stores, including Sears and Radio Shack, where Dish Network service is sold, in the near future.

Cicero said sales have gone well. “We’ve seen significant traffic to www.pocketdish.com, and that is a good sign,” he said.

The company is offering Dish subscribers a rebate of $20, $30 or $40, depending on what size PocketDish they purchase: the 2-inch, 4-inch or 7-inch screen version. The 7-inch version includes a 40 GB hard drive and retails for $599. The 4-inch, 30 megabyte unit is $499. The 2-inch, 20 GB model retails for $329.

PocketDish works with any DVR that has an analog output, so cable, DirecTV Inc. or TiVo Inc. subscribers could use PocketDish to transfer content from their DVR using standard audio/video cables. The Dish-to-PocketDish transfer via universal serial bus 2.0 connections is faster, the company said. A one-hour show takes about five minutes to download.

It may be an elegant consumer solution to fare you’ve paid for already, but not all programmers agree. “It does meet a consumer need, but they are leaving money on the table,” said Albert Cheng, head of The Walt Disney Co.’s new media group. “They should rethink the model. Apple has a great model — and has everyone sharing in the pie. If cable and satellite go down that path [DVR to go], they leave a lot on the table.”

But EchoStar disagrees. “We believe PocketDish can only help our business,” Cicero said, even providing a tool for non-Dish subscribers to sign up for the service.

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