HBOs Sopranos Goes High-Definition

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Home Box Office last week said it will air the second and third seasons of its mob hit The Sopranos
in the high-definition television format.

Sunday, Jan. 14 will mark the first time the network airs an original-series episode in HDTV. Season three begins March 4.

HBO began offering HD in 1999, and aired about 45 percent of its theatrical movies in the wide-screen, high-quality format at that time. The network decided to delay offering its original series in HD until there was a larger consumer base of high-definition sets in place and until HD product equipment was more widely accessible, said HBO senior vice president of technology operations Bob Zitter.

Though consumer penetration of HDTV sets is still relatively low, "we think the numbers are starting to tick up as the prices drop," said Zitter.

For the past five years, HBO has asked the producers of its series to shoot in a wide-screen film format so episodes could be remastered in HD.

Starting this season, The Sopranos
will be delivered to HBO only in HD tape format. It will then be downcoverted to a standard-definition picture format for the network's main feed.

The process makes even the standard picture look "a little bit better," Zitter said.

Though Zitter doesn't expect viewers to notice additional action in the wide-screen Sopranos
episodes, "what you do get is a much greater sense of being in the picture."

DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. offer HBO in HD, as do some Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. systems.

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