HDTV Startup Is Eyeing the Skies

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The highest-definition HDTV delivered by satellite might not come from DirecTV or Dish Network.

Startup XstreamHD says it has developed technology to deliver high-definition movies on-demand — over satellite links — that are of better quality than HDTV services from any cable, direct-broadcast satellite or telephone operator.

The idea wouldn’t lift off until the second half of next year, at the earliest. XstreamHD president and founder George Gonzalez said the McLean, Va.-based company is not ready to disclose its service-provider partner, which he claimed will launch a consumer offering in the third quarter of 2008. Nor would he say which studios will be offering HD movies through the service.

But Gonzalez promised that the company’s setup can deliver video with resolution of up to 1080p, the highest HD standard on the market. This delivers video at 60 frames per second on a 1920-by-1080-pixel screen.

“What XstreamHD is about is changing the distribution paradigm,” he said.

The startup proposes to deliver HD movies as large files over standard geosynchronous satellites to a media gateway in the home, using a proprietary modulation scheme. The gateway device also will provide a tuner and antenna capable of receiving local HD broadcast-TV signals, and incorporate multiroom digital video recording features.

The XstreamHD service, as imagined, would lack cable-network channels. Gonzalez maintained that providing the best HD available would be the service’s overriding value proposition. “Distributors today focus on the number of [HD] channels they carry,” he said. “What we focused on was designing a new system … to deliver the highest-quality high-definition content.”

Gonzalez said the XstreamHD service would be close to the cost of a monthly DVD-rental service.

By using geosynchronous satellites instead of direct-broadcast satellites, according to Gonzalez, XstreamHD can use high-speed satellite data transmission without being regulated by the Federal Communications Commission as a video-programming distributor.

XstreamHD’s secret sauce, Gonzalez said, is its proprietary protocol for streaming data over satellites. “If you’re moving a 15-Gigabyte file, you’re going to lose a lot of packets. Our technology corrects those packets so that when the user goes to view the content there are no impairments — they have a copy of the studio master in their home.”

Encoding rates will vary, but an average movie title would be delivered as a roughly 14 to 16 Gigabyte file, according to Gonzalez. The home gateway will support playback of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 formats, and use the U.S. government’s Advanced Encryption Standard to scramble content.

The 26-employee startup, founded in 2002, is backed by private investors with no venture-capital funding.