EchoStar Communications Corp. last week became the first
Showtime Networks Inc. affiliate to distribute the company's high-definition television
feed with Wednesday night's theatrical feature, The Truman Show.
DirecTV Inc. said it had no immediate plans to add
Showtime's high-definition channel. DirecTV currently offers two HDTV channels -- one
devoted to pay-per-view and the other to Home Box Office.
Showtime has not announced any cable-carriage agreements
for its HDTV feed, although it expects to announce other deals within the next few weeks,
according to executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark
HBO is offered in HDTV in a limited number of Time Warner
Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. markets.
It's unclear how many of EchoStar's Dish Network
subscribers have access to the high-definition signal. Only about 100,000 digital
televisions capable of showing HDTV pictures have been sold in the United States.
Also, Dish Network subscribers need second direct-broadcast
satellite dishes pointed at the 61.5 degrees west longitude orbital location to receive
the channel. And subscribers need model "Dish 5000" receivers and special HDTV
modulators to access the feeds.
In the second quarter, EchoStar plans to introduce an
integrated receiver that accepts HDTV signals from Dish Network satellites and digital
broadcast stations. The $499 receiver will not initially incorporate an IEEE (Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 1394 digital interface.
EchoStar is expected to move at least some of its HDTV
programming to 110 degrees over time, but no final decisions have been made.
For a limited time, EchoStar is offering a free preview of
both Showtime's and HBO's HDTV feeds to any subscriber with the hardware to receive them,
a spokesman said. The company has not yet determined whether to charge an additional fee
to HBO or Showtime subscribers who wish to add the HDTV channels.
Showtime and HBO offer their HDTV feeds, along with other
multiplex channels, at no additional charge to affiliates, as long as they don't pass
along additional fees.
Last Friday, Showtime aired ANight at the
Roxbury and A Simple Plan in HDTV. A few other movies were featured in Dolby
Digital surround sound last week, but without the high-definition picture.
Greenberg said Showtime's HDTV-programming rollout will
start slowly, but ramp up throughout the year. "By the end of the year, we'll have
the majority of primetime in high-definition," he added.
About 60 percent of programming from HBO's main feed --
mostly movies -- is simulcast in HDTV. The rest of the programming -- including original
series such as The Sopranos -- is upconverted on the HDTV feed to show a higher
resolution than a typical television signal, a spokesman said.