LAS VEGAS – EchoStar said it will take advantage of its recent decision to split the company into two separate units – Dish Network Corp. and EchoStar Holding Corp. – to begin offering new set-top digital-to-analog converter boxes for the upcoming digital TV transition, including one that will be effectively free when purchased with a $40 government coupon.
The EchoStar Holding unit will manufacture and sell two set-top digital to analog converters that consumers can use to receive digital TV signals for display on their older analog sets.
Model TR-40, which will carry a $39.95 suggested retail, is expected to be eligible for the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) converter box coupon program, which will make up to two $40 coupons available to households that qualify.
“That means every home in America, for two TV sets absolutely free of charge, can convert to the digital transition,” said Charlie Ergen, EchoStar chairman. “There is no reason the digital transition can’t take place by February 2009, and there is no reason it will cost the consumer a dime.”
The second step-top, model TR-50, will include a digital video recorder and will support Dish Network’s IPTV interactive service. That model will not be eligible for the government coupon.
Ergen said the $39.95 converter will be sold below the company’s cost, as the company seeks to “take a leadership position,” in assisting the governments DTV transition. He said EchoStar hopes that when those purchasers decide to add a multi-channel service provider they will be more inclined to consider Dish Network.
Ergen said there are 13 million to 15 million U.S. homes whose TV sets that will require converters if consumers don’t purchase new TVs or add cable or satellite TV service.
The box will be sold under both the EchoStar and Sling Media brands. EchoStar recently acquired controlling interest in Sling Media.
The TR-40 will include all of the basic features outline in the NTIA guidelines, plus a seven-day electronic programming guide, program search, parental locks and VCR auto-tune timers.
Meanwhile, EchoStar said it plans to expand its HDTV channel offerings to 100 national cable channels and 100 local HD channels in 2008, including 61 new markets in the first and second quarters. To facilitate the expansion, the company plans to launch four satellites (one per quarter) in 2008, three of which will be used for service. The company will be transitioning over to all MPEG 4 technology through the launches.