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DirecTV, Dish Adding More HD Channels

Satellite TV providers DirecTV and Dish Network exchanged announcements last week that both would add more HD channels.

DirecTV said it will ramp up its HDTV service to 130 channels by adding 30 new channels beginning Aug. 14, adding on-demand movies in 1080p HD format later in the year.

Among the new HD channels will be Showtime Extreme HD, Showtime Showcase HD, Planet Green HD, ABC Family HD, additional HD pay-per-view channels and an additional 23 Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) in HD 24 hours a day.

DirecTV said all of the channels will be broadcast in the MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding standard by the end of this month.

All HD programming will also be available in the Dolby Digital audio format, and later this year, the satellite TV provider said it will begin offering movies in full 1080p resolution.

DirecTV said it also added 44 new HD local channel markets, and by the end of the year it plans to provide local HD broadcast channels in 121 cities, representing more than 88 percent of U.S. TV households. The new local HD markets will begin to be added this month and will continue through the end of the year.

Dish Network said it too is adding a 1080p video-on-demand (VOD) movie service now and increasing its HD channel lineup to over 150 by year’s end.

The expanded capability includes the company’s new TurboHD all-HD program package structure.

Dish Network launched 17 more national HD channels, boosting its HD offering to more than 100 national channels, five months ahead of schedule. The satellite provider said it plans to nearly double its national HD channel count in less than a year and offer up to 150 national HD channels by the end of 2008.

Starting Aug. 1, an MPEG-4 HD upgrade was rolled out to all MPEG-4-enabed HD and HD DVR receivers, Dish said. According to a company statement, the upgrade “activates a feature of the set-top boxes, improving the current standard of HD delivery,” including the ability to output 1080p programming. By early August, all Dish Network customers with MPEG-4 HD and HD DVR receivers will have equipment needed to display 1080p content on capable HDTV sets. The boxes will also output signals to other HD and SD formats required by various sets.

Dish said it will offer subscribers this month the recent Will Smith theatrical blockbuster “I Am Legend” in 1080p HD format through its VOD service, at a special $2.99 rate, reduced from $6.99.

Meanwhile, Dish said it is offering new three-tiered TurboHD programming packages starting at $24.99/month.

Current Dish Network customers with MPEG-4 HD and HD DVR receivers are being automatically upgraded and will have their systems “turbo-charged” by early August. Dish Network customers will be able to add a “turbo-charged” HD package starting at $10 more per month, the network said.