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Dish Network Bows HD Programming, Hardware

Dish Network officially announced its new HD programming and hardware lineup during International CES, and CEO Charlie Ergen reported the company broke the 12 million subscriber milestone in December, that growth was solid last year and 2006 would see a major push for HD programming.

Part of that push was the announcement Dish was adding five new VOOM channels to its current lineup of 10 VOOM channels, for a total of 25. Consumers could now view all of Dish’s HD stations (called DishHD) and America’s Top Choice 60 for $54.99 per month. And if consumers didn’t want their local HD channels, they’d pay $5 less per month. Ergen said that viewers could watch 1,700 hours of high-definition programming per week. “I wouldn’t want to change places with anyone in this industry who delivers ones and zeros,” taking straight aim at the cable companies.

Also new from Dish is the rollout of local high-definition channels to major markets, beginning Feb. 1 with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston among the first to get the signals of the local ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates. This begins the transition from the current MPEG-2 format to MPEG-4. He noted that 50 percent of U.S. TV households would be covered by the end of 2006. Dish took the wraps off of three new MPEG-4 receivers that were on display in its booth.

The models include the VIP 211 single room box that receives HD and SD signals, the multiroom VR 222 that shows an HD image on the main screen and SD to another set in the house. The top-of-the-line VIP 622 is the company’s dual tuner uber deck with a built-in 320GB PVR that records 180 hours of high-definition shows. It too has multiroom capability. As the company makes its transition to MPEG-4, questions were asked of Ergen how current HD customers would be handled. He said more details would come in an upcoming “Charlie Chat” show but he did stress the company would “take care of our customers.”

With 1,080p televisions making a splash at International CES, chief technical officer Mark Jackson said that it would be at least a year before a Dish receiver would offer a 1,080p output.