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EchoStar Begins L.A., N.Y. HD Coverage

EchoStar has begun delivering local HDTV channels over its Dish Network to eligible subscribers in the New York and Los Angeles market areas.

Dish will carry affiliate stations for the four major networks in both markets.

In New York, Dish will carry: ABC Ch. 7 (WABC), CBS Ch. 2 (WCBS), NBC Ch. 4 (WNBC) and FOX Ch. 5 (WNYW).

In Los Angeles the satellite service will carry: ABC Ch. 7 (KABC), CBS Ch. 2 (KCBS), NBC Ch. 4 (KNBC) and FOX Ch. 11 (KTTV).

Dish is offering next-day installation on an HD satellite system to new customers who sign up for DishHD through a local RadioShack retailer before Feb. 28.

Dish Network offers local channels via satellite to New York area customers in 14 counties. In addition, Dish Network will deliver HD locals in 13 New Jersey counties and to customers in Fairfield County, Conn., and Pike County, Pa. In the Los Angeles area, local HD channels will be offered to subscribers living in eight counties.

Subscribers looking for HD service will have a choice of four different package options, starting at $49.99 a month. Customers can add local channels in both high definition and standard definition for $5 a month.

In addition, Dish Network will launch high-definition local channels through its satellite service in up to 50 markets in 2006, reaching more than 50 percent of U.S. TV households by year end. Other cities expected to receive local HDTV service soon include Chicago and Boston.

To accommodate the increased bandwidth requirements of the new HD channels, Dish Network will begin transmitting them in the MPEG-4 compression standard.

To receive those channels, subscribers must have a new set-top decoder box with MPEG-4 capability. The company recently introduced a new ViP series of satellite receivers that combine MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 signal capability.

Existing customers with MPEG-2 equipment, such as the Dish Player DVR 942, will continue to receive their current content but will need to upgrade to a new ViP Series receiver to receive the new HD stations, EchoStar said.

The new MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 HD decoder model ViP211 is being offered at $49.99 for new lease customers.

EchoStar will also add other HDTV channels using MPEG-4 compression in 2006. Planned new channels include five new VOOM HD channels — bringing the total VOOM channels to 15 — as well as other new HD networks, including ESPN2 HD and Universal HD.

In other news, EchoStar said it has reached a multi-year agreement to return the standard-definition Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network channels to Dish Network, ending a messy dispute over a recent steep rate hike asked by Lifetime.

And EchoStar Communications said it will again offer an NBC Interactive TV channel, offering a mosaic screen of multiple picture-in-picture windows enabling viewers to watch multiple 2006 Olympic Winter Games events simultaneously. The NBC Interactive TV channel began to be offered Friday, Feb. 10 when the Olympics started and will run until Feb. 26. In addition, Dish Network said it will broadcast the NBC Olympic coverage in high definition to all Dish Network HD viewers.