EchoStar Prepares Dish/DVD Combo

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A combination Dish Network receiver and DVD player is expected to highlight a lineup of new products and services to be unveiled at an EchoStar press conference this morning.

The satellite company also had planned to announce a new integrated receiver descrambler (IRD) with built-in HDTV capability and an upgraded DishPlayer receiver with built-in WebTV Plus terminal and 12-hour personal TV recorder.

Pricing was not available for the combination Dish Network IRD/DVD player, although a company spokesman indicated the unit would ship sometime in the second quarter and would have onboard Dolby Digital decoding for either 5.1-channel DVD or Dish Network Dolby Digital programming.

The new combination unit will also ship with the Dish 500 satellite dish that is capable of receiving local and standard services from multiple orbital locations.

The new fully integrated HDTV-capable IRD will join EchoStar's current HDTV solution that involves connecting a HDTV adapter module to the company's model 5022 step-up IRD. Initially offered only to dealers for HDTV floor demonstrations, the two-piece solution recently became available to consumers.

The spokesman said EchoStar intentionally kept the consumer distribution of the HDTV package low key, due to limited supply and programming. But eager early adopters now can buy the add-on HDTV module for $299, in addition to the cost of the 5022 IRD.

Additionally, the unit must be connected to a separate third-party DTV set-top decoder in order to ship a displayable signal to an HDTV monitor.

However, the spokesman said the new fully integrated unit (model 6022) would include an internal ATSC tuner/decoder, Dish HD decoder and standard service decoder, eliminating the need for a second DTV decoder.

It will ship in the second quarter. Pricing and further specifications were expected to be announced at the press event.

Currently, EchoStar is offering HBO's East Coast HDTV channel at no extra cost to viewers. New pricing for HDTV programming, plus an announcement of up to five new HDTV network services are expected soon.

Other scheduled announcements from EchoStar include a next-generation DishPlayer receiver that adds a 17.2GB hard drive capable of storing up to 12 hours of TV programming at a time. (The previous model, 7100, offered up to six hours of recording time.)

The system continues to incorporate an internal WebTV device with integrated TV program guide to find and program the personal TV recorder to collect favorite programs. It will also offer an instant news feature and live interactive play-along-at-home capability for The Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy TV game shows.

The new DishPlayer 7200 carries a $299 suggested retail price. The personal TV service is offered for an additional charge of $9.99 per month or $4.99 per month to customers who also opt to subscribe to the WebTV Plus service.

Meanwhile, EchoStar continues to ramp up its local-channel services. The company had offered local channels to 14 cities, but it has just added Detroit, Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. Fifteen additional cities will be added by March.

Local affiliates for ABC, CBS and NBC are offered in each market, with Fox scheduled to be added shortly in Detroit and Seattle. EchoStar charges a $4.99 per month stipend for local channels, plus $1 extra for a national PBS channel.


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