HNS Shows HDTV Set-Top, AOL-TV Deck

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Hughes Network Systems announced here its first high-definition TV set-top receiver for the DirecTv system.

Called the Platinum HD, the set-top integrated receiver descrambler (IRD) is designed to receive HDTV from the DirecTv satellite service as well as from over-the-air local ATSC broadcasters via an off-air antenna.

The Platinum HD receiver is scheduled to ship in the second quarter "at a market-competitive price" that will be announced later, said Sam Baumel, HNS Broadcast Division national accounts manager. It also is expected to be one of the first receivers to access the new DirecTv Advanced Program Guide, which will offer more advanced program searches as well as integrated program listings for DirecTv channels and local NTSC and ATSC terrestrial broadcasts.

To connect with today's HDTV-capable monitors, the Platinum HD IRD includes HD component video (Y-Pb-Pr) outputs. Additionally the unit will convert digital off-air signals to the standard 480i format to allow users to watch new digital broadcasts on their current NTSC analog sets.

Other features in the set-top include an NTSC tuner to receive off-air analog broadcasts via an antenna and the ability to scale any signal to either 480i or 1080i formats. It will also add features of fifth-generation standard Platinum series IRDs.

The new line offers a choice of dish size options, including the new DirecTv Plus dish that will receive expanded services from multiple orbital locations.

Used with the larger dish, all models receive the new local channel services from either the 101 or 119 degrees West Longitude orbital locations.

More compact than previous models, the new Silver and Gold edition set-tops measure 11" x 8.25" x 2.5". The Platinum version keeps the previous chassis size but adds the following new features:

Dolby Digital surround sound compatibility.

OneLine Guide is a compact version of the unit's onscreen program guide. It presents information on one channel at a time at the bottom of channel your are watching.

PreSelect programming lets viewers choose the programs they want to watch in advance, so when the program airs the system will automatically tune to the appropriate channel.

TurboTune is a graphics accelerator technology that allows unprecedented levels of speed and flexibility in using system guide functions.

Gold and Platinum models also include one-button record programming and TV Allowance, which gives parents the ability to regulate the amount of time children spend watching TV. Platinum models also offer Dolby Digital surround sound compatibility.

Meanwhile, Baumel said his company will offer AOL-Plus consumer service from the DirecPC broadband Internet system later this year, and will offer this summer an integrated AOL-TV service receiver and DirecTv IRD. Pricing was not determined for either system.

The HNS AOL-TV terminal will offer a data-enhanced broadcast service that brings many of the most popular functions of AOL's PC service to the television screen. For a small extra charge to the current AOL subscription fee, users will be able to access email tied to existing screen names from the TV set, and engage in online chats while watching popular television shows.

AOL is currently negotiating with several TV shopping networks to enable viewers to purchase featured products in real time from the system's wireless keyboard. Hughes is also working with AOL on a new AOL-TV offering that will combine many of the features of the internet service provider's computer-based service with the DirecTv programming packages.

"We see our new partnerships with such companies as AOL leading to a range of new technologies this year," Baumel said. "We will have a whole variety of platforms that will make the TV-centric entertainment experience even better."

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