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SBCA Tunes In Radio As DBS Merger Looms

The usual hoopla that surrounds new direct broadcast satellite TV products and programs was expected to be a little more subdued at this year’s Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA) Convention as the digital satellite radio services make their show debut.

In part, this is due to the proposed merger of the industry’s two remaining full-conus direct broadcast satellite TV (DBS) providers — DirecTV and EchoStar. At press time, a Federal Communications Commission team reviewing the merger put the proposal back on the clock, after temporarily suspending the process in March while it awaited additional documents from both companies.

Typically, the FCC tries to complete its review of license transfers within 180 days, meaning a decision could come in the fall, as originally expected. As for the show, some grandstanding from camps both for and against the merger is expected.

DirecTV distributors to rural markets — the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and Pegasus — continue to fight the merger, citing the potential threat to rural customers a satellite television monopoly would impose. Several state attorneys general have echoed those concerns, including those from Missouri and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the digital satellite radio field continues to grow, and representatives from both XM and Sirius were expected to have distribution announcements at this year’s show. (See sidebar).

According to an SBCA spokesman this year’s pre-show registration was “tracking close to last year’s attendance” (approximately 3,500).

“It is our plan to be very retailer focused at this year’s show, following the success of the National Standards and Testing Program that we launched last year,” said James Ashurst, SBCA spokesman.

This year the SBCA will launch a series of additional testing programs including new commercial satellite and satellite radio installation certification training and testing programs, under the NSTP umbrella.

The satellite radio installation certification will encompass all aspects of a mobile satellite radio installation, including installation of the antenna, tuner and radio frequency modulator or stereo head-unit.

The Commercial Satellite Installation Certification Training and Testing program will require installers to complete a small dish installation test and a multiple satellite antenna installation test.

Also new at this year’s show will be a “programmers spotlight,” which is billed as an off-the-show-floor presentation area where programmers can discuss new programs, services, promotions and dealer education.

A glance at what key satellite TV equipment vendors were planning for the show follows:

DirecTV: The provider was planning a press conference at 5 p.m., Aug. 7, to announce “a next-generation digital video recorder (DVR) product.” DirecTV recently announced a new deal with PVR developer TiVo through which it would be taking control of the distribution and marketing of new generation PVRs.

The program provider was also to announce its new NFL Sunday Ticket offer for the upcoming season.

EchoStar: Surprisingly, the DBS provider was not planning a press conference at this year’s event, but will show in its booth the just introduced PVR-721 hybrid satellite decoder/personal video recorder ($549). The 721 has dual tuners and a 120GB hard drive that is capable of storing over 90 hours of television programs as well as digital music and photo files. Another new DISH PVR is the PRV-508 ($399 system, $349 standalone), which is billed as a 70-hour model that replaces the old 30-hour 501 model.

EchoStar was also expected to announce a new promotional program to attract new subscribers.

Hughes Network Systems: DirecTV’s sibling unit will be part of a joint announcement on a next generation DirecTV TiVo personal video recorder, with a larger hard-drive capable of multimedia format storage and playback. It is also expected to have new distribution announcements for its DirecWay programs.

Philips: The company will show at its booth here a pair of standard DirecTV satellite receivers — the DSX5500 and DSX5540 — that will be added to its set-top box lineup sometime in the fourth quarter. Final pricing will not be determined until closer to the commercial release date, but company officials expect them to sell in the $99-$149 and $149-$199 ranges, respectively.

Both units include support for Wink interactive services.

The step-up model DSX5540 will include support for Dolby Digital 5.1-surround sound (pass through) and will also feature gold-plated back-panel connectors.

Also included is a new “A/V switching matrix,” which is designed to play the role of an A/V receiver in systems without a full compliment of home theater components. The switching matrix will act as a control hub providing a simple method for controlling other A/V sources in a home entertainment system, including DVD players, VCRs, and game platforms.

“This is an ideal solution for consumers who have limited connectivity — either through choice or via necessity — but still want to enjoy the experience of both satellite and DVD (or other source).” According to a Philips spokesman. Philips plans to sell the receivers through its main existing channels, which include independents (via Metron), regionals like The Good Guys, via DirecTV’s own direct sales program (co-exclusive supplier with HNS) and via DirecTV certificate fulfillment programs for Office Depot and Blockbuster.

Other channels were said to be under discussion.

Regarding future compatibility, Philips said, “We have designed our new DSX5500 and 5540 models to ensure continued customer enjoyment of available services.”

Samsung: Though not an exhibitor, the company will have a presence on the show floor by showing its new SIR-TS160 ATSC/DirecTV HDTV decoder box in the O’Rourke Bros. Distributing and Metron booths. The TS160 features a DVI-HDTV digital interface as well as HD Component video output and is slated to ship this month at a $699 suggested retail price. Features include built-in caller ID and five video games. In addition, Samsung will show its recently introduced standard DirecTV boxes — SIR-S70 and SIR-S75.

Sony: Although it will not have a booth this year, the company was expected to show its next-generation HD-200 high-definition ATSC/satellite decoder box and the T-60 DirecTV/TiVo hydrid satellite decoder/personal video recorder at the O’Rourke Bros. Distributing booth.

Thomson: At its recent line show in New York, Thomson said the DTC-100 ATSC and DirecTV/HD decoder has been discontinued as it prepares to introduce two new HD decoder boxes for the fourth quarter, including the DTC-200 ATSC/DirecTV HD decoder. The new satellite HD box features a digital DVI-HDTV with HDCP copy protection interface, as well as analog RGBHV and HD component video outputs. Both coax and optical audio outputs are added for surround sound pass through.

The HD-200 will receive and output all of the primary DTV display formats, including 1080I, 720p 480p and 480i. It will also simultaneously output an analog 480i signal for connection to a separate analog NTSC set. Also expected are new generation standard DirecTV decoders.