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Voom High-Def Satellite Service Hits Sears Floors

Rainbow DBS, the satellite TV arm of major cable TV MSO Cablevision Systems, formally launched here its national HDTV-centric satellite service called Voom.

The service now includes 21 1080i HDTV channels, produced by Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media exclusively for the new system, along with more than 20 popular cable channels in standard definition. Voom also just added Showtime, Starz! and six MTV channels to the lineup.

Executives said HBO would likely be added by January, when they also plan to add various pay-per-view HD programs, including exclusive HD content from Playboy.

Subscribers will be given a free preview period through the balance of the year, and in January customers will pay a monthly subscription fee of $39.90. That will include 21 exclusive HD channels, one HD PlusPack, more than 40 standard definition cable channels, and 18 digital music channels.

The service will ramp up its selection to 39 HDTV channels and 88 standard-definition cable channels by February 2004. During the ramp-up period Voom will add the NFL Network and DiscoveryHD Theater, the company said.

Cablevision is placing heavy emphasis on exclusive HD content as its distinction from satellite and cable TV rivals, said Mickey Alpert, Rainbow DBS chief operating officer.

“We believe we are coming into a new market. We are not the third entrant into the DBS market,” Alpert said. “We are differentiating ourselves [from cable systems, DirecTV and EchoStar] by becoming HDTV centric, offering 21 exclusive HDTV channels supplemented with other HD channels and complimented with various standard definition services.”

Even among common HDTV channels, Voom will offer a difference, Alpert said. “Where, for example, DirecTV and EchoStar offer an HBO HD feed, we will offer two HBO HD feeds. We will try to distinguish ourselves in every way.”

The system is now being sold both direct to consumers through the Web site, through 851 Sears full-line stores and through 772 Sears dealer stores across the nation. Sears will have a retail distribution exclusive on the service through the balance of the year, and possibly through the end of January, pending negotiations, according to a Sears representative.

Rainbow DBS will exhibit at International CES in Las Vegas during January, where new retail distribution partners will be introduced to the Voom program.

Rainbow DBS will sell an equipment package, including a professional installation, for $749.99.

Hardware for the system is being manufactured for Rainbow DBS by Motorola, and will include a set-top decoder box, capable of decoding both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 signals, an 18-inch satellite dish, and a ChannelMaster external antenna which will connect to an internal ATSC tuner in the decoder box.

The set-top box will include HD component video outputs and a DVI-HDCP digital video jack for connection to newer HDTV-ready sets. A USB-2 jack is included for possible home networking applications. Composite and S-video jacks are available for standard definition TVs. Plans are to add 1394 digital interfaces to “the second run” of boxes, although initial shipments will omit that capability, said Wilt Hildenbrand, Cablevision Systems engineering and technology executive VP.