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Digital TV Boxes Shipping In Time For Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS -A handful of consumer electronics manufacturers gave high-definition television enthusiasts some good news at CES by announcing plans to ship long-delayed digital television set-top decoder boxes in time for the CBS Network’s HDTV Super Bowl broadcast.

But two weeks before game time, few retailers were making guarantees that HDTV receivers could be delivered and installed in consumers’ homes in time for kickoff.

A number of boxes announced as shipping or arriving shortly were actually introduced early last year but had been delayed because direct-to-home satellite provider DirecTV refused to approve their release due to various quality-control issues, most of which involved a new advanced onscreen programming guide.

Prior to the recent releases, Thomson’s RCA and ProScan DirecTV/ ATSC DTV decoder boxes were some of the only set-top tuners available. But those lack the new advanced program guide and require an expensive VGA-to-HD-component-video adapter to use with a majority of the HDTV monitors on the market.

Thomson is also sponsoring the HDTV production of the game.

Immediately prior to the show, Panasonic announced that its TU-HDS20 combination DirecTV/over-the-air DTV decoder is now shipping to dealers. That unit is unusual in that it will both receive and output all commonly used ATSC formats in native form.

The TU-HDS20 carries a $1,099.95 suggested retail price.

Toshiba announced availability of its first DTV set-top during a press conference at the show. Model DST-3000, which receives over-the-air ATSC signals and DirecTV standard and high-definition services, outputs signals in the 1080i and 480i formats. It carries an $899.95 suggested retail without a dish.

Hughes Network Systems said it would have its Platinum HD (HIRD-F46) DirecTV/ATSC decoder box available in February at a $649.95 suggested retail. The Platinum HD will output signals in the 1080i and 480i formats and includes the new Advanced Program Guide.

Mitsubishi said it is now shipping its SR-HD400 and SR-HD500 DirecTV/ ATSC decoder boxes. Like the Hughes and Toshiba boxes, the Mitsubishi models output 1080i and 480i formats. Model SR-HD400 carries a $799.95 suggested retail price, and the SR-HD500, which includes a 24-inch elliptical dish, is $999.95.

Sony said its SAT-HD100 would ship in February at a $799.95 suggested retail. It includes a UHF remote, auto title inserter, Media Window, IR Blaster SmartFile and one-touch record. It will output the 480i and 1080i formats.

Samsung is now shipping its SIR-T150 ATSC set-top decoder at a $699.95 suggested retail. The box will output 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i formats. It will also line-double NTSC signals.

EchoStar also announced that its ATSC receiver module for its model 6000 set-top IRD is shipping for an additional $149 on top of $499.95 suggested retail for the base IRD.

Meanwhile, retailers were preparing to meet the big-screen TV onslaught that traditionally greets the Super Bowl game. Circuit City said it believed it had “adequately prepared” to meet demand for HDTV sets and set-top receivers, but the chain was issuing installation guarantees for the Super Bowl on a market-by-market basis, according to a spokesman.

Similarly, Best Buy pushed the Super Bowl buying season as being “better than Christmas for big-screen television sales.”

Buddy Davis, owner of Washington, D.C.-area antenna installation service Davis Antenna, said he received more than 600 calls for system installations the morning after the nearby Baltimore Ravens qualified for the big game.

Davis said he will install systems right through Super Bowl Sunday, but was asking a $150 premium for last-minute orders, and even those appointment slots were running out.