Looking to capitalize on the expanded services and technological capabilities of the DirecTv satellite platform, Thomson used the recent Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association show to usher in its next generation of DirecTv integrated receiver descramblers (IRDs).
Chief among a host of new capabilities in the new devices is the ability to receive local-into-local broadcast channels. The capability will be found in two models (DS4440RE and DRD480RE), that will ship in October at suggested retail prices of $399 and $349, respectively.
The DRD480RE is billed as a replacement for the existing Dolby Digital-capable IRD. The stand-alone receiver passes through a 5.1-channel digital surround sound signal to an external Dolby Digital decoder. It also offers a UHF/IR universal remote.
The DS4440RE is a new complete system, bundling Wink enhanced interactive programming capability, Picture Guide enhanced program guide with a video window, on-screen caller ID, and a new (DSA8900E) 18x24-inch dish. This will be outfitted with dual LNBs capable of receiving both standard DirecTv and new local-into-local channel services from satellites parked in two different orbital slots. It omits Dolby Digital capability.
Both units also incorporate circuitry to receive Wink enhanced broadcasting services, which will provide users with various interactive applications on the channels of participating networks. Additionally, Dave Spomer, Thomson DBS product management VP, said the new RCA DirecTv receivers' software can be upgraded via the satellite service.
This "helps us to refine not only the services that we have in our strategy for today for these products, but also when smart people come up with new ideas we can implement them without sending a message to the consumer that their satellite box is obsolete now," he said.
Spomer said his company's production levels are running at a record pace in producing DirecTv receiver systems. He predicted crossing the 7-million-unit mark for total systems manufactured to date by the fourth quarter of 1999. He added that demand is so strong it continues to outstrip supply, and Thomson continues to invest in expanding its digital product factory in Juarez, Mexico.
By the end of the year, he said, the facility will have the capacity to produce 5 million digital devices (DirecTv systems, DTV decoders and DVD players) a year.
"In the satellite industry, we see a significant growth opportunity for the next 18-30 months," Spomer said. "Beyond that my crystal ball gets a little hazy," explaining that he doesn't expect a drop off in sales volume, but he can't predict the same year-to-year growth levels to be sustained that far off.
Dovetailing with DirecTv's announced plan to offer the East Coast feed of the HBO HD channel to consumers beginning August 1, Spomer said Thomson will be ready to ship its integrated HDTV sets on that date. The TVs, which are DirecTv standard, HD and local-TV ready, will require the 18x24-inch dish to receive HD services and standard DirecTv services from two different orbital slots.