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Dish expands HD lineup; confirms MPEG-4 HD DVR

Dish expands HD lineup; confirms MPEG-4 HD DVR

MPEG-4 has been slowly rising in the ovens of competing satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV, and it looks like the winner of the bake-off, at least in terms of HD channel lineup size, is Dish Network. The company announced it would carry seven new national high-def channels, including ESPN2, NBC's UniversalHD, and five new Voom HD channels with original programming: Family Room, Gameplay, Treasure, World Cinema, and WorldSport, bringing the total number of Voom channels available on Dish to 15 and the total number of national HD channels to 25. But most importantly, Dish will also begin broadcasting local channels--namely, the feeds from the four major networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, but not PBS, WB and the rest--to select U.S. markets, pushing the number of available HD channels via satellite even higher. On February 1, Dish viewers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston will be able to receive the new local and national HD channels, and the company plans to have local HD channels in 50 markets by the end of 2006.

All of these new channels will require a new MPEG-4-compatible HD receiver to watch, although current Dish subscribers will continue to receive the company's existing MPEG-2 high-def and standard-def channels. To coincide with the launch of the new channels, Dish confirmed February availability of a new MPEG-4-compatible high-def DVR, the ViP622. In terms of features and external appearence, the ViP622 is essentially identical to the well-received DVR 942; it even includes a third tuner to receive over-the-air local HD broadcasts. The company is offering a limited-time price of $299 to new customers who purchase a ViP622 and subscribe to the company's service. Dish is also offering a non-DVR MPEG-4-compatible receiver, the ViP211, for $49 to new subscribers.

We spoke with Dish's rep and learned that the company will announce details on an upgrade path for existing DVR 942 customers on Monday night's Charlie Chat (available on Dish channel 101). We also asked about the ViP622's compatibility with the PocketDish portable video player and were informed that it is compatible and "might" even allow transfer of high-def shows to the device. Dish's rep also mentioned that a newer version of the AV700E PocketDish--one with a better screen--was in the works and said Dish would have details in a couple of weeks on a software upgrade that allows existing standard-def USB-equipped Dish DVRs, namely the DVR625, to interface with the PocketDish players via (slower) USB 1.0.

We'll have more details on the new HD channels when we receive a review sample of the ViP622 in February.