CES: DirecTV, Dish offer new services, go mobile

Consumer Reports News: January 09, 2007 03:26 PM

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Digital satellite service providers DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network both announced new program line-ups at CES, along with ways to let subscribers take their satellite programming on the road.

Among the highlights: DirecTV announced a new suitcase-style portable receiver/LCD monitor called Sat-Go (pictured), and said it was creating a professional video gaming league run much like a baseball or football league; and Dish rolled out new programming packages that bundle a DVR at no additional charge, and announced an in-car satellite service called MobileDish.

Sat-Go, a large briefcase-style package that includes an antenna, receiver and 17-inch LCD, will be launched this spring. The system, which was designed by a DirecTV customer who happens to be a TV producer (and who used to lug a conventional dish and receiver to location shoots), can pop out of the case/antenna to be used as a standalone DirecTV receiver.

The gaming initiative — called the Championship Gaming Series — is planned as an international video gaming league and will launch this spring. The league will operate much like other professional sports leagues, with salaried players, managers and even a commissioner. Players will compete for an international title and over $1 million in prize money.

At CES, the company said it was on plan to launch two new satellites mid-year, giving it the capacity to offer 100-plus national HD channels and 1,500 local channels. DirecTV also said it had deals or agreements in principle with more than 70 major networks including: A&E, National Geographic, Bravo, NFL Network,Cartoon Network, SciFi Channel, CNN, Speed, Food Network, TBS, FX, The History Channel, HGTV, The Weather Channel, MTV and USA Network. Sports programming will be beefed up with regional sports networks such as YES and Fox Sports, and the company will expand its premium-channel HD offerings. Most of the new programming will be available this fall. The company also said a new networkable  Viiv-enabled DVR is now in beta, and DirecTV on Demand will likely roll out in the middle of the year.

As for Dish, its new DishDVR Advantage Package bundles its ViP622 HD DVR, its America's Top 200 programming package, plus an 18-month "Home Protection" warranty plan for a $49.99 monthly fee. The package, designed to remove hidden fees or charges, will kick off Feb. 1. For those who want HD, it can be added to any package for $20 per month. The ViP622 now has a 500GB hard drive, and supports VC1, as well as MPEG-4, which are more efficient video formats.

MobileDish is a car-based satellite system that uses antenna technology from a company called RaySat. The antenna mounts to a car's roof rack. The company also said it will launch a new satellite later this year,and discussed several new interactive TV initiatives, including Racing Interactive. The new broadband-enabled DVR and its DishOnline initiative can also be used to supplement the company's "push" VOD program, which downloads movie selections to a portion of the DVR's hard drive for access by users. While new titles would likely continue to be offered this way, catalog titles and TV programs could be delivered via the Internet.

The company also said it was getting out of the branded portable media player business, but that Archos, which supplied the hardware for its handheld PocketDish device, would continue to make models that could capture, store and play back Dish programs, as well as music, photos and games.

Despite their obviously separate approaches to the business, rumors continue to abound that the two satellite companies could merge within the next year or two, if regulatory hurdles can be surmounted.

— James K. Willcox

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