Just went by DirecTV’s booth and talked with one of their engineers about what to expect in the next year. According to the engineer, 2006 is going to be the year that DirecTV brings you local channels. All in they will be launching roughly 1,500 new channels but the most new channels any one user will get will be four — the four network channels in your local broadcast area.
I bitched a little bit about losing my East Coast network feeds on my HDTV TiVo unit but the enginer blamed the rules and said they’d love to give me everything if they could. I still get wound up about the fact that we can’t get East Coast feeds of network television because of some local protectionist legislation whose whole purpose is to allow local television stations to bombard you with local advertising that so many of us don’t even watch anymore. We should be able to watch both East Coast and West Coast feeds and I hate the fact that our choice has been sold down the river by a bunch of politicians.
So not a lot of new HDTV content to expect from DirecTV in 2006 except for the local channels. Personally I’m not very excited about that because I already get one local channel and the other three West Coast feeds are just fine for me. I only really care about network programming and could care less about things like local news that I’ll just get off the internet anyway. The engineer said that we are going to have to look to 2007 and beyond before we see meaningful additional HDTV content. I brought up all the content that Voom had in HD but he said that much of that was just HD channels with standard definition programming. Not sure on this or not but I plan on stopping by Dish’s booth at some point to talk to them about the Voom stuff that they are integrating in.
According to the engineer the new NDS high def PVR box is due out in the 2nd quarter of 2005. He said they could be off by a month either way which probably really means look for it in June or July. The new NDS high def PVR box will operate via MPEG 4. I asked him about our legacy MPEG 2 stuff with the TiVo HDTV box and what upgrade options might be available and when. He told me that you could probably upgrade to a new MPEG 4 NDS box for a nominal charge. Another piece of good news though was that he told me that there were no immediate plans to get rid of the MPEG 2 broadcasts currently being received by my HDTV TiVo, so in other words, if I’m happy with my West Coast network feeds not being “local” feeds per say, then I could just stick with what I’ve already got.
The only downside to not upgrading is that you miss out on some of the slick new interactive stuff that they are putting out in MPGEG 4 like the six picture in one mixes that they are now doing in MPEG 4 and other sort of interactive downloads that they will have in the future. He did say that they have recently struck deals to sell you downloaded content similar to iTunes and that you’d need an MPEG 4 receiver to get this stuff. One interesting wrinkle that he did tell me about that might give DirecTV an advantage with some of that downloadable stuff was that he said that with downloadable stuff from Fox (which they control) and maybe some other network programming in the future that you’d be able to buy programming before it is even broadcast giving you an early jump. While I can’t see them doing this with anything time sensitive like CBS’ Survivor, it seemed interesting. Still, I just can’t see paying for TV when I can just record it on my PVR for free. This service might be more attractive those to those current DirecTV subscribers who have the unit without a PVR in it.
The engineer didn’t know anything about the Media Center relationship or what that might look like. He did have a good war story though about how RCA basically just bullied Hughes out of the production business buy buying them just to shut them down when Hughes was making better products than RCA was. He said that there were a lot of bad feelings over this from some engineer’s perspective.
I also took a look at a slick new kitchen type LCD display that DirecTV is going to be selling. It has a flip up or flip down display with a built in DirecTV receiver. Seemed like an interesting combo item.
I am of course not very excited that the only new high def coming my way from DirecTV this year will be potentially four local network channels but hopefully as more content producers make high def content available we will see it on DirecTV. The interactivity stuff seemed interesting but nowhere near as compelling as what OpenTV showed Davis Freeberg and I a while back.