Tele-Communications Inc. announced Tuesday that it will launch a 124-channel cable test this month in Mt. Pleasant, a Chicago suburb.

The trial will test new services of the type TCI hopes to eventually offer nationwide. The test, which TCI is calling “Intelligent Television,” will involve 8,800 subscribers and is the largest of its kind ever conducted by the MSO.

According to TCI’s Illinois project manager, Jim Mitchell, Intelligent Television simulates a high-channel digital compression cable system, and is “simply a stepping stone” in TCI’s plan to roll out digital compression in its Chicago system.

Channel travel

The Intelligent Television trial will allow viewers to navigate the 124 -channel universe using on-screen menus and analog set-top boxes and remote control units designed by General Instruments.

The Mt. Pleasant test will offer 24 channels of Discover’s “Your ChoiceTV,” a pay television service that offers current episodes of TV programs that have already aired. Viewers will be able to choose from such network fare as “20/20, “”Dateline NBC,””All My Children” and the “Tonight Show,” among others. Most shows will cost under $ 1.00 per episode.

Pick a hit

“Hits at Home” will run on 24 of the system’s other channels. This service is being programmed for TCI by Request, the PPV service that had been providing the system with two PPV channels. In what is called a “near-demand service,” movies will air at half-hour and one-hour intervals, and viewers will be able to jump backwards and forwards in them. Up to 30 movies will be provided each month by Disney, Fox, MGM, Universal, New Line Cinema, Paramount and other studios that have agreed to participate in the test.

Pick and choose

Seven of the system’s channels will be devoted to a la carte networks, which viewers will be able to select individually in monthly subscriptions or in packages. The service will be called “Select Entertainment,” and includes ESPN2, the Travel Channel, Bravo, the Cartoon Network, E! Entertainment Television, the Learning Channel and TV-Japan.

Additionally, TCI will offer multiplexed HBO service on two channels, and the West Coast feed from the Disney Channel, on another.

The MSO also plans to announce additional test services on two channels that it is activating, but not filling with programming.

Hardware in place

TCI’s Mt. Pleasant system was a prime contender to test a high-channel “analog version of a digital compression system,” according to Mitchell, because it has the existing capacity for more than 124 channels. The system has this capacity because it relies on dual cable — two separate coaxial cable lines are already in place.

The “Intelligent Television” service has been up and running internally at the cable op for the past few weeks and is scheduled to be marketed to customers by mid-month.

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