Discovery uncovers HDTV plan

WASHINGTON — Discovery Networks jumped into the HDTV race Tuesday with a plan to launch a full-blown high-definition TV signal within three months.

Discovery Communications CEO John Hendricks said the move to HDTV was critical for cable networks that want to stay in the battle for “premium, upper-income viewers — the people who love television and watch a lot of it … and who have a lot of what advertisers want: a high level of disposable income.”

Although every major broadcast network, along with their affiliates, are about to embrace HDTV, cable has been less enthusiastic. In addition to Discovery, only HBO has announced plans to launch an HDTV service.

In a speech to Washington-area cable executives, Hendricks said HDTV will offer viewers a picture that it is six times more clear than current television signals with a picture resolution that is equivalent to color film. The crystal clear video signal is complimented with six-channel CD-quality sound. Hendricks predicted the introduction of HDTV will revolutionize the home viewing experience, with some consumers opting to buy TV sets measuring as large as 240 inches.

Despite the enthusiasm of programmers such as Discovery and HBO, cable system operators are reluctant to embrace HDTV. The high-tech HDTV signal takes up a lot of space on fiber optic networks, thereby reducing the number of channels an operator can offer. “Every HDTV signal stands in the way of four (conventional) channels,” Hendricks acknowledged. But that is a price he said cable operators need to pay if they want to compete against digital broadcasters. “We think consumers will demand it,” Hendricks said.

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