Starz Encore goes hi-def, hi-res

Sharper Movies HD to offer first-run titles

Starz Encore said it would launch a group of high-definition and “high-resolution” channels by the year’s end, even as chairman and CEO John Sie warned that the industry needs to better use its bandwidth.

Among the new Starz offerings is Sharper Movies HD, which will include many first-run titles in high-def, transmitted in 16-by-9 aspect ratios and 5.1-channel sound. The company will also offer a “Hi Res” version of Starz!, with DVD-quality movies.

Sie said bandwidth needs to be husbanded so more services and channels can be created. High-def signals require several times more bandwidth than a standard signal.

“The industry cannot afford continually to rebuild cable systems and to launch new DBS satellites to provide additional bandwidth,” Sie said. Sony’s new Passage technology gained significant traction with just-announced deals with Comcast and LG Electronics and LG’s U.S. subsid Zenith. It also signed deals with head-end maker Harmonic and conditional-access tech company NDS.

Comcast is the largest U.S. cable system operator, serving about one in five households. LG is one of the world’s biggest consumer-electronics makers. Sony had previously signed up another major system operator, Charter Communications.

Passage allows cable systems to knit together older set-top boxes and backend systems with more powerful new ones, running various kinds of services on the new machines while allowing the old ones to continue to function. The system is designed to allow hot new technologies to roll out more quickly, if in piecemeal fashion, on a given cable operator’s systems without forcing the company to dump its existing investment in older equipment.