Skirmishing over high definition television (HDTV) continued this week with the news that DirecTV and DISH Network would be offering content to subscribers in the 1080 progressive (p) format.

Those announcements came on top of news that the direct broadcast satellite (DBS) providers were expanding their HD channel lineups.

DirecTV said it would begin offering another 30 HD channels on Aug. 14, bringing its total to 130. It also said that all HD programming would be transmitted using the MPEG-4 advanced video coding (AVC) standard.

DISH had previously announced that it would launch 17 new national HD channels on Aug. 1, bringing its total to 114. Get a taste DirecTV announced that it would begin offering movies in 1080p – "the same format used by Blu-Ray HD DVDs" – some time later this year.

DISH has positioned itself as the first mover in 1080p, with a system upgrade to all MPEG-4, HD-DVR receivers that begins on Aug. 1. "It’s a firmware upgrade, to enable that (8 PSK) chip to output 1080p," said DISH spokesperson Francie Bauer.

Most first-generation HDTV sets were capable of rendering video signals using 720p and 1080 interlaced (i) formats. HDTV sets with 1080p scan began emerging about three years ago. DBS providers are only now introducing content.

Bauer said that DISH is offering the Warner Bros. Pictures’ movie "I Am Legend" to subscribers in 1080p at a reduced VOD pricing to "give them a sneak peek of Blu-Ray programming."

"They can get a taste of it for three bucks," she said. Count the frames This initiative reflects a shift in video delivery and viewing, but not as dramatic as what lies ahead, according to Harmonic Director of Broadcast and Satellite Solutions Tom Lattie.

That’s because the version of 1080p in question here uses only 24 frames per second. "Further out on the horizon is true 1080p – 50 or 60 frames per second," Lattie said.

Lattie said that most films and primetime content are shot in the 24 frames per second format, but making them progressive involves the so-called 3:2 pulldown. That technique involves multiplying the original frames in an alternating pattern of 3s and 2s. Thus, four frames become 10, or (2 + 3) + (3 + 2) = 10. The upshot being a total number of frames consistent with the 60 MHz refresh rate that is standard in North American HDTV sets.

The advantage of 1080p over 1080i – a topic of enduring debate among HD enthusiasts – is no interlacing. "You actually have the full frame," Lattie said.

How soon consumers will have 1080p at 60 separate (vs. duplicated) frames per second is another question. More powerful TV sets are appearing, and early adopters already are asking whether 120 MHz refresh rate is a "must have" or not.

But that shift to 60 frames would be dramatic to the video market, Lattie said, because of the necessary replacement of cameras, post-production equipment, routers and set-tops.

As for existing 1080p, Lattie said that supporting it involved a firmware upgrade to Harmonic’s Electra 7000. "We’re excited," he said. "This a technology that we announced last year at IBC. At NAB, we showed it live."

The larger point to cable industry is that … 1080p isn’t touching the cable industry. "This is really the kind of service that an AVC operator can launch and (where) an MPEG-2 operator is hindered."

– Jonathan Tombes

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