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Satellite Services Light Up for HD

The chase for contracts takes many forms

LOS ANGELES

Convinced that there's big money to be made in delivering HD programming, satellite service providers have come up with some unique initiatives.

In May, SES Americom debuted its HD-Prime service, geared to MSOs that have already upgraded their facilities to receive HD satellite feeds or are engaged in doing so. To ensure good quality and a consistent coverage beam from its dedicated AMC-10 and AMC-11 satellites, the company integrate linearized solid state power amplifiers from contractor Lockheed Martin. These SSPAs, said Richard Langhans, vice president, technology for SES Americom, provide 20 percent more power and allow for a greater margin for error during potential rain fades.

Touted as "the only HD two-satellite neighborhood for cable," the service was tested in May by Discovery HD Theatre, according to Monica Morgan, vice president, communications for SES Americom. Other commitments, she said, include Bravo HD, Showtime HD and The Movie Channel HD.

BT BROADCAST

BT Broadcast Services dispensed with naming its new HD service, which officially rolled out at NAB with the debut of HD flight cases. Currently, a set of three flight cases enables most trucks in the company's fleet to work with HD signals, supported by BT's fiber and satellite network, which has HD capacity between London, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo. The cases contain Tandberg Television encoders and Tektronix monitoring systems.

According to Bill McNamara, general manager for BTBS the Americas, the equipment in the overhead rack-sized cases can take in a 1.5 GB HD serial digital signal, compress it to a 24 or 46 Mbps bitstream, and output it to fiber and satellite.

McNamara said iNDemand and KDDI, a Japanese telecom company, are already onboard for the service. BTBS was contracted to transmit "The Clay Court Championships" from Houston in HD for The Tennis Channel and INHD in April.

GLOBECAST

A third satellite service provider, GlobeCast, plans to unveil its HD service at IBC next month. It will feature a new encoder, said Mary Frost, senior vice president, sales for GlobeCast in America. Helped by partners, it will combine the company's playout and origination capabilities, with the aim of broadening its reach to pay-per-view and full-time distribution, she added.

Requests for HD service have, to date, increased by 30 percent this year, said Frost. In response, she noted, the company plans to outfit about 30 of its 40 overseas trucks for high def.

GlobeCast's actual HD satellite transmissions for the year include April's WorldSport HD soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona for Rainbow's VOOM satellite HDTV network, a company cited by three out of the four satellite service companies here as the spark to today's growing interest in HD programming.

INTELSAT

Intelsat's Terrestrial Media Transport option, launched on April 4, aims to "invigorate high-definition traffic from the site," said Jon Romm, president of the company's Media and Entertainment unit. Geared to sports rights-holders, the rollout, said Romm, "was obviously timed for the beginning of Major League Baseball season."

The service aims to introduce high definition from the site, bringing 1.5 GB-native HD content right out of the camera through a GSX network enhanced by partner Level 3 Communications' fiber network as a 45 Mbps or 19.4 Mbps (or variable) bitstream, to the client.

"If you can provide it to them in first generation, that's the best scenario," Romm said. "That's what this network clearly does. It provides it to them at the ASI level. It's flexible enough to incorporate specific broadcasters' encoding systems-if they want to encode from the site and they have their own encoders, they can still utilize the network and just patch right on our encoding network so we can provide it."

The satellite-fiber network operates as a standard, autonomous signal backed up with "slipless switching" (dual and diverse individual paths all the way through) for "nanosecond transition in the event of failure," versus a sonic ring configuration.

Hughes Television Network (HTN) has been using the system since April for standard-definition digital transmissions of Major League Baseball for Rainbow DBS, which controls most of the sports traffic for Fox Sports Net and VOOM. HTN Executive Vice President John Rourke planned to test a live high-definition broadcast to its customer at the end of July and, if all went well, transmit to air in August.

"The quality of the signal is better-it's digital right from the source and stays in a digital format right to the customer-there isn't any converting done," said Rourke, in comparing the standard TMT service to the competition. "And it's completely redundant-it switches to its backup within milliseconds-the customer recognizes nothing changing."

Perhaps this invigorated footprint will convince Major League Baseball's decision-makers to think differently about HD satellite feeds.

"Rights-holders can't get access to the signals," said Russell Gabay, executive producer for Major League Baseball International, noting that unless the game is in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, or in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or Chicago, there are relatively few satellite receivers powerful enough for an HD feed. "They don't have many cities lit."

Gabay said this is particularly problematic for retransmitting MLB games to multiple destinations.

On the other end, Michael Romeo, manager of sport and special events for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Ascent Media Network Services, which does origination for the YES Network and NFL Network, said few sports venues have production facilities or trucks with satellite uplink capability.

As a result, when NHK demanded an HD transmission of the last month's MLB All Star Game, the signal was sent via fiber. Vyvx was contracted to transmit the HD feed from NHK's truck in Houston to its U.S. production hub. What's more, NHK transmitted the feed to Japan via submarine cable.

In addition to recently launching a new SDI-based transmission service for HDTV, Vyvx also conveniently offers technology that authorizes and books feeds subject to the Permission Granted to Add Destination (PGAD) stipulations, which generate the bulk of MLB revenues.