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Comcast Launches $10.95 HDTV Tier

Offering up a good-looking defense against its satellite rivals, Comcast Corp. last Thursday launched a new five-channel high-definition television programming tier to 1.3 million subscribers in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware corridor.

The MSO has packaged HDTV content from ABC, CBS, NBC, Home Box Office and Showtime in a $10.95-per-month tier for digital cable subscribers, including rental of an HDTV decoder. Comcast also is selling the decoder for $300.

"Our systems are totally rebuilt and we have the bandwidth to do it," said Comcast Eastern division president Michael Doyle. "It was really quite an easy decision for us."

According to Doyle, estimates indicate that 8 percent of U.S. homes have HDTV sets. "That number will grow as prices come down," he said.

By deploying HDTV services now, Comcast will learn about the technology in its early stages, before it enters more consumer homes.

Comcast's HDTV service will feature wide-screen programming with a 16:9 aspect ratio at twice the color resolution of current analog service and six times the sharpness of current analog pictures.

A growing number of programs are now broadcast in HDTV. Most of HBO's movies, along with The Sopranos
and Band of Brothers, are available in the format.

That's also true for Showtime, which broadcasts movies and the series Leap Years, Queer as Folk
and Stargate SG-1
in HDTV.

CBS offers college football, Touched by An Angel, The Education of Max Bickford, Becker, The King of Queens, The Young and The Restless, Everybody Loves Raymond, Judging Amy, CSI
and Ellen.
ABC has America's Funniest Home Videos, Alias, The Practice, Dharma & Greg, Drew Carey
and Once and Again.
NBC telecasts The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
and Crossing Jordan
in HDTV.

Comcast is getting two HDTV channels into one 6-megahertz channel slot on its cable systems, Doyle said. The high-definition feeds for HBO, Showtime and CBS are different from their analog/digital feeds, so they require a separate channel slot on the system.

Consumers can rent a Motorola Inc. sidecar HDTV decoder to receive the service. Comcast said Scientific-Atlanta Inc. will have an HDTV decoder sidecar ready by the second quarter of 2002.

Otherwise, consumers have to spend about $600 for a decoder in addition to the several thousand dollars it costs to purchase an HDTV set.

Doyle said Comcast was in talks about marketing the HDTV service to consumer-electronics retailers that sell HDTV sets.

HDTV will be available in Philadelphia, Willow Grove, West Chester, Lower Merion, Levittown, Coatesville, Bucks County, Delaware County and Montgomery County, Pa.; New Castle, Del.; and Pleasantville, Vineland, Trenton, Gloucester County and Burlington County, N.J.

Comcast plans to extend the offering to other New Jersey systems over the next few months.