Skip to main content

DirecTv Brings Dolby Digital Format to Home

DirecTv Inc. said last week that it will become the first
company to nationally broadcast pay-per-view movies in the Dolby Digital home-theater
surround-sound format.

The direct-broadcast satellite company will begin running
select films with simulcast stereo and Dolby Digital audio feeds starting July 1.

The company will initially launch Dolby Digital on all of
its letterbox (wide-screen) titles, according to Stephanie Campbell, senior vice president
of programming for DirecTv.

The DBS service plans to have at least one letterbox PPV
movie available to viewers at all times, and it may have as many as four or five, Campbell

The first PPV movies to air in Dolby Digital will include Gattaca,
Starship Troopers, Scream 2, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Rainmaker.

Dolby Digital -- which is already available on digital
versatile disc players, and which is the audio standard chosen for terrestrial
high-definition television broadcasts -- creates a theater-like environment by channeling
discrete audio signals to five separate speakers and a subwoofer.

To take advantage of the advanced-audio format, consumers
would need Dolby Digital decoders and amplifiers, as well as three front-channel speakers,
two rear surround-sound speakers and subwoofers. To date, fewer than 1 million Dolby
Digital decoders have been sold worldwide, about one-half of them in the United States.

Roger Dressler, director of technology for Dolby
Laboratories, said sales of Dolby Digital home-theater systems are picking up as prices
for the equipment continue to drop.

DirecTv subscribers would also need new Dolby
Digital-capable Digital Satellite System receivers to take advantage of the six-channel
audio format. Thomson Consumer Electronics is expected to ship the first such DSS receiver
to retailers by the end of the month. The product should be available to consumers
sometime in June, said Mark Stratton, manager of DBS-product marketing for Thomson.

The RCA model DS5451RB DSS system will sell for $449,
including a dual-LNB -- which allows subscribers to add second receivers -- and a dish
with a built-in off-air antenna. Stand-alone receivers will sell for $399.

A good percentage of customers who buy the Dolby
Digital-ready DSS product are likely to be DirecTv customers already, Stratton said,
because both groups tend to be early adopters of new technologies. He suggested that those
who buy the new receivers should build their home-theater systems around them and relegate
the old DSS boxes to other rooms.

Stanley E. Hubbard, president and CEO of U.S. Satellite
Broadcasting, which shares the DSS platform with DirecTv, said almost 60 percent of USSB
subscribers hook up their DSS receivers to home stereos or surround-sound systems.

"For our subscribers, sound is very important,"
he added.

Hubbard said USSB is in talks with its premium-movie
programmers about their plans to deliver Dolby Digital.

A spokeswoman for Home Box Office said the company would
wait until it delivers an HDTV feed before it broadcasts in Dolby Digital.

When asked why DirecTv didn't wait for HDTV, Campbell
said the company saw no need to wait when it can bring innovative technology to its

Campbell added that she has already received a great deal
of interest from programmers regarding Dolby Digital.

John J. Sie, chairman and CEO of Encore Media Group, said
its premium-movie service will likely offer some product in Dolby Digital by the end of
the year.

"We're not waiting for HDTV," he added.

Today, Encore and many other services deliver Dolby Pro
Logic -- a four-channel, surround-sound format.

Not all movies are currently encoded in Dolby Digital.
Those that are available from the studios in Dolby Digital are typically newer titles that
have already been encoded for DVD.

Dolby Digital audio signals require more bandwidth than
standard stereo tracks. But the data rate needed for audio is much lower than that
required for video.

EchoStar Communications Corp. already incorporates Dolby
Digital technology in its high-end Dish Network receivers, but the company has not yet
announced when it will deliver signals in the format.

PrimeStar Inc. has no plans to incorporate Dolby Digital
technology in its medium-power receivers, but it would include the feature on any new
high-power DBS products, a spokesman for the company said.