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HBO Picks Motorola For HD Encoding

Motorola will implement a high-definition MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding system for HBO as the premium network moves to deliver all 26 of its channels to operators in HD format by mid-2008 -- and the system also will let HBO continue to deliver four main high-definition feeds in MPEG-2.

HBO will use Motorola’s encoding system, which can handle both 1080i and 720p resolutions, to compress, encrypt, modulate and receive HD signals within a single, integrated transmission system.

In addition, Motorola's multiformat Integrated Receiver/Decoder (IRD) can deliver HD channels in both MPEG-4 AVC and MPEG-2 formats. That will allow HBO to continue to deliver its current HBO main channel and Cinemax main channel (both East and West coast feeds) to cable operators in MPEG-2 format, HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson said.

However, HBO’s 22 other HD feeds will be available only in MPEG-4, Cusson added. To be able to offer those, cable companies will have to convert MPEG-4 channels into MPEG-2 for distribution to existing set-tops. HBO will continue to distribute standard-definition feeds for all 26 channels as well.

MPEG-4 AVC is more efficient than the older MPEG-2 format, using about half the bandwidth, but virtually all existing digital-cable set-tops support MPEG-2.

HBO chief technology officer Bob Zitter previously said HBO would deliver MPEG-4 signals at 8 megabits per second. By comparison, HD signals encoded in MPEG-2 typically require between 12 and 19 Mbps.

Also as part of its all-HD move, which will start later this year, HBO will deploy $5 million worth of HD cameras, servers, and routers from Thomson and its Grass Valley unit in its production studios in New York and main satellite-distribution facility in Hauppauge, N.Y.