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HBO Plans Full HD Slate

Premium cable programmer HBO has committed to make all 26 of its program feeds, representing all the HBO and Cinemax multiplex channels, available in 1080-line-interlace (1080i) HDTV.

The high-def expansion, announced today by HBO Chairman and CEO Bill Nelson, will begin later this year with anticipated completion by the end of second quarter 2008.

HBO currently offers two hi-def channels: HBO HDTV, which launched in 1999; and Cinemax HDTV, which launched in 2003. HBO has also considered making its popular subscription video-on-demand service, HBO On Demand, available in HDTV, but that move has been delayed by copy-protection concerns relating to older HDTV sets.

"We have a long history of firsts in technology – satellite, multiplex and SVOD," said Nelson in a statement. "Such a commitment reinforces our tradition of giving our customers the best programming when they want it and how they want it."

HBO's announcement comes as DirecTV and cable operators are engaged in a public relations battle over who has---or will eventually have---the most robust offering of high-definition programming. DirecTV has said it will broadcast 100 HD channels by the end of this year and has been running commercials touting its superior HD capacity, though it currently has 23 HD channels, about the same as most cable operators and less than satellite competitor EchoStar and telco Verizon. DirecTV has also claimed superior HD picture quality to cable. Those claims have been met with lawsuits from cable operator Time Warner Cable charging false advertising and a commercial blitz of HD counter-claims from Comcast. The legal and PR battles over HD between DirecTV and cable were even the subject of a humorous report issued last week by Sanford Berstein analyst Craig Moffett, called "HDTV--Clear Picture, Fuzzy Math," in which Moffett suggested that DirecTV is winning the battle for consumer mindshare even though it is inflating its count of HD channels with regional sports networks and duplicate West Coast feeds of existing programming.

For its part, DirecTV says it will carry ten of the HBO hi-def channels, adding to the current HBO HDTV East Coast feed it already carries. The new HBO and Cinemax HD networks are ones that DirecTV already carries in standard-definition, says DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer, and they will be gradually rolled out beginning this fall and into next year. DirecTV is launching a new satellite in early July to boost its HD capacity, says Mercer, and is still on track to offer 100 HD channels by year-end.

HBO's high-definition multiplex, which offer HBO’s original series, films and documentaries and Cinemax’s movie library, will include:

HBO Branded Channels/Feeds Cinemax Branded Channels/Feeds

HBO (East/West) Cinemax (East/West)

HBO2 (East/West) MoreMAX (East/West)

HBO Signature (East/West) ActionMAX (East/West)

HBO Comedy (East/West) ThrillerMAX (East/West)

HBO Family (East/West) WMAX (East)

HBO Zone (East/West) @MAX (East)

HBO Latino (East/West) 5StarMAX (East)

OuterMAX. (East)