Time Warner Adds HDTV in Houston

Time Warner Cable of Houston plans to add up to nine channels of high-definition television programming to its digital-cable lineup.

The Dec. 13 channel additions will also include 11 new digital-basic services, division spokeswoman Kimberly Maki said.

The HDTV offerings, including broadcast and premium feeds, will help differentiate Time Warner from its competitors-particularly direct-broadcast satellite providers, said Time Warner Houston division president Ron McMillan.

The operator can not only offer satellite-delivered HD channels but also local HD broadcasters-something DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. have not even tried.

"This helps us position ourselves as the high-tech providers," McMillan said.

At launch, the high-definition tier will include two feeds of Home Box Office, two feeds of Showtime and local digital feeds from ABC, CBS, PBS and Fox affiliates.

The operator is still talking to the local NBC affiliate and expects to add that digital channel soon. All five local network affiliates already offer at least some digital signals in Houston.

The local HD programming is available to digital customers at no additional charge. The high-definition premium feeds are also available free to current premium subscribers.

Time Warner customers in Houston with digital or digital- ready television sets can lease an HD-compatible receiver made by Motorola Inc. Monthly rental for the Motorola HDD 200 HD receiver and the DCT-2200 digital set-top box is $3.73.

Initially, customers will need both set-top boxes to access the HD programming, although McMillan said Motorola plans to combine the technologies into a single device.

"We don't expect to put a lot of these boxes in immediately because there are not a lot of [HD-ready] sets out there," McMillan admitted.

But McMillan said Time Warner's plans to carry HD programming should drive local retail sales of HDTV sets. The operator also hopes to join with local electronics retailers to promote HDTV, McMillan said.

"It's important to have those relationships in place when you launch a product, because satellite has hit these kinds of stores very heavily," Maki noted.

The cable system plans to demonstrate HD programming in several local walk-in centers. Customer-service representatives will be taught how to make sure customers own a digital set before they sign them up for the HD-ready converter.

McMillan said some HDTV set owners have already requested programming. Overall demand will reflect income levels and available programming, he added.

Because five local broadcast stations offer digital programming and the city boasts a large, affluent community, Houston should be a good market for the launch, he said.