[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: For High-Definition Sets, Channels to Match

khare at alumni.caltech.edu khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Tue Jun 8 16:05:26 PDT 2004

The article below from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.

Pogue's review of Voom makes it seem like a no-brainer to try it out... it's just that i'm out of HD inputs!! :-)


khare at alumni.caltech.edu

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For High-Definition Sets, Channels to Match

June 3, 2004


Correction Appended 

LET'S face it: those $5,000 plasma screens are popular not
just because they're high-definition TV sets but also
because they're status symbols. Look at Gateway's 42-inch
$3,000 plasma screen, a runaway hit even though it can't
actually display images in high definition. At this rate,
someone will surely come up with a $200 plasma screen that
doesn't even turn on. It would just hang on the wall and
look cool. 

But however cool the screens, as the nine million people
who have bought HDTV's have quickly discovered, the
high-definition age is not yet fully upon us. If you buy an
HDTV receiver connected to an antenna on your roof, you can
enjoy a few hours of prime-time HDTV broadcasts each night
on ABC, CBS and so on - if you're within about 50 miles of
a big city. If you have cable or satellite, you can upgrade
your plan to include a handful of high-def channels, like

Otherwise, what you'll mostly watch is low-definition
shows, either stretched to fit your wide-screen set or with
black bars on the sides. It will be years before the
networks, cable and satellite outfits broadcast all HD, all
the time. 

The executives at Voom, a new satellite service controlled
by Cablevision and offered throughout the continental
United States, don't think you can wait that long. Started
in January, Voom already offers 39 HDTV channels, many more
than you can get from any other source. 

Now, HDTV aficionados may already be furrowing their brows.
"Thirty-nine high-def channels?" they're saying. "There
aren't 39 high-def channels in the world!" 

Actually, there are now. For starters, Voom gives you those
prime-time over-the-air network broadcasts, because Voom's
installers put not one but two antennas on your roof: one
satellite dish and one that picks up NBC, CBS, ABC and so
on. (If you live in an apartment, check on your building's

The basic $40-a-month package also includes Voom's 21
homegrown proprietary channels. All programs on those
channels are filmed and broadcast in a high-definition
format known as 1080i; they look and sound spectacular, and
- apart from Voom promos - are commercial-free. 

For example, Rush is an extreme-sports channel that
specializes in colorful hot-air balloons, gleaming kayaks
and hang gliders in bright sunshine. The Gallery channel is
like an art history class that never ends: all close-ups of
paintings, presented continuously. The Auction channel is
nonstop descriptions of collectibles. 

Then there's the MOOV channel, a 24-hour screen saver; it
features weird kaleidoscopic "motion art" segments set to
music and created by broadcast designers. (Video art is, as
Voom puts it, "ambient television, not appointment
television." You're meant to leave it playing on the wall
as you do other things around the house, not gather the
family in the living room for half an hour of "iMovie
Effects Gone Nuts.") 

All of these channel topics were obviously selected because
they show off the stunning visual qualities of HDTV. Their
looks are their sole reason for existence; most would die a
quick death in any other forum. 

Not all, however. HD's wider screen and sharper video make
a big difference to Voom's news and WorldSport channels.
And on Voom's Rave channel, featuring rock concerts filmed
live in HD, something about that wide screen and the
intimacy of the cameras makes the experience thrilling and

Rounding out the 21 Voom Originals, as the company calls
its proprietary channels, are a dozen 24-hour movie
channels. Most show the same movie all day, over and over.
Unfortunately, their motto may as well be, "Not just bad
movies - high-definition bad movies." Among this week's
selections are the 1962 classic "Rider on a Dead Horse,"
1986's unforgettable "Troll" and 1962's immortal "Slaughter
of the Vampires." 

Voom admits that the movies are so far on the lame side,
but points out that you'd be hard pressed to find 12
commercial-free movie channels - let alone high-definition
ones - in the basic $40 package from any other cable or
satellite provider. Voom also says that by the end of the
year, those channels will repeat less and gain thematic
personalities: one channel each for action movies, chick
flicks, westerns, documentaries, gay and lesbian movies,
and so on. 

Finally, for $15 each, you can add "plus packs": one each
for HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and Starz. Each includes one
high-def channel and eight spinoffs (HBO East, HBO West,
and so on). (If you're a movie-holic, you may as well save
money by subscribing to the Va Va Voom plan: $80 a month
for all of the above.) 

Each Voom basic package also includes 84
standard-definition cable channels like CNN, TNT and
Disney. (You can inspect the complete list at www.voom.com,
along with a "what's on right now" grid.) 

Voom's best feature is its smooth integration of network
broadcasts, cable channels and Voom's own homemade channels
into a single set-top box, controlled with an expertly
designed illuminated remote, and displayed on a unified
onscreen TV guide. 

As a result, Voom simulates channel-surfing in, say, 2015,
when every channel from every source will be in high
definition. The colors are breathtaking, the clarity puts
standard TV to shame, and the rectangular, much wider
picture fills your field of view the way a screen in a
movie theater does. It all sounds good, too, because Voom
transmits in five-channel Dolby surround sound. 

The company has come a long way since its rocky start in
January, when the installers didn't know what they were
doing, the Motorola set-top box required frequent
rebooting, and ESPN wasn't on board. (An HDTV service
without sports? Heresy!) 

Even so, Voom is still a startup. The listings grid
routinely chops off the second line of each show's
description, the box takes several seconds to change
channels and the channel grid always appears at channel
100, rather than the channel you're already watching. And
Voom's customer service department is still, ahem,
evolving. (It took eight days to get a reply to an e-mailed
question to Voom tech support, which promises a response in
24 hours.) 

At the moment, Voom fills an important niche. But as the
world goes all-HDTV in the coming years, you might
reasonably wonder how long Voom will be around. 

Voom acknowledges that its window of opportunity is finite
but maintains that it will remain open for much longer than
people imagine. Voom has room for expansion; by the end of
next year, it will have satellite capacity for 94 high-def
channels and 368 standard ones, the company says. (A single
HDTV channel, according to Voom, requires as much bandwidth
as eight standard-definition channels.) The company
maintains that finding the bandwidth for a total switch to
high-def will be far more difficult for its cable and
satellite rivals. 

In the meantime, through July 5, Voom is making an
irresistible offer. The company will install the box and
the two antennas at no charge. In addition to the service
fee, you pay $9.50 a month to rent the equipment, and you
can cancel at any time with no penalty. (Exploiting this
offer - rather than buying the box outright for $500 - is
even a good idea if you intend to stick with Voom, because
this fall the company plans to offer a new set-top box
adding the TiVo-like ability to pause, rewind, record and
play back high-def shows.) 

If you're a TV nut, you could consider supplementing your
current service with Voom to add HD channels worthy of your
screen. If you're anyone else, you could even replace your
current service with Voom; $40 a month, or $55 with nine
HBO channels, is somewhat more expensive than a basic cable
or satellite plan, but, of course, includes those 12 movie
channels and much more in high-def. 

Either way, Voom is clearly an infant service still finding
its way. But upgrade by upgrade, channel by channel, Voom
intends to become a major player, capitalizing on its
satellite capacity and advanced equipment to surge past its
more established rivals in the age of high definition. 

E-mail: Pogue at nytimes.com 

Correction: June 5, 2004,

The State of the Art column in Circuits on Thursday, about
a subscription service for high-definition television
called Voom, misstated the number of standard-definition
channels in its basic package. It is 84, not 40. It also
misstated the number of channels in supplementary
subscriptions, called "plus packs," for premium services
like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or Starz. Each has at least two
high-definition channels, not one. The column also included
an erroneous figure from Voom's Web site for the
high-definition channels that are currently part of the
service. There are 36, not 39. 



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