DIRECTV HD Roadmap Revealed? SD Receivers Obsolete?

Did DIRECTV reveal a key part of its HD strategy? Several blogs are buzzing because of recent comments by Philip J. Goswitz, DirecTV’s SVP for space and communications. Mr. Goswitz was heard speaking at the Euroconsult conference in Paris. While we weren’t lucky enough to get an invitation, the folks at Advanced Television were, and they brought home two tasty little morsels for DIRECTV fans.

The first was that DIRECTV is pursuing its own roadmap for 4KTV. As you recall, 4KTV is the “new hotness” providing four times the quality of HDTV. A few manufacturers have shown production ready TVs to the public. DIRECTV looks like they’re preparing for the increased load that 4K will place on its satellite fleet, and has a plan to provide 4K broadcasts by 2016.

What’s the plan? Dump SD. According to the article, DIRECTV will ” by 2016 all of its standard-def transmissions would have converted to HDTV, and using its local-into-local Ka-Band capacity.” This means that every signal carried by DIRECTV would be MPEG-4 and HD. While techies everywhere rejoice, this is a massive undertaking and will require millions of pieces of equipment to be replaced.

DIRECTV has a plan. They started broadcasting using MPEG-4 technology in 2006, and by 2009 all of its HD programming used this new technology. This obsoleted every piece of first-generation HD equipment DIRECTV offered, and for a short while free hardware upgrades were available. At the same time, they changed their policy for new markets: all new markets now use MPEG-4 technology, and that means that everyone in those markets has HD-capable hardware.

From the marketing side, DIRECTV has aggressively pushed HD service, offering free HD with autopay and free equipment to new subscribers. This is part of a push to put more MPEG-4 equipment in more homes as well.

Another step came this year as DIRECTV announced that it was ending support for “pre-APG” receivers, those receivers that cannot use the Advanced Program Guide found in DIRECTV-branded receivers. Another trade-up program is in place, so if you have a Sony, Hughes, RCA or Philips-branded DIRECTV box you can move to newer equipment easily.

As DIRECTV begins turning off standard-definition feeds, they will save enough bandwidth to avoid putting another new satellite in the sky after the upcoming launch of DIRECTV14. It sounds like this extra bandwidth will go to 4K transmissions. So, it seems DIRECTV does know what it’s doing here, and the customer should benefit.

Hopefully this investment will work out for DIRECTV. Its recent foray into 3D has not turned out as planned, and the only content on DIRECTV’s 3D channels are reruns and pay-per-view titles. The market has not embraced 3D TV as it was hoped, but with 4K, there is another chance to convince the buying public to splurge for an ever-larger, ever-clearer picture, especially if DIRECTV is carrying enough content.