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Comcast Unit Hits HD Jackpot

Alan Breznick

SAN DIEGO -- Headend in The Sky (HITS) plans to roll out more than a dozen new digital channels for small and midsize cable operators, including 10 HD channels.

HITS, a division of Comcast Wholesale that delivers digital video programming to independent cable providers via satellite, made the announcement in conjunction with The Independent Show here Monday. The Comcast Corp. unit said it will start offering a total of 13 new digital channels, including the 10 HD channels, to its cable affiliates by the end of September through the use of more advanced video compression technology that squeezes the channels into less bandwidth.

As a result, HITS will expand its Quantum HD roster to 34 high-def networks, an increase of 42 percent. The 10 new HD channels include Bio HD, Bravo HD, CNBC HD+, DIY Network HD, E! HD, Hub HD, Investigation Discovery HD, MSNBC HD, Nat Geo Wild HD and OWN HD. The three new SD channels will be Fuel TV, Nick2 and MSG National.

What's making the expansion possible, HITS said, is its use of more advanced video encoding technology. This technology, known as 256 QAM DVB-S2, uses existing MPEG-2 architecture to free up as much as 25 percent of local bandwidth for other purposes by compressing channels into less space. As a result, cable operators can add more HD and SD channels with fewer satellite receivers and without switching out their legacy digital cable set-top boxes.

HITS introduced the encoding upgrade to its Q2 content distribution platform in April. The new encoding technology now covers 75 percent of the company's multiplexes.

That move came after HITS announced in February that a new deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), a programming and equipment consortium that represents nearly 1,000 small and midsize cable operators, will incorporate the next-gen Q2 platform. NCTC is staging its annual Independent Show here through Wednesday. (See Comcast Unit Packs More TV Into Less Space.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading/p>

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