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Dish to Serve Up 1080p

3:30 PM -- The hi-def race between cable operators, telcos, and satellite service providers took another turn today when Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) confirmed that it will offer scads of programming in 1080p, the Rolls Royce format for HDTV.

Up until now, the HD horse race had strictly been about tonnage -- who's offering the "most" HD programming, a category that includes both linear networks and (if you're a cable operator like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)) a concentration of on-demand titles delivered in hi def. With this announcement, expect more of the competitive debate to also center on signal quality.

In its latest announcement, Dish says it now offers as many as 114 "national" HD channels, and expects to expand that to 150 by the end of 2008. That follows the successful launch of the EchoStar XI satellite and the upcoming launch of the company's "TurboHD" all-HD service tiers. (See New EchoStar Bird Can Fly and Dish Has HD Century Mark in Sight.)

Dish notes the "proprietary" upgrade to support 1080p and the broader hi-def lineup will be rolled out to all of the company's MPEG-4 HD-DVR receivers by August 1. Dish didn't say how many of its 13.8 million subscribers actually have these receivers in their homes today, but we've got a call into the provider to find out. We'll keep you posted.

Update: A company spokesman says Dish doesn't disclose how many receivers (at least by type) are distributed to customers. So I wouldn’t expect a huge number to have access to 1080p content at the get-go. Besides, there won't be much 1080p-encoded content to speak of at the start, as it looks like just one movie, I Am Legend, will be offered in the new format come Aug. 1.

Plus, Dish's claims of advantage will be short lived. DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), Dish's larger satco competitor, has plans to offer fare in 1080p and MPEG-4 later this year.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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