USDTV's Premium Play

WM9 lets service supply more channels by year-end
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For USDTV, more is better. The over-the-air multichannel programming service will deploy set-top boxes loaded with Microsoft's Windows Media 9 (WM9) compression technology later this year. The company's goal is to expand its premium-programming offering. USDTV also hopes to make it easier for broadcasters to sign on to provide spectrum.

"It's going to allow many of the broadcasters that want to offer HDTV programming and use up a significant portion of their bandwidth to also deliver USDTV services," says USDTV COO Richard Johnson. "We can efficiently move more services over that available bandwidth."

USDTV is currently available to viewers in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque, N.M. Subscribers pay $19.95 for 12 cable networks delivered by local over-the-air DTV broadcasters. USDTV will continue to use MPEG-2 to send out the current offering, with WM9 used for premium and specialty programming.

A new generation of WM9-enabled set-top boxes is under development. Johnson says the company will have what it believes is an attractive upgrade path for customers as they slowly transition into the new generation box. "The end goal," he says, "is to remain a very cost-competitive option to cable and satellite but to add to the viewing experience."

The station delivering the programming won't need any equipment to handle the WM9 content; it will pass through to the DTV transmitter.