While HDTV is not a new technology, its arrival into America?s living rooms has only recently begun to take hold. HDTV is recognized as the future platform of television and the rollout has been compared to that of color television, which took nearly a decade to move from the first program broadcast in color to widespread use.

Not long ago, purchasing an expensive HDTV set was only half the battle as ahead-of-the-curve consumers quickly found out there was little in the way of high-definition (HD) programming choices. Aside from the fact that the different aspect ratio (HDTV is 16:9 while analog is 4:3) meant either blank bars on the side of the screen or a distorted image, these impressive televisions served to highlight the analog signal?s other visual shortcomings.

The cost of a HDTV set was initially prohibitive to many, costing as much as $20,000 when first introduced in 1998. As a result, there remained little incentive for broadcasters to reach out to such a small audience. Today, sets capable of displaying a HDTV image can be purchased for as little as $500.

Thanks to the newfound affordability of HDTV sets, sales are on the rise. In a recent survey, the Consumer Electronics Association found that roughly half of all consumers plan to buy a HDTV as their next set. Given the increasing demand, the networks are beginning to introduce HD shows, generally prime time favorites. Cable networks such as Discovery and ESPN also have introduced their own HD channels.

While some cable and satellite companies are beginning to work HD into their lineups, one new satellite service, VOOM, was created with HD expressly in mind for the untapped HDTV market. VOOM features a host of original HD content that is not available anywhere else.

By signing on additional networks including Bravo HD and TNT in HD, as well as premium channels such as HBO HD, VOOM has expanded its offerings to more than 35 channels of HD, more than any other provider. In addition, VOOM subscribers who can?t miss their favorite standard definition (SD) programs can receive more than 85 SD channels.

VOOM equipment includes a satellite dish, which is mounted on the roof, along with an over-the-air antenna, allowing customers to receive local digital channels in SD and HD, where available. (Unlike analog broadcast signals, which are of varying quality, digital signals are superior in strength and consistency, ensuring that every channel delivers a crisp picture.) The over-the-air channels are then integrated seamlessly into the set-top box and program guide, in some cases boosting the number of HD channels available to VOOM subscribers to more than 40.

VOOM also gives home theater buffs another reason to celebrate. Unlike standard television, all HD programming is broadcast in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.

The VOOM HD Originals

One of the major strengths of this service is the VOOM HD Originals, 21 channels produced exclusively for VOOM by Rainbow Media. Rainbow Media has a history of launching successful networks such as WE: Women?s Entertainment and IFC. The VOOM HD Originals offer 24/7 HD programming, including movies, extreme sports, concerts, and even an all-HD news channel. The content was chosen specifically with HD in mind, utilizing 1080i resolution exclusively.

Eleven of the channels are dedicated to movies and sorted by genre. All movies are transferred directly from their original 35mm source to high-definition. This process guarantees the best available format for viewing at home, oftentimes better than DVD quality. Themes include Gunslingers, World Cinema, Epics, Classics, and Monsters to name a few. Another channel, Animania, uses a similar process on its older cartoons to bring classics like The Pink Panther to life via vivid HD.

Equator HD is the first channel dedicated to capturing the rich diversity of life on the planet through an enhanced HD experience. Equator HD features documentaries from filmmakers? global travels, short video essays illustrating unique cultures, and glimpses into festivals and events as seen through the eyes of people who call that place “home.”

Sports are particularly popular in HD, given that the wider aspect ratio allows you to see more of the action and the increased clarity nearly transports viewers to the sidelines. VOOM features two exclusive sports channels: WorldSport HD and Rush HD. WorldSport HD, as its name suggests, features sports from around the globe, including Spanish Premiere League soccer and international sailing. Rush HD offers a thrilling look at extreme sports. The channel showcases the biggest names in BMX, skatebording, kayaking and other in-your-face competition.

Music fans can see musical films like The Beatles? A Hard Day?s Night and concerts from crowd-pleasing artists such as Eric Clapton and Alanis Morissette on Rave HD. MOOV features originally produced video art set to music.

VOOM?s fashion themed channel, Ultra HD, offers runway designs and backstage access to the biggest shows from the world?s fashion capitals. Collectors and art aficionados can visit renowned museums on Gallery HD and witness live auctions from top houses on Auction HD.

Lastly, for those seeking a clearer look at the day?s headlines, HDNews is the only national 24/7-news channel to broadcast entirely in HD. With five regional news bureaus equipped with HD cameras, all footage, graphics and broadcasts from their state-of-the-art studio are in native 1080i.

Room To Grow

VOOM?s engineers developed the system with the future in mind. For starters, all units are MPEG-4 ready. This efficient compression technology will allow VOOM to double its satellite capacity using existing bandwidth without compromising quality. By anticipating this switch from the onset, VOOM is able to integrate MPEG-4 into its system without many of the legacy issues facing their competitors.

Sales of personal video recorders are growing at a compounding rate of nearly 50% each year according to IDC, a research firm that studies the technology. VOOM will become a part of that trend when it introduces an HD DVR in early 2005. By equipping all receivers with USB ports, DVR owners will have home networking capabilities. This means customers can start a movie in the living room, pause it, and finish the film in the bedroom. It will also give owners the ability to listen to MP3?s on their home theater or view digital photos on their TV screen.

VOOM is available nationwide through www.voom.com or by calling 1-800-GET-VOOM, as well as through a variety of retailers, including the Crutchfield catalog or website, Sears, Florida based retailer BrandSmart, Electronics Expo, and at independent retailers across the country.