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Middle East’s first HDTV service goes live in UAE

United Arab Emirates: Sunday, July 12 - 2009 @ 17:08

E-Vision’s new service is seen as a major leap forward for the broadcast industry in the region.

The benefit of HDTV is that it offers much greater line resolution than standard-definition television, thus providing much more detail in the picture.

HDTV also provides greater sound quality.

Although it is estimated that there are over 600,000 HD televisions in use in the country, HD service has been almost non-existent in the UAE and throughout the Middle East, where most households get their TV channels from low-end set-top-boxes that are not HD-compatible.

With no HD content available, there has been no incentive for customers in the region to switch to HD-compatible boxes. At the same time, broadcasters and content providers in the Middle East have been slow to make the switch to the more expensive format due the lack of a readily available market.

Wait for content

E-Vision, which has more than one million viewers, said it had completed the necessary infrastructure work two and a half years ago to be ready for HD programming, but had to wait until enough content was ready to proceed with the launch of the service.

The Abu Dhabi-based firm’s new HD service will initially offer content from Abu Dhabi TV HD, Luxe HD, Fashion TV HD, Showtime HD and Al Jazeera Sports HD. The company says it is in talks to add more channels later this year.

In order to access the new service, E-Vision customers will need to buy a new set-top box that costs Dhs999 ($270). The box includes a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) with a 250 GB hard drive that enables viewers to pause and rewind live TV and watch programmes on demand.

It also allows customers to watch one channel while recording programmes from other channels simultaneously.

‘With an already large installed base of HD ready TV sets in the UAE, the service will redefine the television experience for an increasing number of customers going forward,’ said E-Vision’s CEO Humaid Rashid Sahoo.

Additional costs

In addition to the cost of the box, E-Vision customers will need to pay an additional monthly fee of Dhs30 which will give them access to three complementary HD channels.

Showtime Cable Premier customers will be able to upgrade to a new package that includes the HD service for an additional Dhs45 per month.

Showtime said its new HD channel would include three English Premier League football matches each week, as well as television shows such as 24, Prison Break, and Lost. It also plans to launch a high-definition, direct-to-home satellite service by the end of the year.

‘HD broadcast requires a substantial investment on the part of both the broadcaster and the receiver,’ said Marc-Antoine d’Halluin, President and CEO, Showtime Arabia. ‘We are making progress in this regard and anticipate availability to our DTH (direct-to-home) subscriber base before the year end with our new generation of DTH set top boxes.

‘Our preparation meant that when approached by E-Vision, who have already developed their own HD cable boxes, we were able to produce a channel for the delivery of this proposition to our mutual customers.’

More HD expected

The launch of E-Vision’s new service in the UAE will prompt other broadcasters in the region – especially Etisalat’s UAE rival Du – to quickly ramp up their preparations to make HD packages available to their customers, said Nick Grande, managing director of Channel Sculptor.

‘Du will have to respond to Etisalat on this. I believe Du’s last announcement was that they will be launching HD in 2010, if not 2009. I suspect off the back of this they will be launching HD in 2009,’ he said.

‘Du has tried to position themselves as the ‘content telco’ as it were, so this will be a time for them to show that they can do good stuff as well. I am sure that Du will respond quickly to this because there are not that many barriers for them coming to market with HD as well.’

The impact of E-Vision’s rollout is likely to be felt across the Gulf and not just in the UAE. ‘Regionally, the effect is that other GCC telcos will be looking to be hot on the heels of the UAE and be the first to move in on their home market,’ Grande said.

‘A lot of the broadcasters have come out and said they will be launching their own satellite HD service but I think it will be interesting to see when that will happen and how the audience will be attracted to it in terms of acquiring the set top boxes needed to receive those broadcasts. That is the key to all of this.’

Grande says E-Vision’s new service clearly poses a direct challenge to the region’s satellite broadcasters.

‘This is only the beginning, but I think it is a very important step in proving the capabilities of IPTV (internet protocol television) and upgrading the experience that people have in their home. If that capability isn’t met by satellite broadcasters then over time it will have a tectonic effect on the way people perceive television in the Middle East,’ he said.

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Sunday, July 12- 2009 @ 17:08 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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