A few months ago, I finally splurged and got a low-end plasma TV capable of displaying HDTV signals (it's only 480p or ED, but still). I longed for a HD DirecTiVo to replace my current (hacked) DirecTiVo box. Last month I called DirecTV to inquire what my options were, and that's when trouble started.
Basically, if I paid $999 for a HD DirecTiVo box plus ten bucks a month extra, I could get their HDTV pack including Discovery and ESPN in HD format, their HDNet offering of various programming, and HBO in HD, since I already get HBO. Local stations in HD format like Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC were subject to pending FCC approval even though DirecTV has a pretty page set up to sell it.
I called today to see how that FCC ruling went and unfortunately, DirecTV lost. If you get local channels in standard definition format, you cannot get HD. DirecTV can only offer Over the Air (OTA) antennas, which doesn't help me being out in the hilly regions away from Portalnd, OR. They did say if I lived in LA or NYC, I could get local channels in HD from DirecTV, but otherwise the rest of the country was screwed. I don't think five channels of varying content are worth a thousand dollar box (with constant HDMI problems) plus ten bucks a month.
But it doesn't end there -- DirecTV sent up a couple new satellites last year to increase their bandwidth for more HD channels. They're talking about adding dozens-to-hundreds of channels in HD format in the next year, but (drumroll please...) it'll be in a new encryption/encoding (MPEG-4) format which won't work with $999 HD DirecTiVos.
The Washington Post recently mentioned this in an advice column, warning folks to avoid the HD DirecTiVo boxes. Word on the street is that DirecTV will offer their competing NDS DVR for recording HD signals instead of TiVo, with no concrete plans for converting current owners from one to the other. DirecTV says that plans are to have the new channels and DVRs out by the end of the year, so the bottom line is that if you're a HDTV owner with DirecTV in 2005 that wants to record HDTV, you're S.O.L.
It's a bummer really, since I've gotten DirecTV in 2002, I never thought I'd go back to cable, but Comcast now offers their HD DVR in my area for less than the price of my DirecTV package, and I wouldn't have to buy a $999 doorstop to get it. I'd really like to enjoy network shows in HD, and it looks like my only option for the next year.
DirecTV really dropped the ball on this one.
UPDATE: Thomas Hawk says there's a way to route around DirecTV's damage by getting the right rep on the phone and asking for the NY/LA service for a few bucks extra. Sounds like exactly what I wanted, though the reps I've spoken with say they're not allowed to sell that to me. Kind of expensive to get the HD locals for another $10/month on top of the $10/month regular HD package, but at least it's possible.