4DTV Satellite receiver Page 4

And unlike DSS, which is a closed system with just two program providers (DirecTV and USSB), C-band is an open system with a dozen or so program providers. This allows 4DTV owners to select from a dizzying array of different programming packages. Some providers even let you build your own program lineup, selecting à la carte only those channels that interest you.

Increased competition results in lower prices. According to an article in the July 1998 issue of Satellite Orbit magazine, "A typical monthly C-band subscription bill runs about $60 for 138 channels. That comes to about $5 per channel a year. Compare that to the average cable bill, with about 65 channels for about $8 per channel a year, or the small dish DirecTV/USSB packages with 103 channels at $81 a month—or $7.78 per channel a year."

Even better, with a BUD (industry parlance for "big ugly dish"), you can get something for nothing: at least 100 free full-time channels plus hundreds of occasional broadcasts. True, many of these are home shopping, pay-per-view preview, and religious channels, but hey—the price is right.

Last but not least are the many "wild feeds," which are unscheduled transmissions of network programs to affiliates, live news and sports feeds, etc. Although they not formally scheduled, many wild feeds are listed in paper program guides such as Satellite Orbit magazine. Using a UPN wild feed, I regularly watch Star Trek: Voyager days before it is broadcast locally. One interesting fact: At the half-hour mark where local commercials are usually inserted, the screen goes black.

Surfin' Safari
With so many channels to choose from, it's all too easy to get lost in space. DSS owners have always enjoyed an onscreen interactive program guide (IPG); now 4DTV brings this same useful feature to the C-band universe. The IPG is automatically downloaded every night via satellite G9, and it uses color coding to indicate movies, sports, pay-per-view, etc.

An Interests button on the remote lets you limit and sort the IPG by category, including Network Series, News/Education, Movies, Sports, Pay Per View, and Music/ Radio. There are also two Favorite Channel categories, which you can use to create your own custom listings. Unfortunately, the IPG is not very responsive or zippy at the best of times, and it really bogs down when any of these categories is activated; impatient person that I am, I quickly gave up and switched the IPG back to All Programs.

In addition to printed program guides such as the aforementioned Satellite Orbit, the Internet portal Web site Excite (www.excite.com) recently added a very useful 4DTV programming grid. I highly recommend this free service to all 4DTV owners. (The grid can also display your local broadcast, cable, and DBS listings.)

DSS does beat 4DTV in a few user-interface areas. For example, most DSS receivers let you record a program with a single button-push: An IR emitter turns on the VCR, starts it recording, and stops it when the program is over. With 4DTV, all you can do is set a timer, which turns the unit on and switches it to the selected channel. If you want to record the show, you've got to manually program your VCR to record at the appropriate time.

DSS also makes it a snap to order pay-per-view movies. All it takes are a few button-pushes on the remote and you're in business. Certain DigiCipher PPV events can be ordered via the remote (this is called Instant Pay Per View, or IPPV), but most PPV channels require you to call an 800 number to request a viewing. Some PPV events on 4DTV are copy-protected and cannot be videotaped, and others offer an option to pay a higher price to unlock the program for taping (grrr!). Finally, PPV movies cost $3.99 on 4DTV; they're a dollar less on DSS.

General Instrument Corp.
6262 Lusk Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92121
(800) 225-9446