THOSE PRICEY HDTV SETS ARE beautiful to look at-in the showroom. Once a new owner gets his new model home, he quickly discovers there isn't much to watch except regular TV. Now a new satellite service called Voom wants to give him more.
The HDTV picture is six times more detailed than traditional TV, but the transition to high definition is moving much slower than the rise of color TV in the 1960s. (Forrester Research estimates that consumers will have 9 million sets by the end of 2004.) HDTV sets still aren't cheap, either. The average retail price last year was about $1,688, and the stream of special programming remains just a trickle.
That's where Voom steps in. It plans to offer 39 channels of HDTV programming by next year. Viewers must pay over $750 for the necessary equipment, plus $39.90 a month in fees. Voom currently offers 21 channels of "exclusive" content that looks pretty bland. The newcomers include Rush (extreme sports), Ultra (fashion and food) and Rave (music), plus 12 channels of recycled Hollywood movies. The new service also continues the trend of disproportionately low family-friendly programming.
Some analysts question whether Voom will survive, but HDTV fans may see it as the only option that shows off the quality of their expensive new sets. It may show that HDTV still isn't ready for prime time.