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Satellite TV System Starts Briskly : Entertainment: Dish and receiver feed some 150 channels of news, sports and movies through high-resolution signal.

October 10, 1994|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Jeannette Holguin can persuade her husband, their Montebello home will be the first on the block with the latest in home entertainment gadgets: a digital satellite system.

The new system's RCA receiver and 18-inch in diameter satellite dish feed about 150 channels of movies, news, sports and frequent pay-per-view features through a high-resolution digital signal transmitted by DirecTv--Hughes Aircraft's new satellite broadcasting network. The system costs at least $700, not including installation and a monthly programming fee.

"I can see the difference in the clarity--the picture is just great," said Holguin, as she watched a satellite-fed movie at the Howard's Television & Appliances store in San Gabriel Sunday afternoon. "I like it. I want it."

The nation's first compact digital satellite system, a $1-billion venture, considered a serious threat to the cable TV and video rental businesses, attracted the curious as well as buyers during its first weekend on sale in Southern California, retailers said.

Carlson's appliance store in Santa Monica sold out its initial stock of 25 satellite systems, which was launched last week with a large advertising blitz. The first wave of customers included the "elderly . . . because they can stay home and watch a lot of TV and young guys who like to play with these new things," said salesman Ben Benjamin.

Many salespeople had to educate as well as sell customers on the new system that combines hardware and 150 channels of programs ranging from HBO to the Weather Channel.

RCA supplies the hardware--at least $700 plus about $200 for installation--that consumers need to pick-up the signal.

DirecTv monthly programming fees run from about $30 to $34 a month. Pay-per-view movies cost $2.99 each.

Hughes Aircraft, in a major effort to diversify away from the defense industry, owns the satellite network and DirecTv, which supplies the programming.

The El Segundo-based General Motors subsidiary has said it needs to put the system, which is already available overseas, into three million U.S. households by 1997 to succeed.

Many shoppers at Tektronic in Westminster were surprised to discover they had to pay a monthly DirecTv programming fee, said store manager Thomas Van Nuygen, who said it has taken nearly an hour to explain and pitch the system before closing the deal. Still, Tektronic has sold 19 systems so far.

"I think this is going to be a hot seller for the holidays," Nuygen said.

At Howard's in San Gabriel, assistant store manager Ed Grose said customers have been impressed by the clarity of the system's signal and the small size of the dish--about the size of a hubcap. But, "it's the programming--that's what people are buying," he said.

Grose, whose six-store chain sold 24 systems over the weekend, said customers have told him they will cancel their cable subscriptions once they are hooked up to the DirecTv satellite.

Despite a hefty investment, Holguin of Montebello said DirecTv's monthly fees are comparable to her current cable bill. But the $2.99 DirecTv charges for a pay-per-view movie, which typically start every 30 minutes, is about half of what her cable operator charges.

"You don't have to call (the cable operator) for a (pay-per-view) movie," Holguin said. "You just push a button on the remote and you got it."

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