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View Full Version : Movies and TV HD enthusiasts crying foul over cable TV's compressed signals


Deberg_1990
04-21-2008, 05:07 PM
Interesting read...

Personally i have ATT&T's UVERSE and their HD quality is pretty poor. The HD channels get really blocky at times.




http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/compressed_hd


MINNEAPOLIS - In Brent Swanson's basement home theater, there should be nothing drab about "Battlestar Galactica." He's got a high-end projector that beams the picture onto a wall painted like a silver screen, and speakers loom in the corners, flanking two big subwoofers.


Yet when he tuned in Sci Fi HD for a recent episode filmed in high definition, the image was soft and the darkest parts broke up into large blocks with no definition. Explosions, he said, were just dull.

"It kind of looked like they took the standard definition and just blew it up," said Swanson, a 33-year-old graphic designer and videographer who subscribes to Comcast Corp.'s TV service. "I couldn't really tell if what I was seeing was really better than what I saw on regular television."

As cable TV companies pack ever more HD channels into limited bandwidth, some owners of pricey plasma, projector and LCD TVs are complaining that they're not getting the high-def quality they paid for. They blame the increased signal compression being used to squeeze three digital HD signals into the bandwidth of one analog station.

The problem is viewers want more HD channels at a time when many cable and satellite providers are at the limits of their capacity, said Jim Willcox, a technology editor for Consumer Reports magazine.

"They have to figure out a way to deliver more HD content through their distribution networks," he said.

Compressing the signal is cheaper than costly infrastructure upgrades to increase capacity. Satellite TV providers including DirecTV Group Inc. and Dish Network Corp. also have the option of launching satellites to boost the number of HD channels on their systems.

While information is nearly always lost when signals are compressed and then uncompressed, the process can theoretically be made unnoticeable to eyes and ears and Comcast says it should be.

But some viewers say they can see it. Willcox said complaints about compression have been showing up on Web forums, including the AV Science Forum, a site for serious audio visual enthusiasts.

"It's not exclusively Comcast, although Comcast, being the largest cable provider, is probably the largest target," he said.

Derek Harrar, a Comcast senior vice president in charge of video, said the company recently began using new technology on some channels to compress three HD channels into the bandwidth of one analog station. Other channels continue to get the previous 2-to-1 compression.

In a posting on the AV Science Forum, Ken Fowler of Arlington, Va., compared Comcast signals with those on Verizon Communications Inc.'s all-fiber-optic network, which doesn't have the same capacity limitations. Fowler found the higher-compressed HD stations, including Sci Fi, Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, the Food Network and A&E, fared particularly poorly.

He analyzed the signals by recording them on a digital recorder, then transferring them to a personal computer for analysis. He found there was much less data, measured in bit rates, flowing to some channels than others.

For example, Discovery's bit rate was 14.16 megabits per second on Verizon's FiOS system but only 10.43 Mbps on Comcast; A&E HD was 18.66 Mbps on FiOS compared with 14.48 Mbps on Comcast. The FiOS system didn't offer Sci Fi HD, which Fowler's testing showed at 12.59 Mbps on Comcast.

He found the signals from the major networks and ESPN weren't getting the increased compression.

In an interview, Fowler said he reran his analysis about two weeks ago and found "basically the same thing."

Philadelphia-based Comcast wouldn't identify specific signals that are 3-to-1 compressed, and a Sci Fi channel spokeswoman referred questions back to Comcast.

Harrar said the company works to make sure any new compression technology is invisible to consumers, but Comcast is "constantly monitoring our network and making adjustments" for best picture quality. The company has been rolling out the new compression technology at different times around the country.

In fact, postings on the AV Science Forum from early April suggest the Comcast network has improved in some places.

And there are other reasons a high-definition picture can appear subpar: The source image might not have been recorded in HD, or the television's settings, the viewing angle and even the ambient lighting in the room could be the cause.

New York-based Time Warner Cable Inc. has avoided many of the criticisms aimed at Comcast, although the companies are technologically similar and face the same capacity limits.

Time Warner spokesman Alex Dudley attributed it to his company's testing procedures. He said that before Time Warner rolls out new technology that may affect image quality, it sets up two identical televisions in a lab, one with the old signal and one with the new. Technicians make adjustments until the pictures can't be told apart.

"The testers are our engineers who we call 'golden eyes,' who have a proven track record of picking up subtle differences in picture quality," he said.

Verizon's FiOS doesn't compress the signal once it receives it, and Willcox said it's considered the picture quality "benchmark." However, Verizon said the system is growing but is now available only in parts of 17 states and has just over a million subscribers compared with more than 24 million for Comcast.

He said two possible solutions are on the horizon, an improved version of compression, called MPEG-4, and something called "switched digital video."

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have introduced switched video on a trial basis across their networks. In concept, it's like on-demand videos. The company sends only the channels the viewer is watching, instead of all the channels at once.

But switched video has its own issues, including possible slower channel switching times and compatibility problems with digital video recorders.

Willcox said cable providers can't afford to ignore quality complaints. Many customers are already picky about quality after paying $800 to $3,500 for an average-size, HD-ready LCD television.

Swanson, the "Battlestar Galactica" fan, is sticking with Comcast for now.

"It hasn't gotten bad enough for me to consider changing," he said.

irishjayhawk
04-21-2008, 05:13 PM
And then they wonder why they're losing business to online bittorrent.....

sd4chiefs
04-21-2008, 07:08 PM
I am happy with my DirecTV HD.

BigMeatballDave
04-21-2008, 07:24 PM
Time Warner's HD quality is not bad. They just need to add more channels. I hate Time Warner's HDDVRs. Pure junk.

Deberg_1990
04-21-2008, 07:32 PM
I am happy with my DirecTV HD.

Agreed. I had Direct TV for nearly 6 years. Not HD, just standard broadcast and even that was a very good picture.


Im probably going to switch back soon.

'Hamas' Jenkins
04-21-2008, 07:35 PM
People bitched and bitched about DTV's HDTV compression for a long time.

They are corporations. They'll do anything they can to f*ck you. 'tis to be expected.

Bacon Cheeseburger
04-21-2008, 08:29 PM
The problem is viewers want more HD channels at a time when many cable and satellite providers are at the limits of their capacity, said Jim Willcox, a technology editor for Consumer Reports magazine.
Here's a thought, GET RID OF ALL THE STUPID-ASS CHANNELS THAT NO ONE WATCHES!

Fruit Ninja
04-21-2008, 08:33 PM
I used to get that blocky shit they are talking about last year, but not this year. The quality has been pretty damned good. IT was hard to watch NBA play offs last year on TNT. This year, no problem at all.

Sure-Oz
04-21-2008, 08:36 PM
I love my dish network, it has been pretty damn clear. i have noticed timewarner is choppy as ****

noa
04-21-2008, 08:36 PM
I had Comcast HD and really liked it, then I moved, brought the same TV and got Time Warner HD (not KC area), and noticed a huge difference in quality. Comcast was much better in the first market. Sports games looked pristine. Then I got here, and they are all grainy.

HMc
04-21-2008, 08:41 PM
We've got it worse. There's only one mainstream cable/sat provider in Australia, so theyve got the market by the balls. It's all been standard def until now, but thats extremely inferior to the OTA standard def signals the networks broadcast. ESPN is seriously almost unwatchable. Discovery gets compressed to the shithouse aswell, not that i need american chopper in decent res.

Adept Havelock
04-21-2008, 09:18 PM
We've got it worse. There's only one mainstream cable/sat provider in Australia, so theyve got the market by the balls. It's all been standard def until now, but thats extremely inferior to the OTA standard def signals the networks broadcast. ESPN is seriously almost unwatchable. Discovery gets compressed to the shithouse aswell, not that i need american chopper in decent res.

On the bright side, you can hang out with Ava Gardner (or Rachel Ward, if you prefer the remake) and live about a year or so longer after everyone in the North kicks the bucket from the Nuclear War.



Seriously though, that does suck. Nothing like a monopoly to drive the quality of service down.

Lzen
04-22-2008, 07:28 AM
Here's a thought, GET RID OF ALL THE STUPID-ASS CHANNELS THAT NO ONE WATCHES!


Like those shopping channels?

Lzen
04-22-2008, 07:31 AM
I love my dish network, it has been pretty damn clear. i have noticed timewarner is choppy as ****

Dish Network looks great for me. Of course, I can't think of anyone else that I know who has HD to compare it to. One thing I have noticed is that History HD seems to be stretched (width). Maybe that's not the case anymore. Can't remember. Hell, I was just watching The Universe last night and I can't remember if it still looked stretched. Well, in any case I know it was at one time.

alanm
04-22-2008, 07:41 AM
Like those shopping channels?I think 95% of the womens bullshit stations could be dropped and not missed. :D

alanm
04-22-2008, 07:45 AM
Like those shopping channels?
I remember reading last fall about about a group taking the cable/sat to courts about offering stations ala carte. I never did hear what ever happened with that.

KC Kings
04-22-2008, 08:10 AM
I think 95% of the womens bullshit stations could be dropped and not missed. :D


I was looking for ESPNU on Saturday and ran across a gay MTV channel. I would add that to Lifetime as channels to remove.

Time Warner's new programming pisses me off because you can't search by show "type" anymore, just the name. If I want to find a dinosaur show for my son I used to be able to search for the key word dinosaur, but now I have to know the name of the show.

I also don't understand the History channel now that it is offere in HD. I watch it a lot, but have yet to see anything historical on it. It is now a mix between Discovery and The Science Channel.

BigChiefFan
04-22-2008, 09:04 AM
I can't stand when they stretch the picture-that isn't HD and I don't appreciate them pimping it as such.

On another note, ESPN better have the draft in HD-it's absurd that they don't broadcast it in HD.

Sure-Oz
04-22-2008, 09:05 AM
Dish Network looks great for me. Of course, I can't think of anyone else that I know who has HD to compare it to. One thing I have noticed is that History HD seems to be stretched (width). Maybe that's not the case anymore. Can't remember. Hell, I was just watching The Universe last night and I can't remember if it still looked stretched. Well, in any case I know it was at one time.

Yeah i agree...i know DTV has way more HD channels but i have liked dish ever since my parents switched from DTV to Dish. I hope Dish gets more channels eventually but i'll take quality over quantity any day! Cable sucks

Lzen
04-22-2008, 09:24 AM
Yeah i agree...i know DTV has way more HD channels but i have liked dish ever since my parents switched from DTV to Dish. I hope Dish gets more channels eventually but i'll take quality over quantity any day! Cable sucks

DTV has way more HD channels? I didn't realize that. Like which ones?

Lzen
04-22-2008, 09:25 AM
I was looking for ESPNU on Saturday and ran across a gay MTV channel. I would add that to Lifetime as channels to remove.

Wait, do you mean they actually have a homosexual MTV station? Or by 'gay' you mean it like all the kids say it nowadays meaning stupid?

Sure-Oz
04-22-2008, 09:30 AM
DTV has way more HD channels? I didn't realize that. Like which ones?

I'm not sure, i just remember going to my gf's lakehouse and they had mtvhd and some other channels i know that aren't on Dish in HD. It couldn't have been too many more that i recall. I hated the interface menu though, was a pos!

Swanman
04-22-2008, 09:42 AM
DTV has way more HD channels? I didn't realize that. Like which ones?

DTV has over half (or more) of the national cable channels in HD at this point. In the last year, off the top of my head, they added USA, TBS, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Sci-Fi, Spike, FX, Food Network, MTV, VH1, Big Ten Network, Learning Channel, Cartoon Network and a whole bunch more. The only cable channel that I watch regularly that is not in HD is Comedy Central.