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So Degrading

Phil Harvey
6/23/2006

6:00 PM -- HDTV providers may have a quality problem.

Several cable equipment guys helped fuel a rumor I've been hearing for a while at Cable-Tec Expo. The rumor is this: To save network bandwidth, cable providers will slightly degrade the signal for most HDTV channels they serve to customers.

"All the operators do it," says one source. "But they hit some channels worse than others."

This came up as I was attempting to find out how much bandwidth a full resolution HD stream in MPEG-4 takes up these days. The answers were all around the 8 -Mbit/s mark, but each vendor I asked -- and some that I didn't -- piped up to say that cable MSOs will probably get closer to 6 Mbit/s because they slightly degrade the HDTV streams to save bandwidth.

Most equipment vendors were convinced the RBOCs will do the same thing because, on fiber to the curb networks, bandwidth is even more scarce.

That's a bummer if you're a cable customer paying high dollar for a premium service or an RBOC customer kicking the tires of Telco TV. It's also frustrating because the folks who are buying HDTV at this early stage are more likely the ones who spend the most money per month and would most likely know the difference between a good and a bad HD service. Why would cable risk ticking them off?

If this HD-degradation is as widespread as rumored, it's good for satellite vendors, though. If you've only got one part of voice/video/bandwidth race, then you may as well clean up in the quality department.

— Phil Harvey, High Def Editor, Light Reading

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nobody55
nobody55
12/5/2012 | 3:49:58 AM
re: So Degrading
Wouldn't cable be broadcasting hd in mpeg 2? this would be more like 15-17mbps? at these rates the network would certainly fill up quickly. can understand why cable would squeeze to fit more in.

Michael Harris
Michael Harris
12/5/2012 | 3:49:56 AM
re: So Degrading
Yes, cable MSOs are broadcasting HD in MPEG2 today, hence the need to squeeze.
optobozo
optobozo
12/5/2012 | 3:49:54 AM
re: So Degrading
I have Comcast and their HDTV service. Some channels are stunning (like Discovery HD and PBS HD). Some aren't the same. I notice some special sporting events have higher quality, too.

It frosts me that I pay so much for HDTV and Comcast degrades the content. What an oxymoron. I also experience audio out of sync with the video and somewhat frequent video freezes.

And the customer service stinks. We had a malfunctioning box for a few days (constantly reseting). If we had a black-market box, they'd be over instantly. Instead, we had to pester them for a new box and go to a service center to exchange it. Then we had to call CS again to go through proper STB set-up. All this for $120 month... Our heating bill is less and we get better service.

How many shopping channels can one watch?

Can't wait for FIOS and a little competition to change things.
OldPOTS
OldPOTS
12/5/2012 | 3:49:53 AM
re: So Degrading
Don't set your expectations too high for FIOS!

Especially the limited Channel selection as many of my neighbors have found out. None that I know are using HD yet. Any FIOS user comments?

--------------------
Comment; "Most equipment vendors were convinced the RBOCs will do the same thing because, on fiber to the curb networks, bandwidth is even more scarce."

Probably true for AT&T U-Vers (especially xDSL), but for VZ FIOS they are using B-PON which has separate BW for SD TV.

Anyone recall (previous posts) how VZ is doing HD and how much BW is allocated? Then what MPEG format?

OP

DCITDave
DCITDave
12/5/2012 | 3:49:49 AM
re: So Degrading
re: "I also experience audio out of sync with the video and somewhat frequent video freezes."

That's the real killer is that there are tons of things that can cause poor quality HD and degrading the signals at the encoding spot is only one of them.

Also, some channels just use better equipment than others, so the HD quality will look better even if the cable operator is doing everything right.

For screen freezes and audio/video sync problems, reboot the set-top and/or your TV (some of these LCD things are like PCs themselves, aren't they?).

ph
Michael Harris
Michael Harris
12/5/2012 | 3:49:48 AM
re: So Degrading
Tons of things indeed. In addition to straight compression techniques that allow MSOs to squeeze two HD channels into the space of one NTSC channel, they are also looking at variable bit rate encoding schemes to squeeze in three HD channels. MSOs claim they have plenty of capacity on their networks. If so, why bother with this nonsense? Offering the highest-quality HD service could be a real differentiator for cable if they had the cojones to pay the price in bandwidth.
paolo.franzoi
paolo.franzoi
12/5/2012 | 3:49:48 AM
re: So Degrading

Everybody uses MPEG2 because content owners have not yet approved MPEG4.

http://www22.verizon.com/conte...

Provides the FiOS channel lineup and some view to the packaging.

seven
russ4br
russ4br
12/5/2012 | 3:49:43 AM
re: So Degrading
MSOs claim they have plenty of capacity on their networks. If so, why bother with this nonsense?

Maybe they'll wait for greater adoption rates of current HD offerings ("better than NTSC") ... and then try to differentiate themselves later on by offering "True HDTV!" packages ...

-russ
Michael Harris
Michael Harris
12/5/2012 | 3:49:42 AM
re: So Degrading
"Maybe they'll wait for greater adoption rates of current HD offerings ("better than NTSC") ... and then try to differentiate themselves later on by offering "True HDTV!" packages ..."

One can only hope. :)
optobozo
optobozo
12/5/2012 | 3:49:35 AM
re: So Degrading
Phil said: "For screen freezes and audio/video sync problems, reboot the set-top and/or your TV (some of these LCD things are like PCs themselves, aren't they?)."

Yes, STBs are like PCs - constant software updates, USB and IEEE 1394 ports, internal hard drives, ethernet ports. Gee, when will they need virus and malware protection? ;-)

My freezes and sync issues are usually channel related and are intermittent. But sometimes the STB just needs a reboot.

On video quality - I notice the compression artifacts are most prevalent when there is faster motion. The picture gets quite blocky or pixelated.

I have noticed my viewing habits are returning to the old traditional stations again since they are the ones in HD for the most part. I wonder if cable channels will feel the pressure to go high def? Am I the only one whose viewing habits are changing when they have HDTV?
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