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Television Media

Comcast Puts the Screws To HDTV 317

Posted by kdawson
from the applying-a-cold-compress dept.
Todd Spangler writes "Comcast, like every video distributor, compresses its digital video signals. But to fit in more HDTV channels, Comcast is squeezing some signals more than others. The cable operator claims it is using improved compression techniques, so that most subscribers won't see any drop-off in picture quality. But A/V buff Ken Fowler claims the differences between some of Comcast's more highly compressed channels and Verizon's FiOS TV are indeed noticeable. He's posted his comparative test results on AVSForum.com — and the results are not pretty."
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Comcast Puts the Screws To HDTV

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  • He was yapping on and on about why we should switch to Comcast Digital Voice, and we can save over $100 if we bundle pack our services (we have Internet and cable from Comcast right now).

    But my dad said we were thinking about canceling our Comcast cable and getting FiOS, then the Comcast guy, noticing our spiffy new HDTV, starting going on and on about how we would have like 50 new "HD" channels by the end of the year, all at MUCH better quality.

    Yea right! What a LIE that Comcast guy was saying! I told him
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by noidentity (188756)
      They aren't called Concast for nothing.
  • by JonTurner (178845) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:33PM (#22915640) Journal
    To be more precise, they're putting the screws to the consumer. Lower quality than Over The Air (OTA), all for a premium price.

    No thanks. I'll stick with my Yagi antenna which pulls in 15 stations (many with subchannels) from 30 miles away. (Though I'm quite tempted to try a Gray-Hoverman Antenna as detailed here on Slashdot, just to see if it's better. http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/03/14/2021223 [slashdot.org] )

    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:50PM (#22915770)
      Here's a hint. How about they compress it with something less obscenely wasteful than MPEG-2? H.264 or even XVID would be multiple times as efficient, and the latter is free so you don't have to deal with this crap [wikipedia.org]..
      • by dpilot (134227) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:01PM (#22915846) Homepage Journal
        I'm starting to fool with transcoding my MythTV to XVID, and it's pretty darned impressive. I realize I'm starting with NTSC, which isn't that hot to begin with, but then again in my usage so far it looks about as good as MPEG-2 in a whole lot less space.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Because I'm sure it would be an incredibly easy task for Comcast to arrange for all of their subscribers to upgrade their boxes to MPEG4 compatible ones. Oh, and it would be really cost efficient for them.
        • by jtn (6204) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:06PM (#22915896) Homepage
          Boohoo. That's the cost of business, you have to improve your product in a competitive environment. Sorry, no sympathies here for Comcast (which recently took over my local cableco Insight, and promptly sent out flyers saying how much better it was going to be, oh and by the way, here's your next price increase). AT&T and DirecTV use more advanced codecs now, why can't Comcast? Heaven forbid they spend some of the money they get from their constant price increases on improving service instead of squashing in yet another batch of channels and degrading the quality of existing channels. What happened to quality over quantity?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, Xvid is a MPEG-4 implementation, likely covered by a multitude of MPEG LA patents.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by phorm (591458)
        I think that XVID requires a bit more CPU-power to compress/decompress though. Depending on if they could update the firmware of existing decoders, that might mean rolling out new boxes to subscribers, or upgrading the broadcast hardware.
      • by Lumpy (12016)
        Why? because they invested hundreds of millions of dollars on mpeg2 equipment and commercial quality h264 and xvid equipment does not exist.

        Comcast has been compressing the Hd channels hard for years. They are finally compressing it so hard that common people are noticing it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Brian Gordon (987471)
          Just goes to show how quality "commercial quality" is.
        • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @08:54PM (#22916600) Homepage

          Why? because they invested hundreds of millions of dollars on mpeg2 equipment and commercial quality h264 and xvid equipment does not exist.
          That's strange, I'll tell everyone using the new terrestrial broadcast system using H.264 here in Norway that it doesn't exist. Never mind that almost the whole country is live (last go live in november) and that analog broadcasts are already shut down in some areas and will be gone all over the country by end of next year. Friend of mine has cable, AFAIK it's H.264 signals too. The US has standardized on MPEG2, but the rest of the world is moving forward.
    • by qbwiz (87077)
      The interesting thing is that he says that they don't lower the quality of the channels that you can get OTA. They only lower the quality of channels that you can't get without going through them (or a competitor).
      • by Cylix (55374)
        They can't unless they sign retransmission agreement which gives them that right. (Not sure who would agree to it, but it's possible)

        Otherwise, if I recall correctly, they have to send it as they get it. This specifically applies to those are being transmitted via "Must Carry" and have not forgone that right in lieu of a retrans agreement.

        Though I'm not up to speed on my FCC regs as I used to be... so some things may have changed.
      • Apparently there's some sort of FCC regulation about the matter. They aren't allowed to mess around with any of the OTA stuff they carry, so all of those channels (including the usualy lame subchannels) are not recompressed. If you have cable you shouldn't need an OTA receiver, the quality should be the same from both.
  • by kherr (602366) <`kevin' `at' `puppethead.com'> on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:35PM (#22915652) Homepage
    I use Eye TV to record over-the-air HD, and it's quite obvious to me the quality is much higher than Comcast's HD. That said, I can't get as may OTA HD channels as I can on Comcast. And the quality of, say, Sci Fi Channel HD shows beats the standard def Sci Fi Channel.

    Still, it would be nice as a consumer to know what I'm really getting. Maybe Comcast (and anyone else) should be required to label their channels as "compressed HDTV".

    • by erroneus (253617)
      That's my thinking on the matter. Some standards board somewhere should set minimum standards to be called "HDTV." Then there would be truth in labeling that Comcast would have to either achieve or not use the label. (But I fear they'd end up calling it "HDTV compatible" or something along those lines confusing the consumer even more.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maxume (22995)
      That's a bit problematic, as all HDTV is compressed. You want the codec and the bitrate.
    • The article mentions that Comcast doesn't compress local stations, but I just dropped my Comcast service in Washington, DC and was surprised at how much nicer the OTA broadcasts look on my 1080 HDTV. If it's not compression, then there was something wrong with the converter box or component video connection.

      For reference, my cable bill was $112 a month for one HD and one standard converter box, extended basic channels, and HBO. I'm using simple rabbit ears now, but I'm looking for a better antenna since a
  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:40PM (#22915692) Homepage Journal
    In conclusion by not upgrading to an HDTV, and using my bunny ears, I am getting the same quality as Comcast's digital offering. Sweet :)
  • Not suprising at all (Score:5, Interesting)

    by realmolo (574068) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:40PM (#22915698)
    Anyone who has worked in the cable TV industry saw this coming a mile away. It's not like Comcast and pretty much EVERY OTHER "digital cable" providers wasn't already doing this.

    Here's the thing: Coax cable networks, even hybrid fiber/coax cable networks, just don't have the bandwidth to handle very many HD channels without compressing the hell out of them. They just don't. It's not going to improve. The ONLY thing they can do is either drastically reduce the number of digital and HD channels they offer their subscribers, or bite the bullet and start massively upgrading their network. Basically, they need to run fiber to every home. Which they aren't going to do.

    This is why I laugh at people who buy HDTVs and expect some kind of massive improvement. In most of the country, the infrastructure just isn't there to give people very many full-res HD channels over cable. Digital satellite has many of the same issues. There just isn't enough bandwidth.

    What about OTA, you say? Yeah, OTA broadcasts only have to be *digital*, not HD.
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:49PM (#22915756)
      That's not the only problem, either. The people that own the shows precompress the video stream before transmitting to the broadcaster (cable, satellite, whoever) to save transmission charges. That means the broadcaster has to take what he can get, and if he wants to recompress it even further ... well. Occasionally I'll watch an old Stargate re-run, and honestly they're so heavily compressed as to be almost unwatchable. I mean, you're paying these people good money each month to watch video that's little better than YouTube after clicking on the full-screen button. We're not even talking Hi-Def here, either.

      Ridiculous.
    • by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:50PM (#22915764)
      The problem is, of course, that they are trying to transmit all of their hundreds of channels to your TV simultaneously, and let the decoder pick out the interesting bits. If they only sent the one that you were watching, there wouldn't be a problem.

      Of course, then they'd have to discard their outmoded business model. So that won't happen. They'll just be marginalised and discarded in favour of internet distribution. It's the same thing that's happening to newspapers and bookstores - still around, but becoming less relevant every year.

      Cue their attempts to get laws passed to ban the new competition...
      • by teebob21 (947095) on Monday March 31, 2008 @05:26AM (#22919206) Journal
        Actually, the cable co's are trying to get away from sending ALL the available channels at once, using switched digital video [wikipedia.org]. However, the consumer electronics industry is railing against this change because (for the short-term) it will break compatibility with the current end-user decoding, CableCARD. Until TV manufacturers and the FCC get on board with OCAP [wikipedia.org], and start putting return-capable modules into their TV's, it's tough titties for all of us.
    • by muffen (321442) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:01PM (#22915842)

      Basically, they need to run fiber to every home. Which they aren't going to do.
      Why not? I'm Swedish but lived abroad for a lot of years. I recently moved back to Sweden (Stockholm) and was looking at buying an apartment. I didn't even look at apartments that didn't have a 100/100 fiber connection. I can tell you that around half the apartments listed in the area I was looking did in fact have a fiber connection. So... if Sweden can do it I'm certain it can be done in the U.S too. It simply has to be done!

      As a side-note, I had forgotten how great Sweden was in regards to technology. I now have a 100MBit bi-directional internet connection with no download limits, and I'm paying $65 a month for it. Then, I have a 7,2MBit 3G modem for my laptop, again no download limit, price is $30 a month, and it works quite well. Went on a 3,5h drive to my parents and was able to stream internet radio in the car the whole way. Laptop + 3G modem + FM transmitter is the way to go :)
      • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday March 30, 2008 @08:17PM (#22916366) Homepage
        Why not ? Because Sweden is not in North America.

        I honestly don't know much about Sweden (despite a few visits), but I think it is safe to assume your telecommunications providers are nowhere near as enormous, corrupt and heavy-handed as American ones. There is no competition at all in North America, everyone just gouges like mad, and when an independent tries to push out better services and/or lower prices, they get sued into oblivion or often times bought out and destroyed.

        If there were some form of harsh punishment for such blatant abuse of the capitalist system, maybe things would be better for everyone here, but the people drafting the rules are on the receiving end of significant lobbying from the telecoms, so it won't happen anytime soon.
        • by DarkProphet (114727) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {xfon_kciwdahc}> on Sunday March 30, 2008 @11:04PM (#22917372)
          MOD PARENT UP!

          This stupid dickering over population density and whatall manages to totally miss the point. In the U.S. there IS NO FREE MARKET for telco. Not even close. In which case, inertia is the biggest culprit, which explains why a very significant minority of the populous STILL can't get anything better (bandwidth/latency-wise) than freakin' dialup. The 'last-mile' problem exists for the same reason. When there is one telephone company and one cable company in town (in some cases they are one and the same), there is absolutely NO reason why that company would roll out last-mile fiber. The CEOs of those companies would be flogged by the shareholders for even suggesting what would be perceived as an unnecessary and costly venture. It is a chicken-and-egg scenario for a lot of companies. For the majority of internet users, anything beyond bare-bones 1024/256 DSL is really not necessary. People would likely find a use for it if it existed, but don't demand the upgrade in infrastructure because it is a white elephant ATM.

          For example, I live 18 miles from the nearest town, and get 1024/256 DSL by pure accident because I live on a well-traveled highway. Us lucky folks get to watch streaming video without hiccups. Our modem-bound neighbors a mile to the north have no such luxury. :-/
          • by zerocool^ (112121) on Monday March 31, 2008 @02:10AM (#22918340) Homepage Journal
            This stupid dickering over population density and whatall manages to totally miss the point. In the U.S. there IS NO FREE MARKET for telco. Not even close. In which case, inertia is the biggest culprit, which explains why a very significant minority of the populous STILL can't get anything better (bandwidth/latency-wise) than freakin' dialup.

            I would argue that free market isn't the only solution. In fact, pretty much any system other than the one we have now would be better for ISP's in the USA.

            For instance, free market might solve some of the problems, except that the established companies already own the cable. A startup can't put in cable without negotiating with the town and without a huge startup capital investment. In this situation, a socialized internet provider would work, too, like water. Buy your internet from the government, which runs a nominally third party entity that handles the technology but that has service requirements and price caps.

            Honestly, the fact that right now we have a government-granted monopoly, and that it's essentially unregulated, is what's causing the problems.

            ~X
    • What about OTA, you say? Yeah, OTA broadcasts only have to be *digital*, not HD.

      Digital is generally a huge improvement for OTA, even if they split an old NTSC channel into four SD ATSC channels.

      Also, most prime time stuff is in HD, so the time when most typical people are most likely to be watching TV, it's usually in HD, though it looks like FOX is still sticking to 480p.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sahonen (680948)
        Fox is 720p, not 480p. And 720p *is* HD, even if it's not the highest resolution standard. In practice the difference is unnoticeable. In fact in my experience 1080i looks worse because there's only 19 mbps available on an OTA channel, and ATSC uses the relatively ancient MPEG2 for coding.

        Now this is not in response to the parent but to the topic in general... Cable could offer far more picture quality by simply eliminating their analog lineup and using the bandwidth for digital. Using 256QAM modulation
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Basically, they need to run fiber to every home. Which they aren't going to do.

            Why not? Oh yeah, monopolies... forgot. Isn't "progress" wonderful? You get to bill the consumer more for a whole new technology and yet fail to provide it. And you won't even get sued for it. HDTV - TV for the Highly Dense consumer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRealFixer (552803)
      The ONLY thing they can do is either drastically reduce the number of digital and HD channels they offer their subscribers, or bite the bullet and start massively upgrading their network.

      They could also cut back the number of analog channels they're supporting. Each one frees up a digital QAM channel, which can house two 19 Mbit MPEG-2 HD channels, which matches OTA quality. Unfortunately, the all-digital mandate for 2009 only applies to OTA, and not to cable systems, most of whom will continue to supp
    • by Cylix (55374) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:27PM (#22916014) Homepage Journal
      People might not have noticed up until now though.

      The compression essentially scales dynamically with popularity.

      So, you might have the home and garden channel, but if it isn't getting viewers it's getting it's compression slammed. SCI-Fi, in my old area, was awful on Saturday evening. I fiddled with my mythbox forever wondering why it was just so horrible and then caught it live one evening.

      That said, once motorola releases an H264 based unit and not an mpeg2 receiver... there will be plenty of bandwidth. Well, assuming the rush to fill their service with tier 3 HD channels doesn't ruin it. This is all contingent on fast, affordable h264 decoding chips and I really haven't seen a good deal yet.

      My big beef with FiOS is just wondering when the bait and switch will happen. I hear great things about it now, but I'm just wondering when they will turn to the cheap. Any FiOS guys want to tell us the diabolical plans in store? (I'll take made up ones too)
  • I have them for Internet at the moment: at one time, I had them for TV and phone service as well. And yes, it was reasonably-priced at the outset, and the services worked well enough. Then the monthly bill started edging ever upward 'til after a couple years I was paying more than double. The phones alone (two lines) went over ninety dollars a month. Then picture quality began to degrade (due to compression artifacts as well as line quality issues and they couldn't/wouldn't fix the latter) so I dumped the p
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:43PM (#22915714)
    You know, considering that comcast is my 3rd biggest bill (behind, rent and insurance), you would think they could upgrade their network after all these years of collecting billions of dollars off people like me. Instead they just keep pocketing the cash, and turning out crappier products and hindering any competitions.

    I don't have the wherewithall to prove it, but I am pretty sure that they are throttling netflix watch-it-now services. When netflix first released that service my downloads were speedy and ran great. Now that netflix is starting to offer some real titles comcast is throttling them, I'm sure of it. Case in point, I've been very sick this week and in bed a lot. I've turned to netflix for entertainment. I can watch my first episode with no problem, 2nd, a few minutes of buffer but no big deal. Now that I have been using it for a day or two it can take 20 minutes to start a show with several buffer sessions in the middle.

    Contrast this with the fact that I can take my laptop to school on a SLOWER connection and get uninterrupted downloads. Their legalized monopoly they have is complete bullshit. If somebody offered another service in my area you can bet I would be there tomorrow. I despise writing that check every month to those fuckers. I hope they get what's coming to them in the form of a class action law suit to the tune of billions.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:44PM (#22915722) Journal
    they should figure out how to stop spam instead of downgrading program signals for spam bandwidth.

  • Only thing keeping me with Comcast Internet is that it's the only thing available here. (Temple University campus within eyesight of the new Comcast Tower in Philadelphia). It's kinda sad that Comcast has the philly area by the balls. They have a duopoly with Verizon on Internet around here and I don't see Verizon laying down any fiberoptic lines in this ghetto ass neighborhood.
  • by supabeast! (84658) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @06:58PM (#22915810)
    With my Comcast service there are a few really gorgeous channels: the local TV affiliates and HBO. Everything else can get downright gross. But no FIOS for my neighborhood...yet!
  • FTA:

    In response to competitive pressures from DirecTV and Verizon FiOS, Comcast recently decided to sacrifice some quality to improve quantity.
    Isn't this just great? In response to competition, comcast gives you a crappier product. This also illustrates that Comcast oversubscribes its bandwidth to the point where they have to not deliver the service you expected, just as for their internet services.

    But what I find the most frightening is looking at the pictures in the article I quoted, and then realising that "These images were rescaled to half-resolution". Imagine how coarse they must look at twice the size if a downscaling doesn't produce anything more smooth than that.

    I'm starting to rediscover my love for that ~15 year old 14" CRT thing I have in my room.
  • I've seen DVDs that looked better than their so called "high" definition signals. There may be 1920x1080 pixels, but there is so little data behind them, they never lock into place except when the scene stays completely static. God help you if you want to watch an action movie, since every time something moves the whole screen turns into a blocky mess. So now they are talking about making it even worse? Awesome, can't wait.
  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:04PM (#22915876) Journal

    I wonder why bother with 1080 sets if they're doing this. The difference in quality seems quite dramatic. I would guess that while you have a choice between 720 and 1080, it's hardly worth extra $$ for the 1080. Just curious if this would seem true to others.

    • by interiot (50685) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:47PM (#22916158) Homepage
      There's a bunch of things that end up degrading the usefulness of 1080 unfortunately:
      • half the stations broadcast in 720p instead
      • it can be hard to tell the difference between a 720p station and a 1080i station except when the source material has been done really well
      • the distance from your couch to your TV can limit the resolution you can see (for instance, I had *one* dead pixel on my 1080p TV, and I decided to not return it because even when I knew exactly where to look, and had a white motionless feed, I still couldn't see it from the couch)
      If you're ever thinking of hooking your computer up to it though, then 1080i/p can be great.
  • FiOS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Slimee (1246598) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:06PM (#22915894) Journal
    We dropped Comcast's internet and cable TV the moment FiOS came into the neighborhood....it came at a good time because their internet was blacking out on us all the time. It would just flutter for anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes to a few hours and it was a real hassle playing games online and suddenly losing connection out of nowhere...And we ALWAYS had problems with artifacting with their cable. the picture always started getting these little green boxes everywhere during a program. Comcast had a pretty extensive On Demand list, and FiOS kind of lacks that, but there's more ups than downs.
  • by yabos (719499) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:10PM (#22915914)
    HDTV only defines the resolution AFAIK. At least I've never seen any minimum for HDTV bit rates to still be considered HDTV. Just because it's 1080p it shouldn't be considered HD if it's 2Mbps. HDTV specs should define a bit rate that has to be required to have HD. I don't see how Comcast can call what was shown in the link as HD with all that macro blocking.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      HDTV specs should define a bit rate that has to be required to have HD.

      I could be way off base here, but I just don't think that's possible given the compression algorithms that are used. The whole point of variable bit-rate compression is to use lower bit rates when you need to convey less information, and higher bit rates when you need to convey more (thus why action scenes can get so blocky). Defining a minimum bit-rate would be like saying, "You can only be so efficient." What if i want to transmit 1920 x 1080 pixels of pure black? I have to do it at a minimum of 2 Mbps?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aXis100 (690904)
        You could also describe it like audio does via distorion (eg % THD).

        Compare the compressed screen to the origonal source pixels and count the number and size of the defects. The final score or % can then be compared amongst any feeds.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DigitAl56K (805623)
      Indeed, and a simple solution would be for each major video standard (MPEG-1/2/4pt2/4pt10) to define the maximum average quantizer over a second for 95% of all content that would allow a channel to be classified as HD. That solution would not be 100% perfect, but the quantizer is the most significant factor to the quality, and it would come very close to a consistently applicable standard.

      Maybe we could have a few classifications:
      HD Bronze - Barely passes some maximum average quantizer check
      HD Silver - The
  • FIOS testimonial (Score:5, Interesting)

    by emacs_abuser (140283) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @07:13PM (#22915934)
    Lots of people saying, "if only FIOS was in my area".

    As a former Comcast customer, what can I tell you but keep checking.

    When FIOS reached my block, I called Verizon the next day. The install went smoothly and all the contacts I've had with Verizon have been great.

    I'm done with those thieves at Comcast.

    Internet is unbelievable, I shelled out extra money for higher speed. Downloading a distro used to be an overnight undertaking. Now it's more like 20 minutes.

    I got a bunch of new phone features I don't need and the TV signal quality is great.

    Best part is I'm paying a little less than I used to pay Comcast for TV and internet but
    I'm getting TV, Internet, phone and long distance with the price locked in for 2 years.

    I'm still waiting for my free 19inch LCD TV from Verizon, but to make up for the delay they sent me a $20 gift certificate.

  • Does anyone know how Comcast is progressing with its Switched Digital Video trials? From what I understand if SDV ever got off of the ground there would be little to no need to recompress HD video due to the bandwidth savings.
  • For every analog channel they drop, they gain back 2 decent or 3 crappy HD channels. Or maybe they could do 2 half-way decent HD and 1 SD channel. And, yes, there is a requirement to provide analog until 2012. But they can meet that requirement by supplying a converter box that outputs analog (at no additional cost for basic customers). The question is, is the cost of providing that converter box greater than the benefit of the extra channels?

  • Can anyone tell me what sort of hardware one needs to watch FiOS TV? If you need an equivalent of a cablebox, do the ones provided by Verizon at least have something of the equivalent of Firewire output? Or is it pretty much just component, s-vid, composite, and HDMI?
    • by jakedata (585566)
      On the HD box I get DVI-D, HDMI, Firewire (untested but supposed to work) Y-PB-PR, S-Video and composite, along with L-R audio and optical and coax digital audio. I don't think it has functioning RF output for video.

      On the non-HD box I get S-Video, composite and RF (channel 3) output. There is L-R audio and digital as well.

      On the free box provided in anticipation of them turning all analog support off this month you get RF, S-Video, composite and L-R audio.

      Good package of options. Since they don't support A
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @08:09PM (#22916312) Homepage

    Please fix the headline by dropping "Puts the" and "To" from the sentence.

    Thank you.

  • So, people are paying for HD content, but Comcast compresses the video degrading the quality. So now the HD content that people are paying for is no longer HD quality. So now the quality is nolonger HD, but there is more room for "HD" channels.

    I smell a very big lawsuit coming on.

    This is like paying for 92 octane gasoline, but having it cut with diesel when you put in in your tank, so as to make the station's reserves of gasoline last longer.

  • They could achieve really good compression by throwing away the colors and using 256 shades of gray instead, throwing away a portion of the image along the left and right sides for a 4:3 aspect ratio, and hmmm... maybe use 486 scanlines total in the picture. That should result in a great picture while using the least possible bandwidth.
  • by straponego (521991) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @08:30PM (#22916456)
    HDTV on Comcast often has problems with smooth gradations in color. This tends to make common objects like, oh, human faces look synthetic. Sharpness is pretty good. The color banding was much worse on their digital SDTV; it was very obvious in any dark scene, and often scene transitions were garbled and blocky; so much so that when I moved I got analog cable instead. Better quality image and it's much quicker to change channels.

    When the installer came for this new house, I mentioned that I was only getting digital for the purposes of HDTV, and that otherwise I liked analog better. It was rather entertaining listening to him explain that digital only needs ONE bandwidth, while analog needs FOUR bandwidths.

    None of this is nearly as annoying as their execrable channel guide, which dedicates a third of the screne to some random bullshit preview and a third to advertising. And often takes ~10 seconds to flip to the next screen. And if you want to search by name... my god. To get to the middle of the alphabet, it's ~20 key presses (they make you go through the numerals if you try to go backwards). It's one of the worst interfaces I've ever seen-- and I have seen some shit.

    But never mind all that; I've seen MythTV in action and I will soon be cured.

  • They refuse to put in the network within Boston because they're fighting with the state over getting a broad cable provider license. So unless you live in the burbs, you can't get FIOS in Boston and they (the city and Verizon) continue to let Comcast rape the rest of us with this sort of crap compression. It's enough to make a guy want to buy DirectTV...
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @08:35PM (#22916490) Homepage
    ...and prohibit providers from calling it "HD" unless it meets all of those standards--not just pixel count.

    Let the marketplace decide, but make sure that consumers know what they are actually buying.
  • by akahige (622549) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @10:30PM (#22917174)
    I haven't followed up on this, but it was a couple of years now that I read a very involved discussion about Direct TV doing the exact same thing. The big issue there was that not only was the HD signal down-rezzed, but in times of huge HD traffic -- such as the football package they were pushing at the time -- they would turn off less popular channels (such as TNT HD). Apparently, the root of the issue was that they didn't have enough satellites to supply the proper amount of bandwidth. They had another satellite launch scheduled for early last year. That was supposed to solve the problem, but I haven't gotten around to seeing if it was actually true.

    Are we surprised that Comcast is down-rezzing HD video? Were we surprised to discover they're throttling BitTorrent? Not if you've ever had to use their service. You take what they give you, and if it fails catastrophically, then you might be able to find someone to get the service restored -- but complaining that the performance of a thing isn't what it's supposed to be? You'd be lucky if you found someone that had any idea what you were even talking about...
  • Free-to-air. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Sunday March 30, 2008 @11:47PM (#22917622)
    I'm interested in FIOS for internet, although I find their television service overpriced, even compared to cable and satellite. Unfortunately, despite constant advertising bombardment I cant get it around here. Even in Manhattan the service is only available in new buildings and no one has any idea when everyone else will have access to it.

    The highest quality HD I've seen to date has come via over-the-air signals; the good old antenna. My father set it up last year but continued to subscribe to cable. Earlier this year they raised rates, yet again, he got pissed and canceled. He occasionally wishes he still had a few of those channels he had with cable, but otherwise he doesn't miss it at all. More recently, he's been considering free-to-air satellite to augment what he gets now.

    As for the reception, it's all digital so it's flawless. Even standard-definition is superior to cable, but HD is on a whole other level. It's a pity this doesn't get more attention. Some people actually believe over-the-air broadcasting is ending with the switch to digital; even at least one high-profile blog has perpetuated this notion.

    If people wanted to screw the cable companies they'd just dump them. But people have a hard time letting go of all the programming they get. After a week, however, most wouldn't miss it. The majority of television programming is drivel anyway and most shows nowadays wind up on DVD or online further reducing the need for cable, satellite or anything else.

    Of course if everyone left then these providers really wouldn't have the money to set up a proper network. But then, this is one of the very few times where I'm inclined to think that like the highway system a high speed communications network might be their responsibility. At least until I'd learn they're spending 5 times more than they should, taking 3 times longer than projected and making a mess of it.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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