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Lack of Bandwidth Oversight Damages HDTV Quality 292

Posted by Soulskill
from the buy-some-bigger-tubes dept.
mattnyc99 writes "Over at Popular Mechanics, Glenn Derene has a great new column investigating the lawless lands of broadcast television, where the quality of the picture that ends up on your expensive hi-def set is determined by a bunch of fuzzy math. Quoting: 'In fact, there's no real regulation over high-definition picture quality at all — "none whatsoever," one industry consultant told me. And that's part of the reason why different HD stations often have wildly varying levels of picture quality that change from one moment to the next. Behind the scenes, content producers, broadcasters and cable and satellite providers are engaged in a constant tug-of-war over bandwidth and video quality, with no hard metrics to even define what looks acceptable. Even officials at HBO, where Generation Kill looks pretty fantastic on my TV, bemoaned the lack of a silver bullet ... for now.'"
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Lack of Bandwidth Oversight Damages HDTV Quality

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  • FIOS Baby (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Keebler71 (520908) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:02PM (#24344729) Journal
    You can pry my FIOS [avsforum.com] from my cold...dead fingers...
    • Re:FIOS Baby (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:14PM (#24344813)

      Does the FIOS signal look good? I haven't made the plunge into HDTV because whenever I watch a game at a place with HDTV, the grass looks like it's liquid from all the digital artifacts - presumably over compression by the cable company?

      Anyway, I have a relatively high-end standard TV and a converter box, and the picture looks almost as good (though not as big!).

      • Re:FIOS Baby (Score:5, Interesting)

        by markov_chain (202465) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:56PM (#24345093) Homepage

        The incentives are wrong; the problem with digital is that it costs the operator almost nothing to add more channels by dropping the overall per-channel bitrate. At least with broadcast TV the channel allocations are pre-defined so there is a little more of a bar (but like TFA says there is still funny stuff going on behind the station).

      • Re:FIOS Baby (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:14PM (#24345209)

        FiOS' HD quality is on par with the OTA feed, well to my eye it is. I don't think they have issues with compression because I don't think they compress the signal anymore than it already is when it leaves the broadcast company.

      • Re:FIOS Baby (Score:5, Insightful)

        by E IS mC(Square) (721736) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:14AM (#24345547) Journal
        I think you are confusing two things - FIOS and HDTV. Your question about FIOS is followed by something about HDTV.

        1. FIOS is not mandatory for HDTV. But higher bandwidth definitely helps FIOS to deliver better HD content.

        2. Grass looked liquid - probably because either the TV was not setup properly OR as the article says, it was subjected to random chopping due to limited bandwidth.

        3. You mentioned that your picture looked as good - well, normally I do not buy corporate shit wholesome, but to give a (hopefully) suitable analogy, the real difference between HDTV and standard definition is similar to difference between tape and audio CD (or suddenly realizing you were seeing things with 'defective' eyes and then looking through your prescribed spectacles).

        Though I have comcast HD at home, and a lot of HD content is compressed hell out of it, it's still miles better than standard definition and the only reason I still have my cable connection (and before you murder me for having Comcast, I do not have a choice unless I go dish, and I can not do that).
        • by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @05:41AM (#24346717) Homepage Journal

          He's not confusing anything, he replied to this post [slashdot.org] where the poster praised his own FIOS.

          I love FIOS for my Internet, and it's HD looks great (my neighbor uses them for TV), but at least here in Pittsburgh they required that you use the Actiontec routers that they provide if you want to use them for TV. That's a non starter for me. I tried their router when they provisioned my Internet. It's utter crap. Until they let me use the hardware of my choice for routing I won't be using them for TV service.

      • by Cylix (55374)

        If I recall correctly and if regulation still stands as it used to.

        Cable ops actually can't modify a terrestrial broadcast signal. This includes down converting and I would assume also refers to compression. (Though I could be wrong on the compression).

        This probably only applies to must carry and re-transmission agreements can do pretty much anything.

        However, the TFA is right, though they seem to make it a mysterious new thing. There is very little regulation on the actual signal. Most of the regulations ar

      • Satellite HD (Score:4, Informative)

        by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Saturday July 26, 2008 @10:00AM (#24347785) Homepage

        When you say "I watch a game at a place with HDTV" do you mean something like a bar? Those places were probably the first in their area to offer HDTV, so their connection is probably satellite. I think satellite has the most incentive to compress the "HD" signal to hell, though cable isn't far behind.

        I have a 32-inch HDTV plus Comcast cable and the image is dramatically better than standard definition, especially with good feeds like sports on major networks or movies on HBO HD. Lower tier channels like TBS HD and History HD don't look so great.

        The other advantage of HD is being able to watch all the 16:9 programming without letterboxing or cropping.

    • Re:FIOS Baby (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mapkinase (958129) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:11PM (#24345183) Homepage Journal

      The only thing that I can offer them to pry from my cold dead fingers is Verison DSL which is currently have 14 kbps of upload speed (just measured at speedtest.net), because there is nothing else to pry in our corrupted county.

  • What's that smell? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:04PM (#24344743)

    Smells like a convenient excuse for the likes of Comcast and Verizon to use in an attempt to get the public on their side of the net neutrality debate.

    "If you don't let us manage the network bandwidth, you'll be doomed to watching fuzzy video on your expensive HDTV!!!!"

    • by rtb61 (674572) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @04:38AM (#24346507) Homepage

      Nah, it has nothing to do with that. It is all about getting people to chuck their dvd's in the bin and buy the same content, yet again, in another format. Unfortunately, at the moment, most people are watching DVD's on their Hi definition TV and noting that the picture quality of Hi definition broadcasts is very often no better and often even worse quality than their DVDs.

      So the publishing companies are really pissed, they were seriously expecting everyone to chuck their DVDs in the bin and buy the new higher priced hi definition content (most of which would be no better than the dvds it is meant to replace), all they had to do was jam enough B$ advertising into the gullible publics minds and they would mindlessly go forth and buy, buy, buy ;D.

  • by PoochieReds (4973) <jlaytonNO@SPAMpoochiereds.net> on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:04PM (#24344749) Homepage

    Not exactly the same but my current gripe with my satellite provider (DirecTV) is that I bought one of their HD channel packages, and a number of the channels that are listed as HD channels never actually have any HD programs on them. They're all standard def. The Disney channel, for instance is listed as a high def channel, but I've never seen a single high-def program on it (I even surfed the channel guide through several days to see if anything ever did).

    Total fraudulent BS...

    I'd drop 'em like a hot potato tomorrow but the wife is addicted to the crap that comes on there...

    *sigh*

    • by rob1980 (941751) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:13PM (#24344809)
      Marketing's a bitch, isn't it. Cable and satellite providers are poking at each other in advertisements over who has more HD channels when they could be a little bit more forthcoming and compete over a completely different metric, like how many hours of HD programming are provided per week or something.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anpheus (908711)

        Even that could be rigged. They could rebroadcast content or permit 'on demand' downloading and say, hey look, you have HD content available 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 20 channels!

        Except it's a half hour or hour long show on each channel that was shown once in the week and is available on demand thereafter.

    • by I'll Provide The War (1045190) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:44PM (#24345031)

      On Disney about 10 shows (~6 hours per day) are 720p right now.

    • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:45PM (#24345037)

      It's the channels not DirecTV that is doing that and some time the channels run HD lite / SD wide on them / sd upped to HD. Also some stuff mostly local stuff is in HD but does not have the HD ICON.

      Some of the directv on demand is in SD, WIDE SCREEN and HD.

      Go to scifi hd right now stargate atlantis is in HD.

      • by assassinator42 (844848) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:03AM (#24345485)
        But the Dr. Who episode that just finished isn't. Worse, instead of broadcasting it in fullscreen 480p (or an upconversion of that), they encode it with black bars on all sides. Do they not know how to zoom things?
        Still better than the channels that stretch a 4:3 picture to 16:9, though. Especially if it was originally letterboxed. I'm looking at you, History Channel. Airing actual 4:3 content letterboxed is probably the best (IMO) way to handle it. Zooming the picture in a bit (but not to fill up a 16:9 screen) like the Discovery networks isn't bad either.
        • Stretched letterbox (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AlpineR (32307)

          Dear Herodotus, yes!

          A year ago History Channel started broadcasting letterboxed shows on their standard definition channel. I took that as a good sign that they were now producing them in HD. But after my Comcast system started carrying History HD last month, many of those letterboxed 4:3 shows are *stretched* to fill the my 16:9 screen. Egad, standard definition, stretch, and black bars. Could they do any worse?

          The only hope is that the HD conversion was a little rushed and they'll settle on a more sen

    • by lessthanpi (1333061) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:43PM (#24345393) Homepage
      It always seems the highest quality video you get from these "HD" channels is the commercials. Viva America
    • by British (51765)

      Any programs listed for SpikeTV seem to be peppered with a "HD" tag at the beginning of the description. Yet I can't find the Spike HD channel on my Comcast lineup. Also, some VH1 shows are listed in HD, despite there being no HD channel I know of, and with such low production values, I doubt "I love money" is in HD.

      You would think there would be a bit more refinement in Comcast's online guide not to lie, or tease people about HD versions of programs on a HD channel you can't get.

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:17PM (#24344839)
    This is nothing new - there were never any picture quality standards for standard definition television either. The concept of "broadcast quality" varies from country to country, from network to network, and from affiliate to affiliate.

    In the early days of HDTV research, test viewers were shown three different televisions: a normal standard def (analog) picture; a standard def picture directly from the digital studio master, produced and delivered to normal high-end studio standards; and a high-definition picture (shot and edited in high definition). Everyone thought the analog standard def was the worst of the three - but most consumers thought there was little, or no, difference between the professional standard def and the HD pictures. So - in actual blind testing - how cleanly the picture was delivered was much more important than picture resolution.
    • by timmarhy (659436) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:36PM (#24344977)
      this is very true. there is no point blowing your load over 1080p if you can't broadcast it well enough that you don't get a decent signal. frankly i don't see the obession with 1080p when it's much easier to put out a 720p/1080i signal which will look just as good.

      oh and i have a 70 inch 1080p TV so i know what it looks like on a large screen. 1080p is nice, but it's not essential.

    • Blind testing of video, now that's a good one!
    • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:12PM (#24345193) Homepage

      A related example: I have a friend that bought a HUGE 1080p HDTV. He loved to talk about how great things looked on it. He bragged one day about how great a certain nature show looked on his TV -- until I pointed out to him that it was a 4:3 show that the TV was stretching to 16:9. He never would have known if I hadn't told him.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        The other side of that coin is a friend who owns a panasonic 50" TV from 2002/2003 that doesn not go beyond 1024x768. He just bought a Blu-Ray player and the planet earth series on blu-ray. He marveled over the quaity of his new high def toy when in fact, he wasn't really there. I still have not brought this point up to him though, you cruel bastard.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by stewbacca (1033764)

        I have a friend that bought a HUGE 1080p HDTV. He loved to talk about how great things looked on it. He bragged one day about how great a certain nature show looked on his TV -- until I pointed out to him that it was a 4:3 show that the TV was stretching to 16:9.

        You know my dad?

        I just sold one of my HDTVs and had to warn the guy who was buying it that it would be worse for him, since he didn't have a cable provider with HD content. He says his sd stretched tv "looks great" though. Oh well, I tried...

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      bwahahaha

    • Not the same thing. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:56PM (#24345457) Homepage Journal

      Bandwidth is not the same thing as picture quality. An uncompressed image requires more bandwidth than a losslessly-compressed image, even though (since the compression is lossless) the two are identical to the users. As others have noted, standard television had no fixed definition standard. Indeed, many 70s and 80s television productions in the UK mixed film and video in the same program, resulting in wildly-varying standards for sound and picture. (I suggest watching any Blake's 7 episode on YouTube that includes outdoor scenes. Even though that is massacring the image further, you can still tell which scenes were recorded on which medium.)

      I -can- see some value in defining minimum standards - new programs recorded with the explicit intent of ending up on HDTV should be recorded at resolutions well in excess of 525 lines (US) or 625 lines (UK). Lossy compression (such as MPEG2) should not be used with a compression so great that artifacts reduce meaningful resolution to 525/625 or less. In the case of pre-HDTV material, that means that you should be on very nearly zero loss. (Ok, old 425 line pictures from the UK are obviously going to be less than that, but those pictures should be interpolated and - if necessary - hand-edited to look as if above the 625 line resolution. Hell, the BBC has not only hand-edited but then hand-colourized as well, so they clearly have the means and the manpower.)

      Interpolation has to be done anyway, as the stupid fools didn't use a HDTV resolution that could be divided into any of the pre-existing resolutions (US, UK and Japan all used different resolutions). The sensible HDTV resolution would be the one that required the least interpolation by any - since existing material will dominate for a long time - that also met or exceeded what was desired in an HDTV format (since you want it relatively future-proof). Since, as a rule, you want a higher quality picture rather than a wider camera angle, you might even be better off by having the TV smart enough to merge/interpolate pixels as necessary, and transmit at whatever technology permits, defining resolution as minimum camera angle that can be differentiated by a display.

      • by nyet (19118)

        Bandwidth is not the same thing as picture quality.

        Lossy compression bitrate is proportional to PQ/IQ for a given resolution. Period. For 1080p, anything below around 5Mbit looks terrible.

  • You can't really regulate quality with something like TV. Frankly not everything needs to be in uncompressed 1080p. Not only is there a large range of shows recorded in 480i, but many shows still being recorded have no business wasting that kind of bandwith. I don't think cartoon network needs full bandwith just so it can show powerpuff girls in full 1080p

    • Re:ehh.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:51PM (#24345067)

      I don't think cartoon network needs full bandwith just so it can show powerpuff girls in full 1080p

      I disagree.

      • I don't think cartoon network needs full bandwith just so it can show powerpuff girls in full 1080p

        I disagree.

        Could you please move on to Erin Esurence? Not only are the Powerpuffs underage, they don't even have digits. That's just wrong. Not that Esurence is right, it's just less wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jedidiah (1196)

      It's not about "legislating technology" it's about truth in advertising.

      A consumer should be able to know what they're getting when someone
      tells them they are selling them HDTV. It's like butter versus
      margerine. One is a well defined quantity and the other could be
      pretty much anything.

      If it's a "prime cut", then you should be able to verify this with
      some scanner that looks like a tricorder. That scanner should be
      able to give you a yeah or nay. There should be some objective
      way you can determine if the vendo

  • I completely agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:27PM (#24344915)

    Secondary channels should be banned. The local NBC affiliate runs a weather channel on their .2 and it their image quality is very poor next to the local CBS affiliate (CBS bans secondary channels). And woe to me if I try to watch the .2-.5 channels on PBS. Even in SD they are block city.

    I disagree Generation Kill looks good. I watched the first episode on HBOW, which is an H.264 channel on DirecTV. And it had significant blocking. The 2nd episode looked better, but still, I am spoiled by BluRay. It's worlds better, and no cable or satellite system which only allocates a few mbits is doing to ever match it. That includes U-Verse.

    I'm watching "The Professionals" on BluRay right now, and the video bandwidth along is over 27mbits, even in scenes where almost nothing moves. On pans it goes over 30mbits. And this isn't even one of the best looking movies. And this 27mbits is with H.264 video (AVC). 8-10mbit H.264 (let along MPEG-2) doesn't stand a chance.

    Broadcast companies (and cable systems) will keep removing bandwidth until their "HDTV" looks even worse than it already does. They advertise quantity (100 channels!), quality is rarely even mentioned.

    • I have The first episode of Season 5 of Stargate Atlantis. on my DirecTV HD DVR and it looks very good.

    • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:20PM (#24345251) Homepage

      Secondary channels should be banned.

      I completely disagree -- each company should get to decide how to allocate their bandwidth. I would prefer to have two channels of good content instead of a single channel, and I'll bet that most consumers would agree with me. There's a reason why they advertise quantity instead of quality -- it's what people actually care about.

      Of course, there's a point where most people DO care about quality -- stuffing 15 sub-channels into a 19 Mbps broadcast channel is going to piss people off -- but you probably aren't going to hit that point with just 2-3 channels.

      • by superdave80 (1226592) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:47PM (#24345417)

        "I would prefer to have two channels of good content instead of a single channel..."

        But they have HUNDREDS of channels, and probably only enough decent content for a fraction of those channels. This looks like the MHz wars all over again.

        Cable guy 1:"We have a ZILLION channels!"

        Cable guy 2:"Oh, yeah, we a GAZILLION channels!!!!"

        Consumer (flipping through a bazillion channels): "Shit. Nothing good on tv tonight."

        • I was referring more to local broadcasters than to cable or satellite operators, though the principle still applies.

          It all reminds me of the rage over higher frequencies in CPUs: people would usually buy a 2.4 Ghz processor instead of a 2.0 Ghz, even though the 2.0 may actually be faster. Why? Because 2.4 is more marketable than 2.0.

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:03AM (#24345487) Homepage Journal
        The simple truth is that you aren't the customer, you're the product; the advertisers are the customers, and as long as studies show that the marketing still works at the bitrate at which the ads are going out, they'll keep ratcheting it down. They're not catering to the people who want to capture their streams at top quality.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tweak13 (1171627)

      (CBS bans secondary channels)

      Uh... no. My local CBS affiliate has weather information on a sub channel. The picture quality on the main channel looks just as good as the local NBC affiliate which has no sub channels. In a nearby area, NBC is broadcasting the CW network in standard def on a sub channel, this also has no perceivable effect on their main channel. I agree that once you start cramming five channels in like PBS, picture quality is going to suffer, but adding one highly compressed channel isn't going to make a differenc

      • by sydney094 (153190)

        Yeah, my local CBS has two sub channels .2 for their 24 hour weather and .3 for a live radar map. I seriously doubt the radar map takes up that much bandwidth, and it's quite handy.

        I actually keep my TV tuned to that, just so I can flip from the satellite to the radar quickly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rich0 (548339)

        I think the difference in perspective can depend a bit on your viewing conditions.

        There is no question that a 15Mbps broadcast is going to be higher quality than a 14Mbps broadcast. The only question is whether you can see the difference.

        If you have a 40" LCD screen on the other side of your living room you're not going to tell the difference that having an SD weather subchannel makes. On the other hand, if you have a 72" plasma just far enough away from your face that you can catch both sides of the TV i

  • typical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ocularDeathRay (760450) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:29PM (#24344925) Journal
    The funny thing is that people still seem to like HDTV.... you know why? because it _IS_ better than the picture quality we had before.

    I professionally install home theater systems, and most of our customers are very happy with the end result. I get what this article is going for (not that I read it, or anything), and I wish it could be better, but unfortunately the world of business never comes up with anything that is perfect... because to develop perfect tech would cost infinite money, which would significantly cut into profits.

    take any technology standard and leave it to a bunch of linux geeks (myself included) to pick it apart and point out the flaws. sometimes I think our time could be better spent designing something better, rather than badmouthing that which already exists.

    OTOH it is kind of fun to bitch, so I am torn...
    • Re:typical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:57PM (#24345109)

      I professionally install home theater systems, and most of our customers are very happy with the end result.

      Anyone who spends several grand on the latest and greatest is going to like it regardless of any actual improvements or (more likely) disappointments.

    • Re:typical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by schwaang (667808) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:24PM (#24345283)

      I get what this article is going for (not that I read it, or anything), and I wish it could be better, but unfortunately the world of business never comes up with anything that is perfect...

      In my area, HD channels really did look much improved, like your customers find. But over time, the cable company (Comcast) has decided to increase the compression on some channels (lowering their bitrate) so they can squeeze more channels in their bandwidth. So HD quality *has* degraded here, not through any fault of the HD technology, but through the choices that the cable company has made.

      If your local pizza company sells you melted plastic because it's cheaper than cheese, do you just say "oh don't bitch about it, a good pizza would cost too much"?

      • Re:typical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:01AM (#24345479) Homepage Journal

        I did have a local pizza place sell me some "ham & pineapple" pizza using crushed pineapple and TVP [wikipedia.org]. I even confronted the manager about it, and the idiot claimed that they ran the ham through a meat grinder before putting it on the pizza.

        So much for trying to support a small-town non-chain business operated by one of my neighbors. I ordered the next pizza from Pizza hut, and at least they delivered with some real Canadian Bacon.

        As far as the HD channels are concerned and their bandwidth, I hope this doesn't turn into the digital equivalent of the shrinking toilet paper rolls.... where those manufacturers keep making gradually smaller and smaller rolls with less paper (but selling it at the same price), only to come out with a "double roll" at a higher price that had the same amount of paper as the rolls you bought about two years ago.

        Mark my words.... these cable companies are going to start a promo (at of course a higher plan rate) that offers "enhanced resolution" of these channels for an improved picture that was just like you experienced when you first signed up for HD channels.

    • by Narpak (961733)

      because to develop perfect tech would cost infinite money, which would significantly cut into profits.

      And the fact that developing perfect tech is a good way to run yourself out of business. Which definitely cuts into profit.

    • If you don't see problems with high motion video (like football games), then you really should have your eyes checked. I can not stand to watch football in high-def since gets SO sharp when there is no motion, then becomes a bunch of blobs when the play starts.

      I complained about the "HD" TV quality last September: prev message [slashdot.org]

  • I hate to just post questions, but if anyone knows, I think we all deserve to know what everyone is trying to hide from us!! This bugs the hell out of me, and I hope I am not the only one :(

    1. What is the standard, uncompromised compression rate for full HD video? eg. The rate of compression on a Blue Ray disc.

    2. What is the standard compression rate for cable HD video? eg. What I can expect from Time Warner.

    3. What does Apple and Netflix (if they have a service) think they can get away with? eg. What they'

    • by icegreentea (974342) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:26PM (#24345287)
      1. Dunno how you can have uncompromised, compressed video (unless you mean lossless). Blu-ray (and HD-DVD) can support multiple codecs as well as compression ratios. The idea is that they can always use 100% of the space. That being said, you can get 2 hours onto 25gigs roughly. 7 200 seconds, 0.0035GB/s, 0.28Gb/s. So roughly 1:4 compression ratio (see below). In actuality, it will almost certainly be higher, because they need to fit in extra features and the like.
      2. As the article states, the compression ratio is all over the place, but tops out at 12-15Mbps (depending on which HD standard is being sent). It will almost certainly be lower. And that's the entire point of the article.
      3. No idea.
      4. Uncompressed HD video takes roughly one gigabit per second (as stated in article). That's roughly 52 channels worth of bandwidth.
    • by sahonen (680948) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:00AM (#24345473) Homepage Journal
      1. What is the standard, uncompromised compression rate for full HD video? eg. The rate of compression on a Blue Ray disc.

      The uncompressed HD signals flying around in a TV truck or control room are 1.5 gbps. Blu-Ray compresses that down to 36 mbps or so using an MPEG-4 class codec.

      2. What is the standard compression rate for cable HD video? eg. What I can expect from Time Warner.

      Last I saw, the industry standard was to fit 3 MPEG-2 HD channels into each 38 mbps cable channel.

      3. What does Apple and Netflix (if they have a service) think they can get away with? eg. What they'll stream to me when I buy/rent something from their movie service. Netflix streams in Standard Def. ABC streams 720p from their web site at 2 mbps using H.264 and it looks pretty good. At least the quality of OTA HD (which is MPEG-2). 4. What is the bit rate or internet throughput required to stream true uncompromised HD video? I ask this, because I am in doubt as to whether most cable and DSL connections are even fast enough. Again, HD-SDI (the professional uncompressed video standard) is 1.5 gbps. One video signal requires its own coaxial cable and has a maximum run length of 300 feet. The dirty little secret, however, is that once the signal leaves the production truck, it's MPEG-2 up to the satellite (36 mbps max) or over fiber (typically 100-200 mbits, but only available from select venues) to the network's master control.
  • by geofgibson (1332485) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:44PM (#24345025)
    When there's over 20 different ATSC 'standards,' and 480i is considered a 'hi-def' format, you'd better learn what you're paying for and do some serious research before buying anything. It was easy to be ignorant and happy with NTSC, and, let's face it, how could anybody have found VHS acceptable? This is why, even though I work in the realm of professional film and video, and feed REAL HD (1920 x 1080) to 90' wide screens, I still haven't bought any HDTV, although the Aquos LCDs are almost acceptable. And there's no way in Hell I'm paying good money for lossy CODEC, massively compressed 'broadcast.' Give it a few more years, and some more planned obsolescence, only then will the real potential of digital video be realized. And I'll still take 70mm; vertical, or horizontal Imax, over all these other formats.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by virtual_mps (62997)

      It was easy to be ignorant and happy with NTSC, and, let's face it, how could anybody have found VHS acceptable?

      Because some people find the content to be more important than the specifications? I'd personally prefer a crappy VHS copy of a good movie to a really high def calibration image--but to each his own.

  • It's so true (Score:4, Informative)

    by CaptScarlet22 (585291) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:44PM (#24345033)

    My wife works at the cable company and I continuly complain to her about the lack of HD channels and picture quility (although not too bad really on my XBR5). Accourding to her, most providers are in a bind because they either have to lease more lines or run new cable to get more bandwidth, which both are expensive. Plus, the demand for HD subscribers isn't has high as the media or TV manufactors make it out to be either. Yes it's growing, but not everyone has a set yet. Color TV yes, but not HD. Lets not forget the cost to provide those channels are expensive to boot! It's not as profitable for some HD providers as you think. Why do bigger cities always have the latest and greatest?...because of the population.

    I could go on on about this, but really it comes down to cost and how much they want to pass on to the customer...So they cut corners...

    Is it wrong? Yes..Are they working on it? Yes, companies just need to get passed the 1950's infrastructure were still using...ugh...

  • Simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:53PM (#24345079)

    When the carrier (cable or satellite) changes the program material provided to them in any way, they need to make their editorial changes clear to the viewer.

    To the following message:

    This program has been modified for content, time allocated and to fit your screen.

    They need to add:

    This program has been reduced in resolution to fit on our cheap cable system.

  • Here's our HD feed from PBS, shrunk to internet resolution.

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=1960730 [rcgroups.com]

    What a joke.

  • by shadoelord (163710) on Friday July 25, 2008 @10:55PM (#24345085) Homepage

    The FCC mandated that the HD video be encoded in Mpeg2 only; never planning ahead using Moore's law and allowing different formats, such as Mpeg4! Had they allowed Mpeg4, several HD channels could have been fit into the 19Mb/s channel bandwidth, along with other SD channels as well.

    • Articles seems to say that companies are starting to switch to MPEG4. It says that MPEG2 is considered the minimal of sorts to be called HD, so for a while thats all companies did. But now they're starting to change over.
    • by Detritus (11846) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @12:00AM (#24345475) Homepage
      The FCC did not have a crystal ball that would allow them to see into the future. The original proposals for HDTV were analog systems. There was no workable proposal for an all-digital system until about a decade after the formation of the ATSC. It took additional years to turn it into what we know know as ATSC. This was all bleeding-edge technology, right out of various research labs. MPEG-4 wouldn't be finalized until more than a decade after the FCC selected ATSC as the standard for HDTV in the USA. The FCC went with the best technology that was available at that time. Standards always become obsolete over time, but they are necessary. It's only recently that ATSC receivers have matured to the point that they have reasonable performance with impaired signals and prices that are acceptable to a mass market.
    • MPEG-4 is hardly the outstanding standard as you claim it to be. Certainly there have been some slightly improved compression standards, but it came at a cost too.... and some pretty tough lossy compression that doesn't always work as well.

      To me, the killer problem with MPEG-4 is the licensing issues where trying to implement anything using that standard (including distributing content!) is covered under so many patents and licensing loopholes that you need a full-time legal team just to make sure you haven't screwed up. For this reason alone, I would strongly discourage anybody from using MPEG-4 except for something of an application that either explicitly requires the standard (by customer specification where you've talked them out of it and they refuse to budge) or for some internal application that can take advantage of the standards.

      I would urge any open source project even thinking about MPEG-4 to treat the spec document like some sort of radioactive material and to stay completely away from it at all cost! It isn't worth your time to even investigate. MPEG-1 has at least had almost all of the patents expire due to its age, and MPEG-2 is getting up there in age that it won't be the end of the world either.

  • by NoobixCube (1133473) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:00PM (#24345117) Journal
    so I'm blundering into this discussion totally ignorant of what are probably very important facts, but when the buzz about high definition television broadcast started, and when it became apparent there would be multiple resolutions classed as 'high definition', I thought the natural battleground in the market would have been who can broadcast the highest resolution the cheapest. Instead, what we're probably seeing, is companies colluding on just how much to screw the customers out of. Just like every other industry in the world.

    As a consumer, I'm not seeing a whole lot of reason to cough up for pay TV. It's just easier to download high definition video and watch it on my computer. And even at lower resolutions, the image quality on my small (compared to my TV) computer screen is higher anyway, thanks to the size of the pixels.
  • ... 'elephant-in-the-room' tag?

  • by smchris (464899) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:30PM (#24345317)

    Hopefully, up.

    Among our broadcast local new shows, it looks like ABC sends out the analog camera feed, CBS is prettier but 4:3. Only NBC is 16:9 and what people really look for in HD. Public TV's subchannels are a range unto themselves. So, yeah. Hell of a difference. Not to mention the remote cams, commercials, weather cams, archival footage, etc.

    Instead of writing letters, our state fair is coming up. As the announcers are waiting to sign autographs for the kids, I'm going to make a point of passing by and saying, "When will your station follow NBC's lead in HD?"

    • by Detritus (11846)
      It's a lot cheaper to relay network HD feeds and do everything else in 480i than to upgrade all of the equipment and sets to HD. Even the makeup needs an upgrade for HD. For a station that was already behind the curve, it's a huge expense to bring everything up to date.
  • WHA? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:32PM (#24345329) Homepage Journal

    "HD stations often have wildly varying levels of picture quality that change from one moment to the next"

    Huh? You mean Stargate Atlantis is being broadcast on changing resolutions in midstream?

    No, not exactly, I bet.

    I've seen pleny of my best friend's 52" LCD, and HD can be very very nice. DiscoveryHD is probably the best on a consistent basis, and he uses DirecTV. But the problems are multiple and frustrating. Typical programming, for instance:

    A 720i or 1080i program looks pretty good. Then it goes to commercial, which is probably 480i. Pillarboxing ensues. Icky, but at least the aspec ratio is accurate. I see a lot of this on ABC network programming - especially sports, when they do studio shots of the taking heads. Sometimes the local ad slot goes out in SD, and looks pretty crappy. But hey, some affiliates are actually incompetent, or are carrying ads that were not rescanned - you know, used car lots can be cheap advertisers.

    Sometimes, you see something in HD that is fairly sharp, like a recent movie that is upconverted. Then you get a dark, still scene. The background degenerates into a flat matte. When the characters move, you see a few artifacts and blocking. Woopsie, somebody doesn't have enough TV for this. I've seen the same DVD scene on three TVs, and made note of the scene change. On the 52" Sony LCD Proj set, it blocked a bit, consistently. On the Sharp Aquos 37" LCD, no blocking. On the 13" SDTV, the DVD player fritzed out and blacked for about 5 frames I think. On my. Those terrible artifacts may not be the signal. Your set may have a hard time decoding and displaying some uniquely challenging data. This is not new - I have a CD of a symphony that has a passage that is rarely decoded cleanly by any player but the very best. Not the mostg expensive, but the best. And I have another that cannot be played back cleanly by my MiniDisc player/recorder - it has a clearly heard problem with the program material. This should be a rare occurence, even unique to 2 or 3 incidents in your entire collection. But it isn't that unique with HDTV. Sometimes the motion-control stuff or enhancements just don't do very well. I'm not complaining much though.

    The "picture quality that change(s) from one moment to the next" complaint is probably more like the pictue quality is in fact changing, cause we have differing program sources. In NTSC, this was evident in the difference between a movie scan, direct-to-tape programming (many soaps are like this), and live (the Today Show, for instance). It didn;t matter much, just cause nothing really looked so much better or worse in NTSC. Of course, those old commercials on U-Matic sure looked awful, but then they got enhanced just as HD got started up. Ick.

    My biggest complaint is 'digital TV'. Like digital cable. Pus. So compressed, the solarizaiton is off the scale. MPEG compression making the field in a soccer game into a flat green painting. Whip pans end up smaearing everything. The ball gets lost if it and the camera are moving wrong. Movies like the Batman series, that are dark, become shades of brown, indecipherable. I haven't see Fahrenheit 451, but I wonder how that looks. Some of the white scenes must be precious indeed.

    Then there's the whole SD-stretching thing. I loathe this. When even Callista Flockhart looks a little pudgy, you know that stretching SD to fill the screen is really wrong. But most everyone configures their HDTV to do this. So it looks like crap, so what? I paid for that screen, and I'm gonna use all of it.

    We are on the verge of seeing Televison move to the Internet. Your TV will have enough horsepower to decode most anything, and new codecs will be coming fast and furious. FIOS and YouTube melded into ipTV, and sold by the minute if they can figure out how. Or blended with ads that can't be skipped or ignored. Recording flag? Not necessary. A simple DRM scheme makes it impossible to divert the stream to a capture device. Unless, of course, an op

    • Re:WHA? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:43PM (#24345389) Homepage

      Huh? You mean Stargate Atlantis is being broadcast on changing resolutions in midstream?

      No, it has changing quality, not resolution. They can dynamically adjust how compressed the program is from one second to another. It's still 1080i, just more or less blocky.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by entrigant (233266)

      In case you're wondering, this is the bit that gave away that you have no clue what you're talking about:

      Your set may have a hard time decoding and displaying some uniquely challenging data. This is not new - I have a CD of a symphony that has a passage that is rarely decoded cleanly by any player but the very best.

      Uniquely challenging data, eh? You mean like RGB values of 0.01,0.03,0.02 instead of 0.8,0.2,0.6? Tough.. the set is being asked to show a darker color.

      Even better is the CD bit. That doesn't eve

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rich0 (548339)

        I heard a story from a guy in the digital broadcast industry that actually did make me take a little pause.

        Apparently some major artist was listening to a stack of CDs that were right off the presses. He commented to the engineer that he liked the ones in the one pile, but not so much the ones in the other stack he had made. The engineers of course chuckled inwardly since of course this was a digital reproduction and obviously the sound content would be identical between CDs. Then to humor the artist the

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mxs (42717)

      [quote]
      Huh? You mean Stargate Atlantis is being broadcast on changing resolutions in midstream?
      [/quote]

      [ ] You understand the difference between quality and resolution

      [quot]
      Sometimes, you see something in HD that is fairly sharp, like a recent movie that is upconverted.
      [/quote]

      If it's a recent movie, it'll probably not be upconverted, but rather scanned at that resolution (or digitally shot in HD). Upconverting does squat for actual picture quality; if you think it does, you can just enable a sharpener filt

  • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:32PM (#24345331) Homepage

    A local TV station had been broadcasting in "HD" for several years and promoted the hell out of it. Indeed, they sent out a widescreen picture, and my HDTV reported it as being "1080i".

    However, the dirty little secret was that all of their cameras were 480p; they were upconverting it to 1080i right before they sent it out the door. Sure, when you watched network programming it was real HD, but all of the local newscasts were really standard-definition despite their claims to the contrary. An experienced HDTV viewer could easily see the difference, but most people had no idea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sahonen (680948)
      However, the dirty little secret was that all of their cameras were 480p There is no professional broadcast video gear that operates in 480p. You were probably actually seeing standard def (that's 480i) gear upconverted to 1080i. The local NBC affiliate does something similar... They at least have their studio cameras and graphics in HD, but they haven't upgraded all of their newsgathering cameras and editing systems yet so all of their packages are upconverted SD. It's pretty ugly actually.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bushcat (615449)

      The difference between 480p and 1080i is not as large as you think it is. Hint: the "p" and "i" are important qualifiers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The difference between 480p and 1080i is exactly as large as I think it is, because I see it every night on TV. This station has only converted its studio cameras, not its field cameras, so you get to see the difference between the two every minute or two.

  • See I have HD! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zazenation (1060442) on Friday July 25, 2008 @11:43PM (#24345391)
    This whole topic is too technical to the average HD watcher.

    They only care that their knob is calibrated up to 11.
  • Yup, KQED HD from Sutro Tower in Frisco transmits
    a bunch of MPEG-2 fast-motion squares alright, probably
    de-rezzed due to the statmux of all of their (four or
    five or six, I've lost count) licensed "sister channels".

    Phuq that spit! I guess that's why I have Apple TV.

    • ...urban reception of OTA Digital TV.

      There's something called Multipath Interference that happens when a line-of-sight signal hits a bunch of obstacles. Like buildings. The signal degrades, and degrades, and degrades, and you wind up with not being able to lock on to some channels. You wind up with what I call the "Max Headroom effect" where the picture freezes with lots of blocky artifacting and the sound repeats like a stuck CD. Yet another reason why that show was so goddamn prophetic.

      Anyway, not everyon

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Detritus (11846)

        Some of the recent STBs actually do a decent job of dealing with multipath. Even in infamous locations like Manhattan. Compensating for multipath has been an active area of research and development. A sophisticated equalizer can compensate for the effects of multipath.

        I have a $60 STB that performs much better than earlier generation boxes that were much more expensive. The only problem is that it down-converts everything to SD.

        • by tepples (727027)

          I have a $60 STB that performs much better than earlier generation boxes that were much more expensive. The only problem is that it down-converts everything to SD.

          By U.S. law, an entry-level ATSC set-top box has to convert everything to SDTV, or else the box isn't eligible for the $40 coupons [dtv2009.gov]. From the coupon site's FAQ: "The intent of the program is to allow consumers to continue to view TV over-the-air on the same TV they used prior to the transition, not to enable upgrades in technology." So the final rule [doc.gov] states that coupon-eligible converters MUST provide RF and composite outputs and MAY provide S-video outputs.

  • what qualifies as an HD broadcast? apparently they think it's just resolution.

    I've seen comcast's HD channels. Blocky as hell for broadcast. I can stream it from the Internet in higher quality.

  • You mean the media providers are running a scam on their customers?

    Who would have ever imagined?

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