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Television Media

DirecTV's 1st MPEG4 Satellite Launch Successful 291

tivoKlr writes "Looks like the 1st Spaceway satellite to provide "1500 channels of HD" has made it successfully into space. MPEG4 compression and local HD channels, something that the cable company can't offer in my area." Unfortunately the new satellite obsoletes the HD Tivo, and there's no word on when there will be a new one.
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DirecTV's 1st MPEG4 Satellite Launch Successful

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  • Full HDTV Finally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 853255 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:41AM (#12358343) Homepage Journal
    Finally something that can compete with Comcast's 15 HD channels. This might actually push local cable providers to finally offer HD service for all of the channels.

    Of course the content will have to be in HD as well. But this always has been the chicken and the egg problem, without a network to broadcast HD content, why create it?


    • Whoa you have 15 on comcast? You lucky bastard.
  • by Enigma_Man ( 756516 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:46AM (#12358375) Homepage
    Why does it obsolete the HD TiVo?

    • by Dios ( 83038 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:48AM (#12358399) Homepage

      I believe the High Def Tivo uses MPEG2 for its data streams, won't be capable of decoding the MPEG4 streams.
    • HD TiVo's can't decode the MPEG 4 streams, which is what the new satellites will be broacasting (I believe the current HD stream is MPEG 2).

      You can read more here @ PVRBlog []
      • That's what I've heard as well. The thing I keep wondering is exactly how underpowered is the MIPS cpu in the HD Tivo? If it had a powerful enough CPU (highly unlikely) it could do it in software. :(

        Anyhoo, pipedream anyway. FYI, I believe it is "this obsolesces the HD Tivo". Then again, my spelling is probably wrong. :P
        • They can't do it in software, it is slightly possible that it has upgradable firmware, probably not though as the increase in processig power that MPEG4 would require. What I really wonder if why havn't we heard an official statement from DTV on exactly what are their plans for dealing with this situation. Have they been completly mute?
    • Just a guess but it is probably because of the mpeg compression.
    • What my mother wants to know is "does this obsolete my first-generation DSS receiver if she doesn't use HDTV?"

      If so, she's not interested in buying a new receiver. If DirecTV wants to keep her as a customer they can send her an upgrade for free.
      • Spaceway is Ka-band, so already your LNB and possibly your dish would need to be changed. And your existing STB probably can't do MPEG-4 decoding either.

        Moreover, I have heard rumor that DVB-S2 modulation will be used on this bird, which would require a new satellite demodulator chip in the STB as well.

        On the other hand, I don't think any DBS provider will be tossing away the installed base of Ku-band DVB-S MPEG-2 receive systems out there.

        But you will probably need a new box to get a signal from this n
      • If so, she's not interested in buying a new receiver. If DirecTV wants to keep her as a customer they can send her an upgrade for free.

        From what I've seen, they are pretty good about replacing receivers even if they are ones you bought yourself at radioshack.
    • HD TiVo directly records the MPEG2 streams from DirectTV's satilites to disk. It does not encode the video itself like old TiVos. This worked fine, but now that DirectTV is going to MPEG4, the TiVos will no longer work at all. TiVo is either going to have to come out with a more flexible solution, or a new propriatary solution that can handle the MPEG4 streams.
  • by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:48AM (#12358401) Homepage
    Do they encode regular NTSC signals as HD even though there's no visual benefit, to simplify production, operation, and tuning at the client end?
    • by gevmage ( 213603 ) * on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:54AM (#12358446) Homepage
      Digital TV has 18 different formats (resolutions), 6 of which are considered "HD". A couple of them are equivalent to NTSC resolution; 640x480 pixels. So NTSC stuff would presumably be broadcast in the standard appropriate digital format, taking up less bandwidth than one of the HD formats.
    • NTSC still has nasty color artifacts. In theory, a SD ATSC stream, given a high enough bitrate, looks as good as a DVD. But most broadcasters starve their SD streams, either because they multicast several SD channels, or because they insist on simulcasting in both High and Standard definition. Hmm, shall I watch the fuzzy, washed out version, or the sharp, high resolution version? Decisions, decisions....
      • Hmm, shall I watch the fuzzy, washed out version, or the sharp, high resolution version? Decisions, decisions....

        You make a joke of this, but I know PLENTY of people that will continue to watch the crappy one so long as they don't have to buy anything at all.

        There are lots of cheap people in the world (then, like me, there are those who can't afford to upgrade.. :) )

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:49AM (#12358417)
    Note that comm satellites are just 'bent pipes'. This keeps them simple and independent of changing technology. So, there likely isn't any MPEG4 technology on board the satellite. Rather, the technology will be in the ground station. Therefore, DirecTV could have used an existing satellite in orbit, or even shared space with someone else on a satellite...
    • by skaeight ( 653904 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:07AM (#12358577)
      Actually, no they couldn't have. For one reason. Bandwidth. They are completely maxed out right now. They couldn't have added 1 more HD channel, let alone 1500 additional HD channels. Each HD channel is something like 15 SD channel.

      The only reason they are able to do this is because they are going to be transmitting using a different band - KA. The current DirecTV sattelites transmit in the KU band. So they'll be using their existing orbital slots 101, 110, & 119 to broadcast on a different wavelenght.

      Unfortunately this is going to be mean a larger dish will be required. Google dish network superdish for an idea of how big it is. Dish Network already does broadcast some local channels in KA band.
      • I used to work for Dish.... if memory serves the SuperDish was about 3 feet wide at its widest point and somewhat football shaped.

        The real problem with them (and DirecTV is going to have this problem as well) is that they're a royal pain in the ass to point.

        Realisticly, the consumer won't be able to realign his system anymore.

        • I have a SuperDish pointed at 105, 110 and 119. Aiming it without a signal reader would be near impossible. I guess you could take your receiver and tv out by the dish and use the "Point Dish" screen ;)
          • Uhm.. isn't that how you're supposed to do it anyway? I don't think I woulda got my (normal, little) sattelite up without the Point Dish screen..

            Or are there some people with uber-dish-skillz that just "know" exactly where in the sky they're pointing?
            • Well, there are web sites [] that allow you to enter your latitude and longitude and the orbital slot of a satellite, and then they do the math for you to get the azimuth and elevation. Or if you're a math geek, you can do the math [] yourself. Then, if you had an extremely accurate compass/inclinometer [] you could try to aim the antenna that way. In actual practice, I doubt that would work reliably - hitting a target the size of a car from 22,000 miles away is a very touchy business. Most pros use a compass/incli
            • It's not just that, but that there's a polarization on the 105 and 121 LNBs. Also, the Point Dish screen won't pull up a signal on 105 unless it's had a check switch run with signal on 105... catch 22.

              That's why you need the signal device thingie.

          • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:39AM (#12358935) Journal
            I find that a beer helps. No, really, patience is required in pointing these multi-bird dishes, and I find a cold beer helps calm the nerves and give you somehting to do during the process.

            I've re-mounted my 3LNB D* dish several times, and I always take out a receiver and an old 13" TV with me to do the job. It may take 30 minuts or so to get it just right, but hey, I' mostly sitting on my butt drinking a beer and watching TV (well, the set upscreen).

            Besides, nothing gives the new neighbors a first impression like seeing the "new guy" sitting on his roof watching TV and drinking a beer.
          • Funny enough, this is what I do with my Dish500. I take my projector, a white sheet, and my receive up there and point it.. :)

            This is also how I pointed my Starband dish when I moved.. :)
        • The good news about Spaceway is that it uses Ka-band, which has a higher gain for the same sized dish.

          But Ka is more sensitive to rain fade than Ku...
      • I think a full HD MPEG2 stream takes up 18Mb/s, however many cable companies and definitely satellite companies compress it down from that.

        What I do know, is that analog channels on cable, look like utter and complete crap on an HD monitor. That, and the Sci-Atlanta box that COX uses upconverts about as well as a OU plays in the Orange Bowl... Digital cable is such a misnomer, I can't believe they get away with selling it as digital.
        • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:40AM (#12358940) Journal
          19 Mpbs is the standard (ATSC) for US digital terrestrial HD broadcasts. But trust me, HD looks a lot better at 270 Mbps (HDCAM) rates...
        • Digital cable is such a misnomer, I can't believe they get away with selling it as digital.

          I believe it's because it is, in fact, a digital system.

          You're believing the marketers here by associating digital with 'quality'. Here in the UK we have digital radio (DAB) and due to using the old mp2 codec as rates as low as 64kbits/s it sounds crap. Digital in this case really means 'reliability', as in it'll sound the same each time you play it, not necessary better quality.

          Also, a load of pubs here have 42"

    • Spaceway uses digital regenerative switching, so it is not at all like typical geosync comm satellites. But you are right, there is nothing about MPEG-4 on the satellite, it could very well be switching MPEG-2 coded video or even IP (its original mission).

      The funny thing is that MPEG-4 streams are carried within the same 188-byte packet MPEG-2 transport stream that normal MPEG-2 live video streams use.
  • by jfmerryman ( 670236 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @09:54AM (#12358456) Homepage
    Has anyone had a chance to personally see MPEG4-encoded HD? Is the quality acceptable compared to the original MPEG2 stream?

    I have to imagine that by recompressing into MPEG4 from MPEG2 (the format the signals are provided in, at least currently), some quality would be lost. The question is, how much quality is DirectTV prepared to sacrifice in order to say that they have the entire country covered with HD locals?

    Personally, I'm sticking with cable because I want the original MPEG2 stream passed through without any recompression, and I don't want to watch TV without DVR features.
    • "and I don't want to watch TV without DVR features"

      Do you think that DVR features are unique to Cable only? I have a Dish Network DVR522 and love my dual tuner Satelite DVR fun. They also have the DVR942 now which gives you all the power of 522 with the addition of HD.
    • Note that cable providers recompress the original MPEG2 streams themselves to reduce bandwidth used by HD channels.
    • by flimflam ( 21332 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:09AM (#12358594) Homepage
      Yes, though not at the specific data rates used for broadcast. In general MPEG4 is vastly superior to MPEG2, however. Also, an MPEG2 stream would never be recompressed as MPEG4, the broadcaster would feed the uncompressed signal into the MPEG4 compressor. All in all this is a move to increase quality at the same bandwidth.

    • It has not been proven to me (and my job includes me looking at this) that MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) encoders can do a better job today at the same bitrate as the highest quality MPEG-2 encoders (i.e. the ones that cost $50,000).

      I expect that, like MPEG-2, we will see MPEG-4 encoders doing a better job over time, and I suspect that eventually the best MPEG-4 encoders will be doing a similar quality to the best MPEG-2 encoders at half the bitrate. But that is in the future, especially for HD!
      • by Xesdeeni ( 308293 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @01:10PM (#12361021)
        RawDigits: I would imagine an operation as large as DirecTV is probably not going to be re-encoding an MPEG2 signal, but using a more raw format for HD and compressing it from the 'master' copy just as they do when they convert to mpeg2 now ...

        mecro: The FCC only gave broadcasters a small chunk of the spectrum to broadcast, which means the MPEG2 signal is compressed somewhere between 49-55:1.. That's insane, and MPEG 4 will hopefully lessen the compression ratio.

        flimflam: Yes, though not at the specific data rates used for broadcast. In general MPEG4 is vastly superior to MPEG2, however. Also, an MPEG2 stream would never be recompressed as MPEG4, the broadcaster would feed the uncompressed signal into the MPEG4 compressor. All in all this is a move to increase quality at the same bandwidth.

        For OTA signals, DirectTV and Dish currently have an antenna in the city that receives the analog OTA signal, which they compress for transmission. They only have a direct connection to the national signals they provide to people too far from local affiliates (I believe from NY and LA). It's unlikely they will obtain a more direct connection for digital OTA signals. So it's almost certain that the video will be doubly compressed--MPEG-2 by the channels, MPEG-4 by DirectTV.

        Satellite channels (ESPN-HD, etc.) are currently pulled off of the high bitrate (MPEG-2) satellite feeds and compressed to low bitrate MPEG-2 by DirectTV and Dish. The encoder will likely be MPEG-4 for these types of sources.

        jchapman16: Note that cable providers recompress the original MPEG2 streams themselves to reduce bandwidth used by HD channels.

        I can't speak for every cable provider, but stream analysis done by those of us with FusionHDTV cards (capable of recording cable's QAM modulated HD streams) have shown that the video is not recompressed. It is re-wrapped, with much of the transport stream adjusted, but the data itself is not decompressed and re-compressed.

    • I've gotten to see a little bit of this, since my company (TandbergTV) is supplying the encoders. The bitrates on the mpeg-4 stream are going to vary from 4mbps to 20 mbps, which in mpeg-4 is pretty good looking. There's a load-balancing system that will adjust a channel's bitrate as it needs more (for say fast-panning scenes in sports). The encoders are installed now in two locations and running, but as with all projects this will take time.
  • Ka spot beams (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:09AM (#12358595) Journal
    The "killer technology" on the Spaceway birds are their ability to form tight "spot beams" using Ka band (~20 Ghz) downlink signals.

    The spot beams are formed using a 1500 element phased array. The array can form as many as 780 downlink spot beams and 112 uplink spot beams across the US. Compare this with a typical Ku-band (~12 GHz) satellite which has a single beam over the entire US.

    Spaceway uses digital regenerative switching of up to 10 Gbps, as opposed to the analog transponders of most geosynchronous communications satellites (despite the fact that most of those transponders are used with digital services these days).

    Spaceway was originally supposed to provide satellite point-to-point and point-to-multipoint IP connectivity, but that was dropped in favor of providing massive localized HDTV capacity using spot beams.

    Unfortunately, Ka band is more sensitive to rain fade outages than Ku band.
    • Re:Ka spot beams (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @11:14AM (#12359415)
      Disclaimer, I work on the SPACEWAY project. The rain fade is mitigated by constant updates of weather data (we're talking Gigs per day of data transfer). This data is used to tell the satellite where to pump up the signal to get through the clouds. Areas of clear sky get the signal reduced. This helps deal with rain fade and also prolongs the life of the satellite since it keeps power consumtion low.
      • Oh, yeah, with spot beams you can use downlink power control on each spot. Brilliant!

        In a pinch, you could also use DVB-S2 adapative coding and modulation, in coordination with reducing the encoding rates on the MPEG-4 encoding for each program in a spot beam, but that would be painful to implement...although the Terayon Cherrypicker can rate reduce an MPEG-2 program in the compressed domain, maybe someone can figure out how to do that with MPEG-4 as well.
  • by PureCreditor ( 300490 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:16AM (#12358659)
    I would love the concept of hundreds or even thousands of HD content. But time warner can't even give me 15 without the "HDXtra" package that's another $9 a month.

    With HD "supposedly" defined to be 16:9, I sincerely despise all those major networks - CBS ABC and NBC that broadcost most of their HD content in 4:3. Only Discover and PBS has true 16:9 HD around the clock.

    Watching Olympics opening ceremony on HD is simply gorgeous. The only thing I need now is CNN HD.
    • Most of what they have was filmed in 4x3. The major networks are not going to suddenly limit themselves to only 16x9 and change their whole schedule. As more and more new episodes are filmed in 16x9 you'll see more.
      Comcast near Atlanta just added TNT in HD. For some reason they are stretching all 4x3 into 16x9. Now that's REALLY annoying.
  • This thing is over Hawaii I wonder if it will be viable in Australia. If so it would be nice to be able to get shows a bit early. Most new sats have a huge number of spot beams which makes it tricky to pick them up outside of their transmit pattern. Does anyone know where to find the details?
    • The launch was from 154 degrees W, but my understanding from the Hughes Network Systems site is that the geosynchronous orbital slot will be 103 degrees W. Sorry, these will be North American birds only.
  • by nmg196 ( 184961 ) * on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:27AM (#12358772)
    Who actually asked for higher resolution? Are they acting on customer demand or have they just decided that we should have it? The reason I say this is that I would rather have higher bandwidth channels than higher resolution ones. Compression artifacts annoy me much more than a low resolution picture does. They don't seem to be able to transmit TV in the current resolution without severely degrading the picture. Any "visualphile" will know that a decent analogue signal usually looks a lot better than it's digital equivalent (ref: I'm comparing Digital Terrestrial to Digital Satellite and Cable services available in the UK).

    Perhaps I'm biassed because I'm in the UK and therefore have 625 lines instead of the appauling 480 line TVs the poor Americans have to put up with (no wonder they're screaming for HDTV!).

    My worry is that even with MPEG 4 (which will probably be recompressed MPEG 2 sources anyway for quite a while) they may not have enough bandwith to send me a 1080 line picture without artifacts...

    Maybe with Fiber To The Home we might actually get enough bandwidth to watch the channels we want at the resolution we want, without thinking that it looks like your TV has gone though 4 copes of RealPlayer...

    • Any "visualphile" will know that a decent analogue signal usually looks a lot better than it's digital equivalent

      Yeah, and if you know of any companies who actually offer a decent analog signal, be sure to let us know.

      Comcast isn't one, I can tell you that for starters...
    • "Any "visualphile" will know that a decent analogue signal usually looks a lot better than it's digital equivalent (ref: I'm comparing Digital Terrestrial to Digital Satellite and Cable services available in the UK)."

      No, it doesn't. A clean analog signal looks better than an overcompressed digital signal, true. But a truly "clean" analog signal doesn't exist.

      Compare the quality of DVD to the much-vaunted Laserdisc. LD is about as close as you can get to a "clean" analog signal, and it still had a number o
  • I know all this new tech is really exciting, but I haven't taken this plunge yet and I'm on basic ole cable with my basic old tv. But yet, just about every channel these days suffers from macro blocks at any given time. It's really damn annoying. Analog didn't suffer from this. So I assume it all has already switched to digital and just being sent the last mile as analog, but still, you'd think if they were sending it as analog you wouldn't see this crap.

    Oh and btw, the animated logos are bad enough, b
    • by Anonymous Coward
      For years I've fallen asleep to tv using it's timer but the volume difference has made that impossible now.

      Quick fix..Goto to a store like musician's friend and buy a two channel compressor/limiter. Sense its the basic ole TV I'm assuming your not using surround sound, anyway.... Plug the audio output of your TV/Cable box into the input of the compressor and then from those outputs to your amp or whatever. You can addressed increases in audio to level it all out. This is off topic. Take your moderator,
    • It is like when cell phones went digital. The providers swear everything will be better and I swear it sounds worse.

      I think the REAL motivation was to get more cell users on a cell.

    • But yet, just about every channel these days suffers from macro blocks at any given time. It's really damn annoying. Analog didn't suffer from this.

      Fine, then, will you pay for the bandwidth used by normal analog TV's? Analog TV via satellite would be AWFULLY expensive.

      And MPEG4 offers much more compression, which means that if the technicians include error correction (i.e. some redundancy in the data), the amount of noise can be handled fine.

      I know, that's not probably happening, but consider this. Whi
    • "Analog didn't suffer from this."

      No, just ghosting, snow, and a wrath of other problems.

      "But yet, just about every channel these days suffers from macro blocks at any given time."

      That's because the signal is overcompressed. You don't notice macroblocking on DVDs very often, for example, because the bitrate is sufficent.

      SPACEWAY provides enough bandwidth so that overcompression isn't a problem. At least not until they have 1500 more channels to add to their system.
      • "No, just ghosting, snow, and a wrath of other problems." Yes but my point is I'm getting the worst of both worlds. I get the ghosting, snow etc that I've always had, plus the pixelation of digital compression. I'd expect the pixels if I went digital not if I stay on analog.
    • I recently switched from Adelphia digital cable to DirecTV/Tivo. I have had less trouble with blockiness in DirecTV, and the channels that were analog in Adelphia are noticeably cleaner with DirecTV. On the other hand, the Adelphia cable box (Scientific Atlanta) and the boxes on ther systems (Jerrold) sometimes have nicer operating systems: easier use of favorite channel lists, quicker methods to see what comes next on this channel, for example.
  • footprint (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:38AM (#12358910) Homepage
    Judging by the area of coverage that satellite claims, it seems to me that even when the 2nd satellite is launched most of the US heartland won't be covered.

    Since I live in the US heartland, I find this very disheartening...
    • The Spaceway satellites can move their spot beams anywhere. I suspect full US coverage eventually. But keep in mind that there are FCC limits on who can get what local-into-local television signals (even HD) relayed by DBS.
  • Let's see... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suitepotato ( 863945 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @10:49AM (#12359084)
    1. I can and do get HD locals already on my cable system in addition to a dozen other HD offerings.PROBLEM: Neither I nor over 75% of my neighnors can afford HD televisions currently and those who can are only getting the same content as the SD people just sharper picture. FURTHER PROBLEM: Lossy compression whether MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 especially when done repeatedly in line from content originator to my television means HD gives me excellent viewing of MPEG artifacting. EVEN FURTHER PROBLEM: This only plays into the retail equivalent of crack addiction in poorer areas: rent-to-own stores. In the name of getting what the Joneses have now we spend two to three times the retail cost in the long run and finish paying just in time for the thing to crap out at its normal end-of-life.

    2. Satellite cannot give me high speed internet or phone service. In fact, I can get phone over cable or voice over IP or both simultaneously.

    3. Satellite cannot give me interactive video-on-demand including gaming and information services such as those being rolled out now in various systems which will become the normal across the US in a few years.

    Yeah, I really need Murdoch to give me DiVX-style video over satellite loaded ongoing with DRM and compatibility issues and on top of it I have to buy a box that I will need to replace at my cost when they change the technology; and that's going to make me just drop everything else that cable has to offer that DBS doesn't, right? I don't think so.

    I'm a DBS and cable installer as well as support tech and after over a thousand installs, would never switch to DBS so it isn't as though I don't have direct exposure to the technology. It just doesn't appeal to me. I'll wait till we see the fabled LEO constellation of birds giving me high bandwidth and lower latency to portable devices wherever I go, but I won't hold my breath.
    • Satellite cannot give me high speed internet or phone service.

      So what? Satellite won't change the oil in my car either, so I get services from more than one provider. I have cable Internet and satellite TV, and it costs me less than getting both Internet and TV from the cable company, as well as giving me better image quality.
    • Re:Let's see... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Keith Russell ( 4440 )

      Most of the issues you raise in point 1 deal with the transition from NTSC to digital in general. The monitor is still the largest single expense, so it doesn't matter if the transmission medium is OTA, DBS, or cable. And there should be exactly one encode at the uplink/headend, and one decode at the customer's tuner. If your provider of choice is recompressing mid-stream, they've screwed something up.

      These gaming and information services you speak of are already the norm. Perhaps you've heard of the Inte

  • Watch the launch (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The launch can be seen at the Sea Launch website [] This was the heaviest launch for Sea Launch to date.
  • Note that that launch vehicle was a Zenit, a Russian rocket. Nice that they're doing good commercial work. Shameful that NASA has dropped the ball.
  • 1500 channels and STILL nothing on....

    Remember, it's not about the number of available channels. It's what goes ON them that counts.

    Keep the peace(es).

  • What makes its compression better? I thought that they didn't define any kind of standard for a codec, which practically guarantees incompatibility problems forever.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller