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Lack of Bandwidth Oversight Damages HDTV Quality

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the buy-some-bigger-tubes dept.

Television 292

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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FIOS Baby (4, Interesting)

Keebler71 (520908) | about 6 years ago | (#24344729)

You can pry my FIOS [avsforum.com] from my cold...dead fingers...

Re:FIOS Baby (0, Redundant)

Keebler71 (520908) | about 6 years ago | (#24344739)

oh drat... I wasted a FP opportunity on that?

Re:FIOS Baby (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24344781)

that's what she said

Re:FIOS Baby (4, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | about 6 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

markov_chain (202465) | about 6 years ago | (#24345093)

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 (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | about 6 years ago | (#24345547)

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).

Re:FIOS Baby (1)

Cylix (55374) | about 6 years ago | (#24345833)

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 are in regard to specifications of the protocol and transmission power.

It was fairly evident from the beginning this was merely about bandwidth re-allocation.

I haven't read over the fcc regs in a while... so things can and do change.

Re:FIOS Baby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24344877)

Well hello foreigner,
      I live right down the street and our village awaits your great new technologies.

Re:FIOS Baby (4, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | about 6 years ago | (#24345183)

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.

Corrupted how? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345911)

Oh dear! There is no bureaucratic regulation whatsoever! Whatever are we to do?

The lazy reporter needs to grow a pair and challenge the implied assertion that this is a bad thing. So Comcast shoots itself in the foot by transmitting crappy HD signals. So what? Over time they'll be ridiculed by the competition and either wise up or lose customers.

What's that smell? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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!!!!"

Net Neutrality (1)

Zan Lynx (87672) | about 6 years ago | (#24345465)

QoS is the future. Net neutrality has to go or the net will suck forever.

Push for rules on how QoS is allowed to affect traffic, instead of pushing for neutrality.

Re:Net Neutrality (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 6 years ago | (#24345693)

Or push for telcoms to properly invest in their networks or lose their franchise agreements in the affected locales.

What? They don't like that? Shocking.

Re:What's that smell? (1)

FamineMonk (877465) | about 6 years ago | (#24345741)

But this is within there own network if they can't keep there own network in shape thats not the consumer's fault.

HD channels w/ no HD programming (4, Interesting)

PoochieReds (4973) | about 6 years ago | (#24344749)

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*

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (5, Insightful)

rob1980 (941751) | about 6 years ago | (#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:HD channels w/ no HD programming (2, Insightful)

Anpheus (908711) | about 6 years ago | (#24345435)

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.

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24344905)

I thought the same thing, but this is more a bug than a scam.

MOST HD shows have a little HD icon and list HD in their description. On a few channels (Disney included) they never use the icon, but some shows are indeed HD.

Not every show on Disney HD is high def, but some definitely are. Watch a few shows for 10 seconds at various times of the day and you will find some..

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (1)

statusbar (314703) | about 6 years ago | (#24345849)

Perhaps the 'D' in HDTV doesn't stand for "Definition" anymore, it stands for "Digital"... And we all know "Digital" is better than Analog, right?

--jeffk++

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (3, Informative)

I'll Provide The War (1045190) | about 6 years ago | (#24345031)

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

It's the channels not DirecTV that is doing that.. (3, Informative)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:It's the channels not DirecTV that is doing tha (3, Interesting)

assassinator42 (844848) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (5, Insightful)

lessthanpi (1333061) | about 6 years ago | (#24345393)

It always seems the highest quality video you get from these "HD" channels is the commercials. Viva America

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345869)

It always seems the highest quality video you get from these "HD" channels is the commercials.

Viva America

That's not America. That's just plain old capitalism.

They're not going to fuck around with signals from people who are paying them to broadcast those signals.

They're only going to fuck around with the signals that they have to pay to broadcast.

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345557)

HDTV's overrated. The most I can tell is that the tacky sitcom lightning on most channels is darkened, and that setting could already be changed.

Besides, unless you like to sit 5 feet from your tv screen you won't notice any fuzz to be bothered by it. It's all hype.

Re:HD channels w/ no HD programming (1)

British (51765) | about 6 years ago | (#24345577)

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.

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Media corporations win most by what we dont see (1)

lambosv21 (1331897) | about 6 years ago | (#24344803)

The media corporations benefit most by what they dont show us at all. Many people wont complain regarding quality of current entertainment programming. Especially with sports, seeing how most are probably drinking anyways.

Digital Standard Def (1)

t0y (700664) | about 6 years ago | (#24344819)

What about digital standard def TV?
It's also heavily compressed *and* its resolution is manipulated bringing a blurry picture to your living room.
Even a (good quality) CRT shows plenty of compression artifacts all over the place, *except* in those channels that are being promoted by the operators. (sigh)

Same thing with standard def (4, Interesting)

sunderland56 (621843) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Same thing with standard def (4, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Same thing with standard def (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345315)

1080p is nice, but it's not essential.

Television is 100% non essential, regardless of the quality. If we're going to roll around in consumerism, we may as well go the full mile.

Personally, I think we're due for at least a full year of international loss of all electricity. As we stand now, I think people would literally go crazy and start killing each other if computers, the internet, video games, television, etc. all became inaccessible. People are so dependant on the things we have now. Sigh.

Re:Same thing with standard def (4, Informative)

plantman-the-womb-st (776722) | about 6 years ago | (#24345477)

Personally, I think we're due for at least a full year of international loss of all electricity.

And billions would die. Because we'd lose medical equipment, refrigeration (think storing vaccines) the ability to transport and store food, pure water, clean sanitation....... the list goes on.

At this stage in the game humanity/electricity are tied so closely that our species actually requires it to survive.

Electricity is more than just your xbox.

Re:Same thing with standard def (1)

sydbarrett74 (74307) | about 6 years ago | (#24345815)

How the fuck did this get modded insightful? The same schmuck who bemoans electricity is *using* electricity to squirt his intellectual jizz?

Blind testing -- of video? (1, Funny)

Latent Heat (558884) | about 6 years ago | (#24344983)

Blind testing of video, now that's a good one!

Re:Same thing with standard def (4, Funny)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345193)

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:Same thing with standard def (2, Funny)

Ron_Fitzgerald (1101005) | about 6 years ago | (#24345415)

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:Same thing with standard def (1)

mapkinase (958129) | about 6 years ago | (#24345223)

bwahahaha

Not the same thing. (4, Informative)

jd (1658) | about 6 years ago | (#24345457)

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.

Re:Not the same thing. (1)

nyet (19118) | about 6 years ago | (#24345749)

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.

ehh.. (1)

Squarewav (241189) | about 6 years ago | (#24344843)

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.. (4, Funny)

negRo_slim (636783) | about 6 years ago | (#24345067)

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

I disagree.

Re:ehh.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345261)

This is comment a direct result of the DDoSing going on to 4chan. Take away the hive of scum and villainy and they'll infest the very streets we walk on!

Re:ehh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345419)

Only until they learn to fear the daystar again.

Re:ehh.. (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 6 years ago | (#24345441)

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.

More Regulation? (1, Troll)

RavenSlay3r (815510) | about 6 years ago | (#24344893)

Is the author insinuating we need MORE government regulation? Yup, because THAT will solve everything. If only the engineers were as smart as the journalists and legislators, we wouldn't have these "problems".. :-P

Re:More Regulation? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345213)

Is the author insinuating we need MORE government regulation? Yup, because THAT will solve everything. If only the engineers were as smart as the journalists and legislators, we wouldn't have these "problems".. :-P

More regulation solved that little problem where we used to have depressions. Also the one where we couldn't get HDTV.

Re:More Regulation? (3, Funny)

Shaitan Apistos (1104613) | about 6 years ago | (#24345227)

Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance HDTV, and then HDTV goes out... and the corporations sit there in their... in their corporation buildings, and... and, and see, they're all corporation-y... and they make money.

Re:More Regulation? (4, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | about 6 years ago | (#24345449)

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the engineers are involved anywhere in the decision making process. They're the ones asking 'How high?' when someone says 'Build.' I'm sure they'd be just as happy broadcasting everything in 1080, but the cost of the extra bandwidth would cut into the delicious profits that the bean counters and shareholders like to see.

Given that standard definition TV was supposed to be phased out long before now, it's pretty clear that the broadcasters can't be arsed to come up with their own standards. That, ladies and germs, is how we end up with government mandates to get our circuses at eye-popping resolution.

Re:More Regulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345711)

You mean we wouldn't have 5,000p resolution now if it hadn't been for government meddling? Surely the companies are chomping at the bit to give us the high-def we want. No company who resisted would last long because their competitor would offer high-def and everyone would migrate. The government mandated blocky, crappy signals.

Re:More Regulation? (1)

frieko (855745) | about 6 years ago | (#24345837)

The government never mandated HD in any way, shape or form! They're phasing out NTSC terrestrial broadcasts for the sole reason that the bandwidth is needed elsewhere.

I completely agree (5, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:I completely agree (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#24345073)

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

Re:I completely agree (-1, Troll)

negRo_slim (636783) | about 6 years ago | (#24345077)

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.

Put the A/V kit away and go outside!

DVD ftw btw

Re:I completely agree (5, Insightful)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345251)

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.

Re:I completely agree (5, Interesting)

superdave80 (1226592) | about 6 years ago | (#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."

Re:I completely agree (1)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345515)

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.

Re:I completely agree (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 years ago | (#24345487)

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:I completely agree (2, Informative)

tweak13 (1171627) | about 6 years ago | (#24345359)

(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 difference and I'm very glad the stations in my area carry those sub channels.

Re:I completely agree (1)

sydney094 (153190) | about 6 years ago | (#24345715)

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.

Bitrate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24344921)

Call it based on bitrate, such as "30 Mbit/s HD". Sure, you could cheat by choosing a crappy codec, but that wouldn't be as tempting as overcompressing to save on bandwidth. Oh and make sure it's the average bitrate of the crappiest link on the transmission chain.

typical (5, Insightful)

ocularDeathRay (760450) | about 6 years ago | (#24344925)

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 (4, Insightful)

negRo_slim (636783) | about 6 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

schwaang (667808) | about 6 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 years ago | (#24345479)

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.

Re:typical (1, Flamebait)

ocularDeathRay (760450) | about 6 years ago | (#24345493)

you make an excellent point. I don't dispute it at all. I would point out though, that Cumcast is doing this to increase profits. Sort of my original point, the guys providing this service want to make lots of money, not provide you with a perfect product.

if we are lucky they take a portion of the increased profits and reinvest it in giving us better service in some way, or maybe we trade some TV picture quality for some extra speed on the data side.

again I am not arguing. I think it sucks too, but not because it isn't improving, just because it isn't "there yet". Cumcast is providing a better, faster, more feature packed service than they were 10 years ago. hopefully this trend continues, even if it is at a snail pace. With the current economic structure this is the best we can hope for.

Re:typical (1)

Narpak (961733) | about 6 years ago | (#24345407)

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.

Re:typical (1)

A Commentor (459578) | about 6 years ago | (#24345705)

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]

Some important questions... (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | about 6 years ago | (#24345009)

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'll stream to me when I buy/rent something from their movie service.

And finally,

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.

My TV isn't HD, and even with regular resolution programming, the quality is hideous. All jpeg-ed out, I like to call it. If they can't deliver regular programming properly, it makes me wonder how we are to expect them to deliver quality HD. And since I already know they can't, it is disturbing how they can claim they can, and are. Because I thought there already was a name for sub-HD video: Enhanced Definition, or ED, or rather, High Definition Erectile Disfunction TV!

Re:Some important questions... (3, Insightful)

icegreentea (974342) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Some important questions... (4, Informative)

sahonen (680948) | about 6 years ago | (#24345473)

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.

Caveat Emptor, baby ... (3, Interesting)

geofgibson (1332485) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

It's so true (4, Informative)

CaptScarlet22 (585291) | about 6 years ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

PBS HD is a joke (1)

heroine (1220) | about 6 years ago | (#24345081)

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.

Re:PBS HD is a joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345549)

Michael Scott, is that you?

Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (4, Informative)

shadoelord (163710) | about 6 years ago | (#24345085)

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.

Re:Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (1)

icegreentea (974342) | about 6 years ago | (#24345311)

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.

Re:Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (3, Informative)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345375)

The only companies that can switch to MPEG4 are those that provide a set-top box to their customers (i.e. cable and satellite). That's because all HDTVs are MPEG2-only -- you have to decode the MPEG4 outside of the TV if you want to use it.

Re:Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (3, Interesting)

Detritus (11846) | about 6 years ago | (#24345475)

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.

Re:Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (0, Flamebait)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 years ago | (#24345507)

The FCC mandated that the HD video be encoded in Mpeg2 only; never planning ahead

That was planning ahead. Now they can force everyone to change everything up again in a few years.

Re:Blame the FCC / ATSC for requiring Mpeg2 only (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 6 years ago | (#24345539)

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.

I don't know about advertising in America, (2, Interesting)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#24345117)

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.

Where's the (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | about 6 years ago | (#24345247)

... 'elephant-in-the-room' tag?

I have to think market pressure will standardize (2, Interesting)

smchris (464899) | about 6 years ago | (#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?"

Re:I have to think market pressure will standardiz (1)

Detritus (11846) | about 6 years ago | (#24345605)

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? (4, Interesting)

rickb928 (945187) | about 6 years ago | (#24345329)

"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 open-source alternative comes along. Fat chance. The lawyers will fix that.

Sad. But in the future, nothing will be for free. And nothing will be what you really want. It will be almost good enough, and if you pay just a little more, it will be a little better. By the time I can get 2160pm, it will be superceded by some codec that lets them crush my ability to record it for later viewing. Or I can pay just a little bit more...

Pus. Technology isn't pus, but marketing is. I hate them all.

 

Re:WHA? (4, Informative)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345389)

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:WHA? (3, Informative)

entrigant (233266) | about 6 years ago | (#24345873)

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 even have compression to complicate things. Are you familiar with the concept of digital? I'm fairly certain my $30 dvd player with digital output can "cleanly decode" your passage. If it didn't, it would *skip*.

There's another wrinkle (3, Interesting)

Percy_Blakeney (542178) | about 6 years ago | (#24345331)

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:There's another wrinkle (2, Interesting)

sahonen (680948) | about 6 years ago | (#24345499)

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:There's another wrinkle (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345597)

An experienced HDTV viewer could easily see the difference, but most people had no idea.

Doesn't say a lot for HD, does it?

See I have HD! (3, Insightful)

zazenation (1060442) | about 6 years ago | (#24345391)

This whole topic is too technical to the average HD watcher.

They only care that their knob is calibrated up to 11.

Explains pixelation 500 ft. from HDTV xmitter (2, Interesting)

retiarius (72746) | about 6 years ago | (#24345455)

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.

Cox Communications HDTV = Blatent Rip Off (2, Insightful)

Skeetskeetskeet (906997) | about 6 years ago | (#24345509)

Their so-called HD channels are a farce and a joke, only about 10% of the HD channels are in true HD, the rest are fuzzy and are no better quality than what you would get on a standard set. It's a joke what they pass off as HD, and I can't wait until Verizon FIOS gets here to run their lying asses out of Oklahoma City.

Digital Cable Experience (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24345647)

I have a comcast digital cable package, with 'on demand' in northern CA.

Here's the good part:

Sometimes, the on demand video works.

Here's the bad part:

Many times, the 'on demand' video just doesn't work. The error message says 'blah blah we are experiencing difficulties right now'. Lol

Sometimes, the 'on demand' video almost works. You start watching it, but it's like watching a station with bad analog reception. It stops, jerks, blacks out, pauses, and is completely unwatchable.

Some channels just don't work some of the time. In particular, the discovery channel and scifi channels appear to be digital, and will actually cut out with digital artifacts and pauses. It's actually no better then analog TV, with reception problems. It is often completely unwatchable, with pauses, cutouts, and bad artifacts. Other times, when you are watching it, you can obviously see the compression artifacts from the cheesy format they are using.

Re:Digital Cable Experience (2, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about 6 years ago | (#24345883)

Your cable box is defective. Everyone seems to be having that issue. You get lucky and you get a box that works, and you see ALL of the issues you mentioned magically disappear.

It would be nice if these jerks would stop buying their equipment from the lowest bidder.

when will the FCC start regulating HD broadcasting (2, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | about 6 years ago | (#24345665)

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.

Its a scam? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 6 years ago | (#24345921)

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

Who would have ever imagined?

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