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Comcast Puts the Screws To HDTV

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the applying-a-cold-compress dept.

Television 317

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

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317 comments

Who has what? (0)

The Ancients (626689) | about 6 years ago | (#22915628)

How many slashdotters in an area served by both have FiOS? Have cable?

Looking at this, and at the recent debacle surrounding Bittorrent and Comcast, I know which I'd definitely behaving. Not to mention the fact that fibre to the premises just sounds so much cooler and faster than cable!

FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (4, Informative)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#22915650)

I have FIOS for Internet but I've kept Comcrap for my TV for one simple reason: Verizon requires you to use their crappy Actiontec router if you want to use FIOS TV.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (4, Informative)

Xuranova (160813) | about 6 years ago | (#22915710)

Yes/no. Before the actiontec router (customers who got in early) use Motorola NIMs and dlink routers and they get full functionality. If you can get a hold of the NIM, you don't need the actiontec router.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (1)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | about 6 years ago | (#22915796)

The Actiontec routers aren't that bad to be honest. It's 802.11G is fantastic and it's a pretty feature rich router. I'm pretty unhappy with the fact that it's firmware is skinned up in crappy red Verizon. It's not really the branding that I care about but more the fact that every time I have to make a change in the router I have to look at a very badly designed skin. One other limitation on the router is a very small DNS cache. Not very good for multitaskers.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#22915928)

I tried their router because they gave me one free when I got FIOS Internet. It was crap. Wireless connections dropped every day or so forcing a router reboot, the NAT table is extremely limited in capacity, and it died exactly ONE week after it was out of warranty. I'll stick with my Netgear, thanks though.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (2, Insightful)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | about 6 years ago | (#22916156)

Fair enough but it is important to note that most people tend to have biases towards hardware based on one or two bad experiences.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (3, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 years ago | (#22916300)

This is true, and it may be that if I got another Actiontec it would work just fine; however I use my network for a lot of various things and I prefer to choose the router that I use.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (1)

me at werk (836328) | about 6 years ago | (#22916358)

You can buy the NIM and use it instead. I agree, it's a shit router, and I had it setup (this breaks on demand and the guide with the method i used [dslreports.com]) so that it was just a dumb passthrough device to my regular router.

There's another guide that makes the router act as a NIM and somehow brings VOD and the guide back also on dsl reports that I have not tried, but I did confirm with the tech that if I got a NIM that it would work (he actually mentioned he was experimenting at home with various setups, which was neat).

So yes, the actiontec sucks shit, but I have to use it because until I get a NIM, my girlfriend gets infuriated that she can't find out which channel is playing CSI at the current second.

Re:FIOS TV Has one HUGE Limitation IMO (2, Informative)

Grapes4Buddha (32825) | about 6 years ago | (#22916450)

I have one too, and it's really not all that bad, as much as I have been suspicious of it. My main problems are:
  1. Verizon has a back-door into it, ostensibly for doing firmware upgrades, etc. But I worry that they could use it to break into my home network.
  2. I needed to renumber my home network because the router was set to 192.168.1.x, but that subnet is also used by my employer and it was causing me issues when I started my VPN sessions. I could not for the life of me figure out to do that coherently with the Actiontec router. I finally wound up dumping the router configuration to a text file, doing a global search-and-replace in the config file, then loading it back in. (Which worked perfectly BTW).
If I was really paranoid, I would treat the Actiontec as a semi-DMZ and put my own router behind it. As previously mentioned, the set-top boxes need the MoCA access for program guides and on-demand access. But I just haven't bothered.

Re:Who has what? (4, Interesting)

lpangelrob (714473) | about 6 years ago | (#22915670)

We have Comcast, but not their HD service (although it's available - I just don't own an HDTV). Thanks to a recently enacted state law, AT&T will be coming in with U-Verse as its main competitor. So what does Comcast do?

Play 30 second commercials with dancing 7-foot tall VRAD cabinets. I guess they're supposed to be huge and in everyone's front yard. Obviously.

Why bother to have better services when you can just slander your competition?

Re:Who has what? (4, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | about 6 years ago | (#22915888)

YOU get the dancing 7-foot cabinets?

Lucky!

We just get the turtles in the lawn, turtle dinner parties, turtle this, turtle that.
Oh, and the fake new reports, and the guy squirting silver stuff on his shoes to run faster and jump higher.

But it all amounts to "slander your competition" except perhaps the vats of silver stuff.

Re:Who has what? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22916442)

*calls you on his new Comcast voice telephone service*

Do you still get the turtles?

U-Verse (1)

JaySSSS (859968) | about 6 years ago | (#22916056)

I have two concerns with U-Verse as it is 1. You can only have 1 HD stream at a time right now. Bandwidth limitation. 2. No TiVo

Re:Who has what? (1)

DCstewieG (824956) | about 6 years ago | (#22916314)

Oh, but the best are the new musical commercials about the "Big Old Expensive" phone company. These confuse the hell out of me. Because when I think of being saved from high prices and huge unsavory corporations, Comcast is the company for me....shyeah right.

Grumble grumble stupid Comcast grumble come on Verizon want FiOS...

Re:Who has what? (2, Interesting)

nickthecook (960608) | about 6 years ago | (#22915904)

I'm in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada), and I have recently started receiving HD OTA from CBC (good ol' state media), from a Hoverman built by myself and a friend from materials he happened to have lying around in his basement. It's a 17.89 Mbps MPEG-2 signal, and it looks waaaay better than Rogers' HD digital cable offerings.

Last year, Rogers wasn't so bad, but this year I've noticed a huge difference in one thing: hockey. Local Senators games look much worse than they used to. Granted, some people don't seem to notice, but when you can't read the numbers on the players' sleeves, and the sticks are almost compressed out of existence when held diagonally, it kind of jumps out at me.

Being a Canadian, hockey is very important to me. Luckily, come playoff time (in a couple of weeks) CBC has exclusive rights to all the games. Goodbye, Rogers!

Actually, I just did a side-by-side of The Nature of Things OTA vs. QAM (nice panning shot of the Rockies from a plane, would need a damn good bitrate to make it look good), and the OTA was obviously superior, especially during the pan. They simply can't keep up with OTA's bitrate.

Now, if only I got more than one channel OTA...

Re:Who has what? (1)

BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) | about 6 years ago | (#22916188)

Your problem is not the signal, its that you are watching the Sens, try watching a better team ;) (I guess that would have been better if you were a Kings or, like me, a Lightening fan) I watched my first game in HD today and it was amazing. I could actually recognize players faces, sadly, NBC only shows games on Sunday, and I dont get Vs (The US station with the rights to NHL broadcast) in HD.

The Comcast guy whas at my house yesterday! (2, Interesting)

Doug52392 (1094585) | about 6 years ago | (#22915634)

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

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

Yea right! What a LIE that Comcast guy was saying! I told him we will think about getting Comcast phone service when BitTorrent works on our Internet like :)

First post w00t :)

Re:The Comcast guy whas at my house yesterday! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22916124)

Epic Fail.

Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (4, Informative)

JonTurner (178845) | about 6 years ago | (#22915640)

To be more precise, they're putting the screws to the consumer. Lower quality than Over The Air (OTA), all for a premium price.

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

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (3, Interesting)

Brian Gordon (987471) | about 6 years ago | (#22915770)

Here's a hint. How about they compress it with something less obscenely wasteful than MPEG-2? H.264 or even XVID would be multiple times as efficient, and the latter is free so you don't have to deal with this crap [wikipedia.org]..

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (3, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | about 6 years ago | (#22915846)

I'm starting to fool with transcoding my MythTV to XVID, and it's pretty darned impressive. I realize I'm starting with NTSC, which isn't that hot to begin with, but then again in my usage so far it looks about as good as MPEG-2 in a whole lot less space.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22915852)

Because I'm sure it would be an incredibly easy task for Comcast to arrange for all of their subscribers to upgrade their boxes to MPEG4 compatible ones. Oh, and it would be really cost efficient for them.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (3, Interesting)

jtn (6204) | about 6 years ago | (#22915896)

Boohoo. That's the cost of business, you have to improve your product in a competitive environment. Sorry, no sympathies here for Comcast (which recently took over my local cableco Insight, and promptly sent out flyers saying how much better it was going to be, oh and by the way, here's your next price increase). AT&T and DirecTV use more advanced codecs now, why can't Comcast? Heaven forbid they spend some of the money they get from their constant price increases on improving service instead of squashing in yet another batch of channels and degrading the quality of existing channels. What happened to quality over quantity?

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22916002)

Says the man who has in no way shape or form ever even attempted to roll out service to millions of people, I'm guessing. After all, everything you don't know how to do must be easy.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (4, Insightful)

jtn (6204) | about 6 years ago | (#22916140)

What? Consumers aren't allowed to criticize a service they pay for when they notice other competing services provide better quality? What world do you live in? Nowhere did I say it was *easy*, I said it was possible, given money and desire to provide BETTER service than your competitors.

And for your information, I have provided city-wide Internet, TV and phone service before. No, not millions, but Comcast doesn't operate at that level either, if you had any clue as to how they actually operate. Most of their services operate sub-regionally, in loosely grouped clusters of service areas. They are moving in the direction of combining their service zones, which according to anyone familiar with basic economic theory would understand should decrease their cost of service, meaning more money in their coffers which should enable them to perform service upgrades mentioned by myself and others.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 6 years ago | (#22916204)

If these boxes are anything like the once Cablevision uses, then the firmware is upgradable remotely. The only excuse they have is not wanting to spend money improving a service they more or less have a monopoly on.

=Smidge=

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22915998)

Actually, Xvid is a MPEG-4 implementation, likely covered by a multitude of MPEG LA patents.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (2, Informative)

phorm (591458) | about 6 years ago | (#22916260)

I think that XVID requires a bit more CPU-power to compress/decompress though. Depending on if they could update the firmware of existing decoders, that might mean rolling out new boxes to subscribers, or upgrading the broadcast hardware.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

Mista2 (1093071) | about 6 years ago | (#22916326)

Wow, I think I'll just continue to download the episodes I want off pirate bay. Atleast there I know exactly what I'm downloading, and I know it will be compressed. Its still better than the standard def we still get out here in NZ 8(

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

qbwiz (87077) | about 6 years ago | (#22915774)

The interesting thing is that he says that they don't lower the quality of the channels that you can get OTA. They only lower the quality of channels that you can't get without going through them (or a competitor).

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

Cylix (55374) | about 6 years ago | (#22915962)

They can't unless they sign retransmission agreement which gives them that right. (Not sure who would agree to it, but it's possible)

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

Though I'm not up to speed on my FCC regs as I used to be... so some things may have changed.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 6 years ago | (#22915968)

Apparently there's some sort of FCC regulation about the matter. They aren't allowed to mess around with any of the OTA stuff they carry, so all of those channels (including the usualy lame subchannels) are not recompressed. If you have cable you shouldn't need an OTA receiver, the quality should be the same from both.

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (1)

nickthecook (960608) | about 6 years ago | (#22916062)

As I mentioned in a post somewhere above, I recently helped a friend build a Gray-Hoverman according to the new design. My friend has been using a Yagi he made out of a broomstick, copper pipes from a refrigerator, and one of those antenna-to-coax adapters.

So, we "borrowed" a cable signal tester from work and did a little antenna shoot-out. You know, like ya would.

Surprisingly, although my friend built his Yagi specifically for one frequency (since we only get one HD channel OTA), the Yagi outperforms the Hoverman on many other frequencies in addition to beating it by 25% on that one! I should mention that the Hoverman uses coat hangers for the conductive material, which may be hurting it when compared to the Yagi's proper copper piping. Also, my TV reports a 90% signal strength (whatever that means) on the one HD channel for the Hoverman, as opposed to 98% for the Yagi. And being digital, since both are good enough to get the MPEG-2 through, that means the same quality picture.

Below are some stats for various channels (the one HD channel we get is on the same frequency as 24) showing signal strength in dB, and Carrier-to-noise ratio. The cable tester we used wouldn't show the exact C/N below 30, so that's why there are a bunch of "<30"s in there. Can't seem to make it line up properly either, sorry!

Hoverman
========

ch dB C/N
--- ----- ----
4 6 <30
13 2 48
22 -19 <30
24 6 52
25 -11 <30
40 -9 40

Yagi
====

ch dB C/N
--- ----- ----
4 19.8 31.8
13 -2 47
22 -20 <30
24 7.5 52
25 -9 <30
40 -25 <30

Re:Screws to HDTV? Not exactly (2, Funny)

billcopc (196330) | about 6 years ago | (#22916316)

I should mention that the Hoverman uses coat hangers for the conductive material, which may be hurting it when compared to the Yagi's proper copper piping.

I wouldn't worry about it, after all those coat hangers beat the pants off of Monster Cable :)

Now we now... (1)

Cignus20 (637069) | about 6 years ago | (#22915646)

Well, now we know why Comcast worked out a deal for bit torrent distribution of content on their network.

OTA much better than Comcast (4, Informative)

kherr (602366) | about 6 years ago | (#22915652)

I use Eye TV to record over-the-air HD, and it's quite obvious to me the quality is much higher than Comcast's HD. That said, I can't get as may OTA HD channels as I can on Comcast. And the quality of, say, Sci Fi Channel HD shows beats the standard def Sci Fi Channel.

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

Re:OTA much better than Comcast (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 6 years ago | (#22915754)

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

Re:OTA much better than Comcast (1)

JaySSSS (859968) | about 6 years ago | (#22916086)

Re: "Sci Fi Channel HD shows beats the standard def Sci Fi Channel" Not on Comcast in Atlanta. They have serious problems with "Macro Blocking", and serious quality glitches. Almost every program I've recorded on TiVo from SciFiHD has serious problems multiple times during the show. I rarely get the same issues with other HD channels.

Re:OTA much better than Comcast (2, Informative)

maxume (22995) | about 6 years ago | (#22916172)

That's a bit problematic, as all HDTV is compressed. You want the codec and the bitrate.

Just dropped Comcast (1)

AlpineR (32307) | about 6 years ago | (#22916180)

The article mentions that Comcast doesn't compress local stations, but I just dropped my Comcast service in Washington, DC and was surprised at how much nicer the OTA broadcasts look on my 1080 HDTV. If it's not compression, then there was something wrong with the converter box or component video connection.

For reference, my cable bill was $112 a month for one HD and one standard converter box, extended basic channels, and HBO. I'm using simple rabbit ears now, but I'm looking for a better antenna since all the clutter in the city causes reception to drop out in very annoying ways.

In conclusion (3, Funny)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | about 6 years ago | (#22915692)

In conclusion by not upgrading to an HDTV, and using my bunny ears, I am getting the same quality as Comcast's digital offering. Sweet :)

Not suprising at all (5, Interesting)

realmolo (574068) | about 6 years ago | (#22915698)

Anyone who has worked in the cable TV industry saw this coming a mile away. It's not like Comcast and pretty much EVERY OTHER "digital cable" providers wasn't already doing this.

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

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

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

Re:Not suprising at all (5, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 6 years ago | (#22915756)

That's not the only problem, either. The people that own the shows precompress the video stream before transmitting to the broadcaster (cable, satellite, whoever) to save transmission charges. That means the broadcaster has to take what he can get, and if he wants to recompress it even further ... well. Occasionally I'll watch an old Stargate re-run, and honestly they're so heavily compressed as to be almost unwatchable. I mean, you're paying these people good money each month to watch video that's little better than YouTube after clicking on the full-screen button. We're not even talking Hi-Def here, either.

Ridiculous.

Re:Not suprising at all (4, Insightful)

asuffield (111848) | about 6 years ago | (#22915764)

The problem is, of course, that they are trying to transmit all of their hundreds of channels to your TV simultaneously, and let the decoder pick out the interesting bits. If they only sent the one that you were watching, there wouldn't be a problem.

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

Cue their attempts to get laws passed to ban the new competition...

Re:Not suprising at all (3, Informative)

muffen (321442) | about 6 years ago | (#22915842)

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

As a side-note, I had forgotten how great Sweden was in regards to technology. I now have a 100MBit bi-directional internet connection with no download limits, and I'm paying $65 a month for it. Then, I have a 7,2MBit 3G modem for my laptop, again no download limit, price is $30 a month, and it works quite well. Went on a 3,5h drive to my parents and was able to stream internet radio in the car the whole way. Laptop + 3G modem + FM transmitter is the way to go :)

Re:Not suprising at all (0)

realmolo (574068) | about 6 years ago | (#22915924)

I agree that it needs to be done. But the expense is ENORMOUS.

Here are some figures to help you understand the problem:

Land area in square kilometers of Sweden: 449964

Land area in square kilometers of the United States: 9629091

The US is very big. The population is spread all over the place. Worse, most of the cities have very old infrastructure that is hard to upgrade without basically digging up streets and tearing down walls.

What it comes down to is, the federal goverment of the U.S. is going to have to step in and build a national fiber network. Private enterprise can't do it.

Re:Not suprising at all (5, Interesting)

turbofisk (602472) | about 6 years ago | (#22916078)

I wouldn't say that's true... Your coasts are densely populated, so you have the ability to give a huge portion of the population fiber, ethernet etc... Do even 10% of New York apartments have fiber-connection? Why not one might ask? My belief is that US companies do not invest in new technology in the same manner that some other countries do. The US (instead of competing) is using protectionism to keep industries competitive. Corn-syrup vs Sugar is an example... Heavy tariffs. Iron, Car-industry and Lumber are some of the industries that aren't doing so well (last time I checked) either... And FYI, more than 50% of Sweden is not densely populated at all. Mostly pine forest... However, every time something is replaced, say new power lines, new sewage lines etc, fiber are also installed. The municipally, powercompany etc then rents them out. The extra cost is nearly null... Basically every small village now has fiber running to it's town's phone exchange, which in turn gives you the ability to at *least* have 8Mbpbs if not 24 Mbps ADSL2+... In Stockholm, when a apartment building is changing water pipes or putting in new electric wirings they also add ethernet in the house... The extra cost is small... You then call ISPs and say, "Hey, we are 50 apartments and we just need you to pull in a fiber to get us to sign upp...". Which is exactly what we did in our complex. I pay $41 for my 100/100 connection... You then have the ability to choose the ISP you want and change if they screw around... It works great!

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

fbjon (692006) | about 6 years ago | (#22916308)

If you want to use numbers as an argument, check that the numbers support your position first. Sweden has:

  1. Less people than the US.
  2. Less population density than the US.
  3. Smaller cities than the US

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

i.of.the.storm (907783) | about 6 years ago | (#22915940)

It seems like European countries and Sweden in particular, as well as Japan, have awesome internet technology compared to the US. Here the companies are really lazy and only try to maximize profits, and most consumers are probably ignorant of what they could be getting. I've also seen population density commonly cited as the reason we don't have fiber everywhere, but I find that hard to believe since there are definitely some areas that are rather dense yet still don't have fiber.

Re:Not suprising at all (5, Insightful)

billcopc (196330) | about 6 years ago | (#22916366)

Why not ? Because Sweden is not in North America.

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

If there were some form of harsh punishment for such blatant abuse of the capitalist system, maybe things would be better for everyone here, but the people drafting the rules are on the receiving end of significant lobbying from the telecoms, so it won't happen anytime soon.

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 6 years ago | (#22915844)

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

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

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

Re:Not suprising at all (2, Interesting)

sahonen (680948) | about 6 years ago | (#22916448)

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

Now this is not in response to the parent but to the topic in general... Cable could offer far more picture quality by simply eliminating their analog lineup and using the bandwidth for digital. Using 256QAM modulation they can fit something like 12 digital standard def or 2 high def channels in the bandwidth that one analog channel used to take up, with excellent quality. Using MPEG-4 instead of MPEG-2 would further increase the number of channels that could be provided with acceptable quality due to more efficient coding.

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#22915850)

Basically, they need to run fiber to every home. Which they aren't going to do.

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

Re:Not suprising at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22915874)

Coax cable networks, even hybrid fiber/coax cable networks, just don't have the bandwidth to handle very many HD channels without compressing the hell out of them.

That's sort of true. HD channels certainly take up a lot more bandwidth than SD digital. On the other hand, SD analog stations take up more bandwidth than HD digital stations. If Comcast could drop the analog stations then they'd suddenly have plenty of room. Comcast won't due this because they recognize that many people still have 13 in. TV's in their kitchen and those people don't want to have a cable box on every TV. Comcast could force the issue, but carrying analog channels is one thing they have they distinquishes them from FiOS.

Re:Not suprising at all (2, Insightful)

TheRealFixer (552803) | about 6 years ago | (#22915964)

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

They could also cut back the number of analog channels they're supporting. Each one frees up a digital QAM channel, which can house two 19 Mbit MPEG-2 HD channels, which matches OTA quality. Unfortunately, the all-digital mandate for 2009 only applies to OTA, and not to cable systems, most of whom will continue to support analog for a long time.

Re:Not suprising at all (4, Informative)

Cylix (55374) | about 6 years ago | (#22916014)

People might not have noticed up until now though.

The compression essentially scales dynamically with popularity.

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

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

My big beef with FiOS is just wondering when the bait and switch will happen. I hear great things about it now, but I'm just wondering when they will turn to the cheap. Any FiOS guys want to tell us the diabolical plans in store? (I'll take made up ones too)

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 6 years ago | (#22916030)

Just think, with old crappy analog, there was only so much that they could reduce quality until the receiver lost picture synchronization. Now with digital, there's no limit; they can keep lowering picture quality as far as they like. The first time I saw digital cable, I was struck by how crappy it looked in comparison. Lots of compression artifacts with changing scenes. Me? I stick with DVD rentals and video games. I set the schedule, and it suits me just fine.

Re:Not suprising at all (1)

BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) | about 6 years ago | (#22916380)

That was my first impression of digital as well. It just looked like crap. I could not understand for the life of me why my cousin was paying $80 for her digital cable when she could have gotten basic with better picture quality, for $60 I think it was.

I've also noticed that watching an analog channel on my HD set looks like crap, its all blurry like I just pounded a case of beer. My SD set makes it look clear and crisp. Dont know why that is.

With all the digital switchover confusion there is right now, many people arent aware that it is only OTA and not cable. Cable companies should jump on this while the government is giving out digital converter coupons, that way they can ditch analog but still offer service to the people who dont want to ditch thier old sets.

Comcast ... phooey. (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 6 years ago | (#22915712)

I have them for Internet at the moment: at one time, I had them for TV and phone service as well. And yes, it was reasonably-priced at the outset, and the services worked well enough. Then the monthly bill started edging ever upward 'til after a couple years I was paying more than double. The phones alone (two lines) went over ninety dollars a month. Then picture quality began to degrade (due to compression artifacts as well as line quality issues and they couldn't/wouldn't fix the latter) so I dumped the phone and cable TV. Now I just have a cable modem, and use AT&T's Callvantage for my phones (yes yes, I know it's SBC but it works well, it's inexpensive and they haven't raised the rates.) As for cable TV ... well, so far I found that I can live quite well without it.

Comcast sucks balls & hates netflix (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22915714)

You know, considering that comcast is my 3rd biggest bill (behind, rent and insurance), you would think they could upgrade their network after all these years of collecting billions of dollars off people like me. Instead they just keep pocketing the cash, and turning out crappier products and hindering any competitions.

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

Contrast this with the fact that I can take my laptop to school on a SLOWER connection and get uninterrupted downloads. Their legalized monopoly they have is complete bullshit. If somebody offered another service in my area you can bet I would be there tomorrow. I despise writing that check every month to those fuckers. I hope they get what's coming to them in the form of a class action law suit to the tune of billions.

If they really want more bandwidth.... (2, Interesting)

3seas (184403) | about 6 years ago | (#22915722)

they should figure out how to stop spam instead of downgrading program signals for spam bandwidth.

Re:If they really want more bandwidth.... (3, Insightful)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | about 6 years ago | (#22915746)

Yea cause the amount bandwidth taken up by a thousand spam e-mails isn't equivalent to 10 frames of 1080p. :P

Have you seen the size of the spam? (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 6 years ago | (#22915970)

I got one message that was over a meg - nothing but links to porn sites. A thousand of those would eat up a fair amount of bandwidth.

*sigh* (1)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | about 6 years ago | (#22915766)

Only thing keeping me with Comcast Internet is that it's the only thing available here. (Temple University campus within eyesight of the new Comcast Tower in Philadelphia). It's kinda sad that Comcast has the philly area by the balls. They have a duopoly with Verizon on Internet around here and I don't see Verizon laying down any fiberoptic lines in this ghetto ass neighborhood.

Perhaps we don't really need HDTV? (0, Offtopic)

argent (18001) | about 6 years ago | (#22915782)

Perhaps we don't really need HDTV if you can reduce the image quality that much without it being noticed.

Re:Perhaps we don't really need HDTV? (1)

sltd (1182933) | about 6 years ago | (#22915868)

Except people do notice. In TFA, there are screen shots of both, and in the compressed images, you can see the artifacts. It's better than NTSC, but it's noticeably worse than uncompressed. That's why it's a big deal.

Re:Perhaps we don't really need HDTV? (4, Interesting)

argent (18001) | about 6 years ago | (#22915920)

Except people do notice.

Do they? Not if someone had to compare screen caps to prove it.

in the compressed images, you can see the artifacts.

Artifacts in screen captures don't necessarily mean noticeable artifacts in moving video. Screen captures in NTSC look like crap, far far worse than you "really" see when watching TV, thanks to the persistence of vision.

This point, by the way, was also in TFA.

I see this all the time. (2, Interesting)

supabeast! (84658) | about 6 years ago | (#22915810)

With my Comcast service there are a few really gorgeous channels: the local TV affiliates and HBO. Everything else can get downright gross. But no FIOS for my neighborhood...yet!

HI def? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22915816)

Heck, Comcast can't even supply standard def well. Many times I've seen "Family Guy" on a non HD Comcast channel, when the static parts of the scene will be sharp while the mouths will become shimmering black and tan blocks. Occasionally large areas or the entire screen will block up. I especially like watching Comcast TV while the signal has been cutting out, or blocking up, or fuzzing, or flashing during the show, and one of those Comcast commercials about how crappy dish service is comes on.

Is *this* HD? DO NOT WANT! (4, Insightful)

jonaskoelker (922170) | about 6 years ago | (#22915820)

FTA:

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

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

I'm starting to rediscover my love for that ~15 year old 14" CRT thing I have in my room.

Comcast sucked already (1)

Apotsy (84148) | about 6 years ago | (#22915838)

I've seen DVDs that looked better than their so called "high" definition signals. There may be 1920x1080 pixels, but there is so little data behind them, they never lock into place except when the scene stays completely static. God help you if you want to watch an action movie, since every time something moves the whole screen turns into a blocky mess. So now they are talking about making it even worse? Awesome, can't wait.

what does this mean for 1080? (2, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | about 6 years ago | (#22915876)

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

Re:what does this mean for 1080? (5, Informative)

interiot (50685) | about 6 years ago | (#22916158)

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

Re:what does this mean for 1080? (1)

BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) | about 6 years ago | (#22916434)

Yeah, 1080p is a must for use as a monitor. I made the mistake of getting a set that only does 720p, so I am stuck with a res of 1280x720@60hz, if I kick it any higher, it reverts to 30hz and looks flickery. Wouldnt be an issue for watching video, but it makes your eyes hurt trying to read text.

FiOS (4, Informative)

Slimee (1246598) | about 6 years ago | (#22915894)

We dropped Comcast's internet and cable TV the moment FiOS came into the neighborhood....it came at a good time because their internet was blacking out on us all the time. It would just flutter for anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes to a few hours and it was a real hassle playing games online and suddenly losing connection out of nowhere...And we ALWAYS had problems with artifacting with their cable. the picture always started getting these little green boxes everywhere during a program. Comcast had a pretty extensive On Demand list, and FiOS kind of lacks that, but there's more ups than downs.

Should redefine "HD" (3, Insightful)

yabos (719499) | about 6 years ago | (#22915914)

HDTV only defines the resolution AFAIK. At least I've never seen any minimum for HDTV bit rates to still be considered HDTV. Just because it's 1080p it shouldn't be considered HD if it's 2Mbps. HDTV specs should define a bit rate that has to be required to have HD. I don't see how Comcast can call what was shown in the link as HD with all that macro blocking.

Re:Should redefine "HD" (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about 6 years ago | (#22916152)

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

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

Re:Should redefine "HD" (2, Interesting)

DigitAl56K (805623) | about 6 years ago | (#22916414)

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

Maybe we could have a few classifications:
HD Bronze - Barely passes some maximum average quantizer check
HD Silver - The channel is running at a maximum average quantizer that will guarantee high quality video
HD Gold - The channel is running at a maximum average quantizer suitable for premium content
HD Platinum - Nose to screen archival quality material

It's not HD if the quantization is so great that taking a standard def source and upsampling it would produce similar results, which is what some of those Comcast screenshots look like.

I'll personally be sad when analog eventually goes away, purely because of the tricks that are being played with compression for digital broadcast.

FIOS testimonial (5, Interesting)

emacs_abuser (140283) | about 6 years ago | (#22915934)

Lots of people saying, "if only FIOS was in my area".

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

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

I'm done with those thieves at Comcast.

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

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

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

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

Bitrate != quality (0, Troll)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 6 years ago | (#22915978)

We all know this from the OGG vs. MP3 issue years back, or AAC vs. MP3, or just about any other codec that produces smaller files that have a higher quality than MP3.

This is no different, but the experiment doesn't SEEM to lie. The quality of the FioS frames is certainly higher than the Comcast frames on those particular channels, at that particular time, during that particular program.

Another factor that is not known is whether Comcast and/or Verizon change their compression dynamically based on the utilization of the loop. How do we know that verizon won't do the same thing once their fiber loops are hopelessly oversubscribed, as Comcast's are now?

There are too many variables left unconsidered to treat this person's analysis as reliable. All he has demonstrated is that more highly compressed video has lower quality than that of lesser compressed video, and nothing more. It is hardly a comprehensive study.

A Temporary Situation? (1)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 6 years ago | (#22915992)

Does anyone know how Comcast is progressing with its Switched Digital Video trials? From what I understand if SDV ever got off of the ground there would be little to no need to recompress HD video due to the bandwidth savings.

Dropping analog (1)

Skapare (16644) | about 6 years ago | (#22916010)

For every analog channel they drop, they gain back 2 decent or 3 crappy HD channels. Or maybe they could do 2 half-way decent HD and 1 SD channel. And, yes, there is a requirement to provide analog until 2012. But they can meet that requirement by supplying a converter box that outputs analog (at no additional cost for basic customers). The question is, is the cost of providing that converter box greater than the benefit of the extra channels?

Re:Dropping analog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22916084)

its not all its made up to be. HD TVs don't have the quality they made out to display. That goes for both http://www.hdtvprices.co.uk/ [hdtvprices.co.uk] LCD and Plasmas. Decades away from pixel count they need.

My only question... (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | about 6 years ago | (#22916070)

Re:My only question... (1)

boring, tired (865401) | about 6 years ago | (#22916120)

because they're the only option. I don't have fios here, and I'm in an apartment so I can't put a dish on the roof. I only be able to get a handful of channels with an antenna.

Re:My only question... (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | about 6 years ago | (#22916212)

TV just isn't worth the garbage comcast expect people to put up with though. It's just not an essential service. I watch most of my "TV" on netflix rentals and the only drawback is having to wait until it comes out on DVD.

to tell you the truth. (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | about 6 years ago | (#22916106)

i can't really see much of a difference between the two from a laptop's monitor screen distance away from my eyes and the difference would not be that much if any at all at the typical distance for viewing a a hdtv.

FiOS TV hardware? (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | about 6 years ago | (#22916154)

Can anyone tell me what sort of hardware one needs to watch FiOS TV? If you need an equivalent of a cablebox, do the ones provided by Verizon at least have something of the equivalent of Firewire output? Or is it pretty much just component, s-vid, composite, and HDMI?

Re:FiOS TV hardware? (1)

jakedata (585566) | about 6 years ago | (#22916342)

On the HD box I get DVI-D, HDMI, Firewire (untested but supposed to work) Y-PB-PR, S-Video and composite, along with L-R audio and optical and coax digital audio. I don't think it has functioning RF output for video.

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

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

Good package of options. Since they don't support Analog RGB in the DVI port, I push the Y-PB-PR through an RGB converter to get it to display on my Proton at 720P. The picture is stunning on the native 720P 36 inch CRT.

WTF.....? (1)

IHC Navistar (967161) | about 6 years ago | (#22916374)

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

I smell a very big lawsuit coming on.

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

least possible bandwidth (2, Insightful)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | about 6 years ago | (#22916438)

They could achieve really good compression by throwing away the colors and using 256 shades of gray instead, throwing away a portion of the image along the left and right sides for a 4:3 aspect ratio, and hmmm... maybe use 486 scanlines total in the picture. That should result in a great picture while using the least possible bandwidth.
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