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Comcast Compresses HD - No One Shocked

by April 22, 2008
This is Battlestar Galactica on Comcast

This is Battlestar Galactica on Comcast

In a news item that should have all of the Audioholic audience thinking, "and?" - The Associated Press is reporting that Comcast and other cable companies are compressing their HD signals in order to deliver more content. We've been discussing this over at AV Rant for some time now and even have a listener who is contacting Time Warner's CEO directly to see what he has to say about it.

The "pass the buck" mentality was in full effect as Sci-fi, under fire in the article because of its soft HD picture, referred all questions to Comcast. Comcast admits that they are shoving 3 HD channels into the space of one analogue channel in some cases!

3 to 1!

Other channels are getting 2 to 1 compression though Comcast spokespeople wouldn't admit which channels are getting the increased compression. Don't worry Comcast - we can tell. The interesting part of this story is that some of the data being used to show how bad Comcast is compressing their channels was gathered from AVS. The post, which compared Comcast to Verizon FIOS shows clearly the picture differences between the two services. Verizon, with their fiber optic FIOS network, doesn't compress their channels at all but only serve about one million people in 17 states. Comcast serves over 24 million.

The problem, claim the cable companies, is infrastructure. There is only so much cable out there and people are demanding more and more HD content (I know I am). Compression is going to be a fact of life for those outside of Verizon's FIOS system though it doesn't have to be as visibly apparent as it is with some of the channels. While the AP suggests that poor HD picture can come from miscalibrated displays (true) or ambient lighting conditions (huh?), Comcast and Time Warner are working on solutions.

One of the solutions, switched video, only sends the channels that you are watching and not all of them at once. This could slow down channel switching times (meaning you can make a sandwich instead of just getting a beer while waiting for the channel to change), but it would increase available bandwidth. We wonder if it would be possible to effectively "delete" unwatched channels at the user's discretion so that favorite channels would have as much bandwidth available to them as possible. Other alternatives include instituting alternative compressions schemes such as MPEG4.

After paying $5000 for a TV and $500 for surround speakers, Joe Consumer expects to see a difference. If Comcast and others can't figure out how to get HD to their consumer's homes, we're going to see a greater and greater outcry. Bring it on, we say. Until the general public gets up and arms, all the complaining on the net will be for naught.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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