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A comparison of Discovery HD between FiOS and cable with a 35.8% average bitrate reduction.  (Source: AVSForums user "bfdtv")
Canadian cable company compresses curious channel choices

HDTV enthusiasts in Canada having a chuckle at the expense of Comcast customers earlier this week are scheduled to receive similar treatment shortly. Beginning April 9th, Rogers Cable, one of the major cable companies serving the province of Ontario, is scheduled to begin compressing over a dozen high-definition channels.

Digital Home Canada
, a major site for Canadian consumer electronics, reported having been passed a technical brief from Rogers Network Engineering and Operations stating the impending compression and a listing of affected channels, shown below:
  • HD PBS Buffalo
  • HD WGN
  • HD The Score
  • HD Showcase
  • HD National Geographic
  • HD Mpix
  • HD Discovery
  • HD TMN
  • HD NBC Seattle
  • HD SUN
  • HD RAP
  • HDA&E
The selection of channels is similar in scope to those being compressed by Comcast -- so-called "premium stations" that most subscribers typically purchase as part of a bundle above and beyond the basic digital and HD channels. A sample of the compression artifacts seen on the Comcast feed of Discovery HD, compared to the same channel on Verizon's FiOS fiber-optic network can be seen to the right -- providing an estimation of what Canadians are in for.

Major American networks such as ABC and FOX, and Canadian networks CBC, CTV, Global, and sports network TSN were omitted from the list. While the American networks -- and The Sports Network -- may have been given a pass due to the large number of viewers, the immunity granted to the CBC may have roots within the regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC.)

In the CRTC Broadcasting Public Notice dated June 12, 2002, paragraph 61 states that:
Accordingly, as a matter of policy, the Commission considers that a DTV signal distributed by a BDU [broadcasting distribution undertaking] to its subscribers should be of the same quality and in the same format as that received by the BDU, without any degradation.
However, no specific wording to this effect could be found within current CRTC regulations to this effect. With other major cable companies likely to follow suit, and opinions regarding the quality of Bell ExpressVu satellite service being less than stellar among the enthusiasts, the only remaining option for Canadian HDTV owners to obtain a crystal-clear signal may be to dust off the old antenna and fly it proudly on their roof.

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Confusingly stated
By Flunk on 4/3/2008 9:06:07 PM , Rating: 5
This post is confusing and it infers things that are not true.

All digital TV boardcasts are compressed. Rogers will be increasing the compression on selected HD channels, not just beginning to compress them now.

The reason for the lower quality of Bell ExpressVu's image is that they already compress the video more than Rogers does at the moment. Satellite systems are very bandwidth constrained in comparison to terrestrial cable networks and must use more compression and/or a very large number of satellites to compete.

As a side note, who thinks that they are slowly makeing themselves irrelevant by reducing the quality of their content internet-based alternatives just keeps increaseing.

RE: Confusingly stated
By KristopherKubicki on 4/3/2008 9:21:26 PM , Rating: 2
Totally with you on that. Such a huge selling point of Comcast over DirecTV in my area is that DirecTV HD looks horrrrrible next to Comcast HD.

RE: Confusingly stated
By wordsworm on 4/3/2008 10:19:03 PM , Rating: 2
Don't cable companies get their broadcasts from satellite?

RE: Confusingly stated
By Flunk on 4/3/2008 11:39:00 PM , Rating: 2
For the most case yes, but the satellites that send the feeds to cable companies broadcast less compressed signals, they can do this because they don't have to carry 200 channels like the satellites that broadcast to consumers.

It is not a failure in the technology but a constraint of available bandwidth. They have to juggle individual stream quality vs number of streams carried.

RE: Confusingly stated
By Oregonian2 on 4/4/2008 12:45:53 AM , Rating: 3
It's also worthy to note that DirecTV is switching from MPEG2 to MPEG4 for HD (the new satellite that was put up a few weeks ago is supposed to be part of it) and quality is supposed to be improved with the switch.

RE: Confusingly stated
By Alexstarfire on 4/4/2008 5:10:38 AM , Rating: 3
I should hope so, MPEG2 is horrible.

RE: Confusingly stated
By SunAngel on 4/4/2008 9:08:10 AM , Rating: 3
... but your still ripping your dvds to your pc to watch, right?

RE: Confusingly stated
By Alexstarfire on 4/4/2008 8:03:03 PM , Rating: 1
Yea, but I don't convert them to anything. I just take the whole ISO. I'm not saying they can't have good quality, but the quality to compression ratio is horrible. 2x the bitrate and it still doesn't look as good as my DivX files.

RE: Confusingly stated
By mindless1 on 4/5/2008 6:43:48 AM , Rating: 3
It's a little crazy how quickly you've gotten spoiled. In the grand scheme of things people managed to watch and enjoy TV fine for several decades of less than MPEG2 quality.

If you can't ignore, even forget about whether the quality was the utmost or not, odds are you would've been happier doing something else instead of watching something that captivated you enough that you didn't notice (MPEG2) anymore.

RE: Confusingly stated
By Noya on 4/5/2008 2:54:23 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, and that was on CRT displays that mated perfectly with 480 line signals. The majority of people with HD service have 720/1080p HDTV...and SD looks like crap compared to an HD signal.

RE: Confusingly stated
By Mitch101 on 4/4/2008 9:34:15 AM , Rating: 3
I have one of the MPEG4 units from Direct TV and I feel its on par with OTA reception. I haven't done screen captures to 100% verify but nothing stands out as this doesn't look quite right. My neighbors agree DirectTV's HD looks better than what cable is pushing through. My Local cable company only provides about 13 HD channels and wants $10.00 a month for it. You can get most of them with an antenna.

Our local cable company is back to saying satellite dishes are ugly and lose their signal when it rains. I believe they are too small to be sued for false claims.

RE: Confusingly stated
By Alexstarfire on 4/4/2008 8:06:11 PM , Rating: 2
But it's not false. I will say that if you have a very strong signal that pretty much nothing is going to break it, but I would venture to say that most folks don't have a 90% signal strength or above. We don't lose ours very often even with less than 75% signal strength, but it can happen in some pretty bad weather.

RE: Confusingly stated
By lobadobadingdong on 4/6/2008 12:47:30 PM , Rating: 2
I have 92% signal strength on my dish, and I lose signal occasionally in bad storms (usually no more than 2-3 minutes). When I had cable here I'd lose service for 1/2 a day or more per month, even in good weather. It could just be our crappy cable company, as I didn't have that problem when I had time warner in the last city I lived in.

RE: Confusingly stated
By v1001 on 4/4/2008 2:01:38 AM , Rating: 3
Maybe this was true at one time but I don't think so recently. My HD channels on direcTV look stunning. I mean some times I'm just blown away at how incredible it looks. As good as my HD-DVD's at times. Probably because I just got DirecTV last summer and have all then new dishes and receivers. And mpeg4.

I don't know I was always underwhelmed by my brothers comcast in California and my Moms Comcast in Oregon even before I got HD.

RE: Confusingly stated
By jtemplin on 4/4/2008 12:00:51 AM , Rating: 2
While I won't comment on the article in its entirety, that comparison photo shows an incredible reduction in picture quality. It would have been a bit more scientific to show a before and after shot in addition to the comparison with a hi-quality competitor. That way we have a baseline for comparison.

That said, if worst case scenario is from Fios-->38% compression I woulnd't be a happy customer if thats what my premium package got downgraded to. To address your point: sure all channels may be compressed and it isn't a new "evil" practice, BUT the level of compression is significant. I am a big proponent of the theory of psycho-adaptive compression (or maybe perceptual encoding?). The idea being you compress the signal in just the right way to remove information that you cannot perceive (eg in audio, extra-audible frequencies)from a signal and thus jettison superfluous bits.

In truth, I always prefer the least lossy form of compression, but compromises must inevitably be made because of prohibitive bandwidth requirements. For example, a Full Aperture 4K stream is at least .850-1.2 GB/s (not bits...). Peace

RE: Confusingly stated
By danrien on 4/4/2008 2:41:04 AM , Rating: 3
I am a big proponent of the theory of psycho-adaptive compression (or maybe perceptual encoding?). The idea being you compress the signal in just the right way to remove information that you cannot perceive (eg in audio, extra-audible frequencies)from a signal and thus jettison superfluous bits.

Generally, that's what compression means in the analog world. While 1:1 compression can be done (i.e., you get out what you put in, such as is the case with audio in FLAC format), in terms of file size (and bandwidth), it is still prohibitive.... a normal person without a golden ear probably couldn't tell you if there was a difference between a well encoded 128kbps MP3 stream and a FLAC or lossless audio stream, but they might tell you that the lossless feels like it's better. However, when you tell that same person that they can fit about 10 times more MP3 files (an exaggeration possibly) than FLAC or WAV files on to that MP3 player, they'll choose the MP3 hands down.

In general, for video the situation is the same, however, the signal is inherently much more complex and the human eye can perceive many more shades of light than the human ear can detect different frequencies of audio, thus the difficulty in making a truly "good" video compression algorithm.

Sorry I've been looking at signals stuff for the past semester and my brain is becoming obsessed with these thoughts, so I felt the need to go on an explanatory rant.

RE: Confusingly stated
By omnicronx on 4/4/2008 8:48:24 AM , Rating: 2
Of course its compressed, its an MPEG2 stream. But even some BD's are encoded in mpeg2 and the quality is quite good as long as the bitrate is high enough, with little to no compression artifacts. Its when the cable companies start to try and fit as many channels in that 6mhz space that problems arise.

And just so everyone knows, rogers has always put extra compression on their HD channels, far more it seems than our American counterparts, just not as much as bell, as the OP has noted..

By kilkennycat on 4/3/2008 11:37:41 PM , Rating: 3
... they had better check the compression rates with their download supplier. Over the air HD-broadcast (1080i/720p) is 19.2 MegaBits/sec (2.8MegaBytes/sec). Anything less is distinctly NOT acceptable. Should be at least 2x bit-rate for any so-called "1080p" content. So just check on the length of the movie and do the simple math to figure out the MINIMUM total size in GigaBytes for the download file. Otherwise, better plan on renting/buying some Blu-ray discs... which bit-rate and quality far exceeds any current download offerings. Nice to know that there are so many gullible folk that think that downloading movies is the perfect answer to quality HDTV-viewing with ultimate convenience. Convenience--- sure. Quality --- NOT. Unless you have 30Mbit/sec download rate or infinite download patience and no expiry-time on viewing the download. $150 per month is the current going rate for 30Mbit download speed. Could rent a huge bunch of Bluray movies for that little sum.

By Alexstarfire on 4/4/2008 5:17:51 AM , Rating: 2
Well, downloaded content can be smaller than OTA HD simply because it'll likely be on a computer. The difference is that you can use more advanced codecs than can/will be/are used on set top boxes. I personally don't understand why, but whatever. Anyways, as a result of using these more advanced codecs they can be compressed more without a loss of quality, up till a certain point of course.

By FITCamaro on 4/4/2008 8:53:12 AM , Rating: 1
I personally don't understand why

Because PCs have vastly more power than a set top box. It's not like there's a Core 2 Duo inside a cable box. Thus, cable companies are limited on what codecs they can use by how much processing power the box has. MPEG2 is a relatively simple compression. MPEG4/H.264 is more advanced and takes more processing power to decode and uncompress.

Can set top boxes be made that will be able to decode and uncompress the signal? Of course. By people's comments DirectTV will be using it so their hardware is obviously capable of uncompressing it. But hardware upgrades for tens of millions of customers are expensive and cable companies are reluctant to deploy them. In a year or two they most likely will though. Which will allow them to fit more channels in the same bandwidth at a higher quality.

By omnicronx on 4/4/2008 9:00:52 AM , Rating: 2
IT really has nothing to do with processing power, MPEG2 encoders/decoder chips are just far more advanced(and cheaper too) than any other available codec out there.

Hell I have a 30 dollar DVD player that can decode Divx ;)

By glennpratt on 4/4/2008 10:38:25 AM , Rating: 2
It's doubtful that it could decode HD Divx (or MPEG2 for that matter).

By omnicronx on 4/4/2008 2:48:52 PM , Rating: 2
(or MPEG2 for that matter)
What format do you think your digital signals are sent in? HD channels you are currently getting are transmitted in mpeg2. Your box has a decoder, which decodes the signal, simple as that. Theres no reason a cable box would not be able to decode an HD Divx signal, if such a decoder does in fact exist.

My belief for why Mpeg2 was chosen as the standard is there that no other format out right now that has the compatibility and the availability of decoder chips as mpeg2.. period..

By glennpratt on 4/4/2008 4:59:52 PM , Rating: 2
Slow down man. Let me break down the conversation as I read it.

MPEG2 is a relatively simple compression. MPEG4/H.264 is more advanced and takes more processing power to decode and uncompress.

Hell I have a 30 dollar DVD player that can decode Divx ;)

It's doubtful that it could decode HD Divx (or MPEG2 for that matter).

I guess to be more clear, I should have said: "It's doubtful your '$30 DVD player' could adequately decode Divx or even MPEG2 at HD bitrates."

By mindless1 on 4/5/2008 6:50:52 AM , Rating: 2
If there were demand for such a chip in sufficient volume (lowering price some) it would be more widespread. The issue is the bottom line, what those transmitting this content perceive is most profitable and changing equipment isn't that, not on their end or the consumers' end (until the day when they want more bandwidth to make themselves more money, not to give the customers substantially higher quality.

MPEG2 is the standard because of the past, the world does not hop onto every new technology when there's an infrastructure that has to be replaced, these things take time. The move from MPEG2 will come, but not as fast as on a PC where you just download a new codec.

By omnicronx on 4/4/2008 8:56:38 AM , Rating: 2
I personally don't understand why, but whatever.
Because its a standard, just like NTSC TV's have been running on the same standard for 50 years. It would be a nightmare if different cable companies and different cable box providers had the choice of which codecs to use. The ATSC standard was made to have the most compatibility across the board.

There really is no downfall to this, as unless they were to transmit in VC1 or newer codec, you would be losing information anyways, which kind of negates the point of having HD in the first place...

The only drawback of the ATSC standard in my mind is the max resolution of 1080i, although many channels timecode the frames to allow your TV to IVTC (inverse telecine) back to the original 24fps/1080p signal

By jabber on 4/4/2008 6:44:22 AM , Rating: 2
The one factor that some folks forget about the potential for downloading HD content in the future is that it has as a concept one big ace up its sleeve.

Codec development.

With static broadcast standards you are locked in to what you can do to a large extent with how you deliver the content. With downloads however, you can develop more and more sophisticated codecs with far better compression and visual enhancements and roll them out as and when you need to. The folks at home then just get fed an updated codec and away they go. Downloads are not constrained to the extent broadcasts are.

Not saying that downloads is the total way to go but its an interesting delivery method. It shouldnt be dismissed.

Rogers Custoemr
By oab on 4/3/2008 9:18:05 PM , Rating: 2
I'm a Rogers Customer, have a 42" Plasma TV, and I'm quite glad I don't subscribe to any of their HDTV channels.

I'm just waiting for the day that HDTV is so ubiquitous that they will be "forced" to offering basic HDTV available in place of basic cable at no extra charge.

RE: Rogers Custoemr
By SickBeast on 4/3/2008 11:02:43 PM , Rating: 2
You could always get Star Choice. I pay $22.40/month taxes included for over 100 channels, including 10 or so in HD (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CBC, CTV, etc.).

I don't notice compression artifacts with Star Choice and to me it looks clearer than Rogers HD.

RE: Rogers Custoemr
By DukeN on 4/4/2008 10:27:26 AM , Rating: 2

I have starchoice as well. I pay approx $40.xx plus taxes for all the standard cable channels, plus quite a few HD ones. (Got this through a sales promo).

I think the broadcast quality is better plus one of my favorite channels doesn't stutter like it did on Rogers (NBA TV).

RE: Rogers Custoemr
By anonymo on 4/4/2008 10:36:58 AM , Rating: 2
Well I pay for Roger's HD channels and I'm really looking forward to the phone call this weekend to make sure that either they don't compress my signal (hahaha...should I even bother?) or they give me a serious discount on the sub-par service.

Roger's is bad enough as it is without compression (blackouts, crappy service etc.) but it's still miles beyond any other available service unfortunately.

Anyone know if we're going to be seeing FIOS in Ontario in the foreseeable future?

RE: Rogers Custoemr
By omnicronx on 4/4/2008 3:36:47 PM , Rating: 2
Where do you live ? Toronto?
If so NBC,FOX,ABC,CBC,CTV,CITY,TORONTO1, and more are available for free via Over-the-air HD signals, which can be retrieved using your normal bunny ear vhf antenna depending on where you live ;)

Unless you are going to be getting the extras (HD sports channels, Discovery, AE etc..) you really don't need an expensive HD package..

p.s All new TV's and most TV's sold within the past few years have an ATSC OTA tuner, which is how you receive these channels. Just point your antenna towards the CNN tower/buffalo and voila tons of pure crisp WITH NO EXTRA COMPRESSION

More compression?
By Bremen7000 on 4/3/2008 9:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
My eyes must suck, I don't see any difference. :(

RE: More compression?
By Chris Peredun on 4/3/2008 10:05:47 PM , Rating: 2
Make sure you're viewing the image full-size. Notice the blocks in the shaft detail on the left-hand side of the "Cable" picture, as well as the red line crossing in the background. Now compare that to the razor-sharp detail from the FiOS frame.

For uncropped images, more samples, and full 1080p shots (1.5MB each) view the original thread at AVSForums here:

RE: More compression?
By marsbound2024 on 4/4/2008 2:16:04 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, you have cataracts or something. :(

RE: More compression?
By DASQ on 4/4/2008 2:10:30 PM , Rating: 2
Also check for the heavy colour inaccuracies, where a single coloured is 'fuzzed' into a couple of colours instead. There is no reason there should be green, red, and blue in that column thingy, where there is black.

worse then analog
By SPOOOK on 4/3/2008 9:58:04 PM , Rating: 1
this is worse then analog i would not pay 5 cents for that
i will stay with non high def and dvds dvds are good enough
hd is not worth 5 cents

RE: worse then analog
By cmdrdredd on 4/3/2008 10:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
You have to be blind or an idiot. I'm betting on both. HD is TONS better than any analog stuff. Highly compressed HD is junk I'll admit, but go watch a Blu-Ray or Over the Air HD via an antenna then come tell me analog is better. Clearely it isn't.

RE: worse then analog
By tdawg on 4/4/2008 12:42:38 AM , Rating: 2
I would definitely be pissed if I subscribed to digital cable, paid for an HD cable box, and got pictures that are lower quality than standard cable. What's the point of delivering HD content to consumers when it looks like junk.

As for HD-DVD / Blu-ray, the picture difference is worlds better than standard def dvds. Anybody that claims different has to be blind. In my opinion, HD video, and it's accompanying audio, are worth every penny. I can't see myself ever buying another standard def dvd.

RE: worse then analog
By MrBlastman on 4/4/2008 9:48:12 AM , Rating: 2
Like all executives these days it seems, the general board room belief is "a sucker is born every minute"

People want their HD, they think cable will be better - why not sham them while increasing profits? Let them sign up for HD Cable and then degrade the signal - brilliant!

This is a pretty low, and sly move by the cable companies. It gives me another excuse to delay moving to HD.

It seems as if
By Creig on 4/3/2008 8:57:35 PM , Rating: 4
the cable company executives in charge of making these sorts of decisions are forgetting the reason why people are upgrading to HD in the first place.

Antennae sales are up
By HaZaRd2K6 on 4/3/2008 11:41:58 PM , Rating: 2
We've suddenly been selling a lot more HD antennae at work. Maybe somebody knew something earlier than the rest of us?

And as a Rogers customer, I don't know why they're doing this. I mean, I get that from a business standpoint it makes sense; being able to push "more" (I use the term loosely; it's really only more channels) data through the same pipe is cheap, but I'm paying a lot of money monthly for both my HD boxes, and I'd prefer to see an infrastructure expansion. Doing that would allow them to keep massive compression out of the picture, and keep bandwidth up.

It also has the added benefit of speeding up their cable internet service, too.

RE: Antennae sales are up
By drebo on 4/4/2008 1:06:19 AM , Rating: 2
Such is the problem with American internet providers. They don't care about the customer in the least.

bait and switch......
By OMGBS LIES on 4/4/2008 3:29:23 AM , Rating: 4
dont invest in infrastructure, just half all bandwidth and add double the junk

who saw this coming?
By piroroadkill on 4/4/2008 7:16:15 AM , Rating: 1
The sheer bandwidth that 1080p content demands was never going to be available in droves, especially not to the masses. This is just like the situation here in the UK with digital radio - throw on more channels, and compress the existing ones down to sound like utter shite, no thanks.

RE: who saw this coming?
By FITCamaro on 4/4/2008 8:57:58 AM , Rating: 1
Television isn't broadcast in 1080p period. It's 1080i or 720p. Your TV takes the signal and up or down converts the signal from there.

RE: who saw this coming?
By PrinceGaz on 4/6/2008 9:21:17 PM , Rating: 2
You missed the point of what the OP was saying, over-compress to low bitrates and the quality suffers severely.

That is exactly what has happened here in the UK with digital radio (DAB), where the bitrate for most stereo stations is 128kbps MP2. Most of those stations broadcast music, and anyone will tell you 128kbps MP2 is totally inadequate for artifact-free quality reproduction. That's why DAB in the UK is considered a joke by people who care about quality.

128kbps MP2 stereo is roughly equivalent to 96kbps MP3 stereo at best. It really is pathetic when played through decent quality audio gear and speakers. I invariably use my old analogue VHF FM tuner because it sounds so much better than the best DAB tuner I've tried.

What these telecom companies are doing to HDTV transmissions to squeeze more channels in is exactly what happened to DAB in the UK. When one company adds some more channels and reduces the bandwidth, others follow suit in order to be seen as offering just as much. Quality is seen by most customers as less important than quantity. The end result is usually lots of channels of poor quality.

We've had that result here in the UK with DAB radio for several years now, and what seems to be happening is that very few people want to buy DAB radios now despite them being a lot cheaper than a few years ago, and many major radio-station operators are deciding DAB is not worth supporting any more because of the poor take-up. DAB in Britain is in serious danger of dying a slow death because of the increased level of digital compression used.

Direct TV HD
By TheNuts on 4/4/2008 1:11:30 PM , Rating: 2
I've had Direct TV for 3 years and just got their HD package. I got their HD-DVR HR21 and the HD channels look pretty darn good to me. Does someone have a list of what channels on DTV or Comcast use what compression at what bitrate?

Are some DTV HD channels surperior to their Comcast counterparts or vise versa?

RE: Direct TV HD
By OMGBS LIES on 4/5/2008 12:56:45 AM , Rating: 2
thats because you have nothing to compare it too. if you had these channels at the start, you would see a big difference in the quality now... whats sad is you will never see what it could look like....

HDTV redefined
By marsbound2024 on 4/4/2008 2:17:37 AM , Rating: 3
High er Definition Television

Rogers sucks!
By Moohbear on 4/4/2008 8:38:01 AM , Rating: 3
At the same time, Rogers decided to put a cap on bandwidth use for their cable internet customers... Apparently, improving infrastructure is an unknown concept at Rogers management.

By Shadowmaster625 on 4/4/2008 1:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
Let's compress channels to make room for the endless garbage they're shovelling on all these channels I'd never watch. Why not get rid of the crap channels and improve the quality of the good ones? (Not that there are any good ones...)

Excellent! I save $.
By Wererat on 4/9/2008 12:21:49 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, it's *very* noticable. TNT-HD was showing the LOTR movies recently and while it clearly was higher rez than DVD, the compression made the overall PQ lower than watching from DVD.

BTW per FCC rule, the local stations can't be compressed
(no idea what Canadian law specifies). The NCAA final game was perfect in HD. I can get those for $0.00 over the air, though!

Between the PQ degredation and summer coming along the spousal irritation factor reached critical.

So the upshot of all this is Comcast loses a bunch of $, I invest a bit in an antenna, and by years-end will have saved enough to build a HTPC strong enough to do big-screen gaming. WTG Comcast (and Rogers for my neighbors to the north)!

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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