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A comparison of bitrates between FiOS and Comcast reveals signals compressed up to 38%.  (Source: AV Science Forum)

Red Hot Chili Peppers live: crisp and clean on one side, a blocky mess on the other.  (Source: DViCE/AV Science Forum)
Comcast tries to fit three HDTV channels in the space of two

HDTV aficionados with Comcast service might be in for a rude awakening: the nation’s largest cable provider seems to have ratcheted up the compression on its cable HDTV signals.

A thread at AV Science Forum updated last Monday details what appears to be compression of up to 38%, allowing Comcast to deliver more HDTV channels per line while using the same amount of bandwidth. A side effect of this, however, means that HDTV’s pristine video is now jagged and muddy for Comcast customers, full of MPEG-style compression artifacts and stuttered movement:

For the most part, fine detail remains very good on static (non-moving) images with Comcast's added compression, but you do see reduced contrast, with more dithering artifacts (banding) between colors and objects. With some channels, it looks a bit like Comcast is taking a 24-bit image and reducing it to 18-20 bit. This tends to reduce the 'pop' effect in some images. The difference in 'pop' was quite noticeable on Food HD, despite the relatively small bitrate reduction.

The greatest differences are seen with movement. With slow movement on Comcast, the first thing you notice is added noise and a softer image, as fine detail is filtered from the picture signal. The greater the rate of movement, the more detail you lose and the more noise you see. With intense movement, you see more blocking and skipped frames. In VideoRedo, I noticed that a number of frames in the FiOS signal simply did not exist in the Comcast signal during motion intensive scenes. This may be responsible for the stutter and excessive motion blur seen with some video sequences on Comcast.

Still images comparing Verizon’s FiOS HDTV service with Comcast’s HDTV service, taken at the exact same time in the exact same broadcast, show Comcast’s images losing much of the legendary detail that HDTV is so well known for – in a screenshot  of the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing live in Milan, the Comcast image was almost completely stripped of all fine-grained detail; lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ textured wristband becomes flat and blocky, and the tattoo on his left arm made pixellated and blurry.

A request for comment was received by Comcast, but not replied to.

The purpose of Comcast’s increase in compression is unclear; however it would appear that the company is attempting to fit three HDTV video streams inside of one QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, Comcast’s DTV broadcast format) signal, as opposed to the previous two. In a bitrate comparison between each provider’s broadcast of the same show, the Verizon signal was recorded at 17.73 Mbps, while the Comcast signal recorded at 13.21 Mbps, a 34% reduction in size.

According to Ken Fowler, the A/V buff known as “bfdtv” at AV Science Forum, Comcast’s compression increase currently affects most customers that were not originally in Adelphia’s cable system, which Comcast purchased in 2005. Further, the increased compression only affects national networks like A&E or HBO; local TV signals are rebroadcast at whatever bitrate they were originally sent in.

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By rudolphna on 4/1/2008 4:00:31 PM , Rating: 2
Thank god we are moving, and no longer have comcast. Our Cable and internet was shut off on Saturday, thank god. We are moving to an Area that has Time Warner, which we love. This is ridiculous, its time to expand the bandwith comcast! Though i do like their cable boxes better than Time Warners old ones, (even though they have Seagate (swear word in my house) harddrives in them. (Western Digital 4life lol) Come on comcast, stop sacrificing the consumer for your own gain!

RE: Wow
By Owls on 4/1/2008 4:03:53 PM , Rating: 2
The sad fact is that you are accepting their practices.

I'm glad I have fios and I am away from comcast/cablevision.

RE: Wow
By rudolphna on 4/1/2008 4:09:52 PM , Rating: 2
well its not up to me. I live with my parents (im only 16) and comcasts internet is much slower than Time warners, with a much higher ping in games like FEAR. Its ridiculous. I got kicked out of several games due to the high ping. Comcast is terrible. I told mom she needs to get FiOs, but she doesnt want to yet. So until then we will have Cable. As long as it has fast download speeds, good upload speeds, low ping, and we have DVR boxes, im fine. But i am scrutinous of the HDTV (we have a 3 year/o Sony Rear Projection TV that has up to 1080i, and with the HD Cable, it looks fantastic. But i pay very good attention, so i would be in that minority.

RE: Wow
By Houdani on 4/1/2008 5:45:23 PM , Rating: 3
Yesterday I signed up for FiOS Internet/TV/Phone and will be saving approximately $70/month on those services as a result. Run that number past your mom and see if it piques her interest.

Not only am I saving money, but I'm also picking up more channels on the TV side and a few more gimmies on the phone side.

I did have to agree to a 2-year contract, but the early termination penalty is only $80 for TV and $80 for internet. The installation fee is a very palatable $20. So I'll wind up ahead no matter what, after the first 2-3 months.

RE: Wow
By MADAOO7 on 4/2/2008 12:41:50 AM , Rating: 2
Lucky for me, Tampa was the test bed for FIOS over 4 or 5 years ago. I got FIOS free for almost a year as long as I let technicians out to my house on occasion and filled out some surveys. Free install and locked in rates saved me tons of money. I get 15 Mb/s for the price of 5Mb/s. Too bad I have to pay normal pricing for TV and Phone, although they are cheaper than the competition.

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