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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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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.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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