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Can cable operators downgrade the video quality of digital channels

Discussion in 'TiVo Coffee House - TiVo Discussion' started by nrnoble, Jul 17, 2013.

  1. nrnoble

    nrnoble Member

    Aug 25, 2004
    My question is do cable operators have the option to lower the bitrate of digital channels, thus lowering the video quality.

    Hypothetical example: HBO's source feed might be 720p at 8Mbits per second, but the cable operator decides to lower it to 720p at 5Mbits per second in order accommodate all the channels and add more. At 5Mbit it would still look good, but if were compared to the original feed, people could see the difference.

    Years ago I had a TVRO system, and the signal was so clean it was as good as anything on DVD or better. I know it was only 480i, but it was perfectly clean signal coming from the source. I remember watching Star Trek: The next generation off satellite, and it made cable TV look like VHS tape because quality was downgraded by the time it reached my house over cable.
  2. kdmorse

    kdmorse Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 2001
    Germantown, MD
    Yes. There was a time when they were really bad at it too. They've gotten better, but it's still a noticeable effect between cable providers. (Say, FIOS vs Comcast).

    However, they tend not to do it as much to their premium channels like HBO (or at least, they didn't used to). Channels like Sci-Fi, the CW, etc, used to suffer pretty badly.
  3. Worf

    Worf Active Member

    Sep 15, 2000
    They probably only do it minimally on premium channels - after all, they're a great way to get more subscription revenue, and having people cancel because of poor quality is not in their interest.

    They usually reencode (yes, reencode) the channels they provide free or close to free with the packages because those channels don't get more revenue. So local channels and cable channels that are part of the standard packages tend to be overcompressed.
  4. CoxInPHX

    CoxInPHX COX Communications

    Jan 14, 2011
    Phoenix, AZ
    All my HBOs have the lowest bitrate of any other HD channel. They average 8-9Mbps.

    I always assumed this was because the HBO source was already MPEG-4 (H.264) and reencoded to MPEG-2. Does anyone know for sure what the HBO source feed is?

    Cox has both MPEG-2 and H.264 HBO channels and they both have the same bitrate.
  5. am95

    am95 New Member

    Jun 2, 2012
    If I'm reading this right it's both according to this link: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=...=YZVomkX_SKcfWcvxhT2gmw&bvm=bv.49478099,d.dmg

    I have FiOS which provides HBO in mpeg-2 and I noticed HBO East and West are of higher quality then the other HBO stations which is consistent with what the link says. By the way the bitrate is generally anywhere between 11.5-13.5mbps and FiOS supposedly sends the signal through without touching it unless of course they are having to transcode an mpeg-4 feed.
  6. ldconfig

    ldconfig New Member

    Sep 7, 2004
    Here they used to use SD feeds for SD channels here but now on most of SD channels they just downscale the HD feed and it looks really bad and every SD channel is letterboxed and the video quality is crap.
    But if I owned a cable co. I admit I would do it also to get everyone to pay the $10.00+ HD Fee. Cable & sat TV have it made. They get to force people to pay for TV channels that are already paid for with 30 second ads. What a sweet scam :)
  7. Jed1

    Jed1 Well-Known Member

    Jun 18, 2013
    Frackville, PA.
    Can cable operators downgrade the video quality of digital channels? The answer is NO.
    How the channel is to be received from the source and what equipment is to be used and setup is determined by the content owner when the retransmission agreement is made with your cable/sat company.
    The SD feeds are different from the HD feeds as all SD feeds, east and west, are still in an MPEG 2 format. The only HD feeds, east and west, still in MPEG 2 is the main HBO and Cinemax feeds. All HBO/Cinemax HD feeds, east and west, are available in MPEG 4.
    The change to letterboxing the SD feeds.

    The equipment required to convert the HBO/Cinemax feeds to QAM 256 is determined by HBO/Cinemax. The operators do not have the capability to alter the feed as the content owner determines the quality of the feed.
    Equipment required by HBO/Cinemax for cable operators.
    http://www.homeboxoffice.com/to/Recently_Updated/Digital IRD Ordering Information _20110908.pdf

    http://moto.arrisi.com/staticfiles/...-DSR-6050-Commercial IRD_data sheet-US-EN.pdf
    http://moto.arrisi.com/staticfiles/...t/_Documents/Static Files/OnTarget 0507-1.pdf

    http://moto.arrisi.com/staticfiles/...coders/DSR 6300/DSR-6300_FACTsheet_032409.pdf
    The equipment handles the conversion from MPEG 4 to an MPEG 2 QAM256 stream.

    Generally its the content owners who determine the quality of the picture you see and it is determined in the retransmission agreements that are made with the content owners.
    Also the performance of equipment that is used to receive and distribute the feeds from the source have improved dramatically over the past decade.
  8. Dan203

    Dan203 Super Moderator Staff Member TCF Club

    Apr 17, 2000
    You say that like it's socking. I've worked with companies in the broadcast industry and you'd be amazed how many times the video is reencoded before it gets to your TV. Very few people in the broadcasting industry even think twice about reencoding. They do it repeatedly and redundantly for very minor changes. (i.e. need to insert 1 ad, reencode the whole stream) By the time a show gets to the consumer it has been reencoded a half dozen times at least, probably more. And the quality is entirely dependent on the hardware encoders used, which vary wildly in both cost and quality.

    Edit: Oh and most of those recodes are done in the analog space, so you lose quality there to.
  9. Worf

    Worf Active Member

    Sep 15, 2000
    You missed another source of encoding - at the cable headend when they ship the data to the customers - it uses a VBR encoder which takes as input what other channels are on the link and how much bandwidth they need so the bits can be shifted between channels as necessary. Sometimes it means channels are starved for bandwidth.

    I admit I've seen those encoder boxes - one of them was an advanced h.264 and MPEG-2 encoder - this was for satellite transmission.
  10. unitron

    unitron Active Member

    Apr 28, 2006
    semi-coastal NC
    You left out what's becoming a big part of the scam.

    Originally cable was basically subcontracting out your over the air antenna reception for the broadcast channels in your area.

    The local broadcaster sold air time to advertisers, and that paid the bills so that they could offer it over the air "for free", and you could get it for free by putting up your own antenna, or you could pay the cable company to act as your antenna.

    Somewhere along the way, in addition to cable companies adding non-broadcast channels that ran ads but also meant a higher cable bill, the broadcasters bribed enough congresscritters and now cable companies can't just pick up their signal out of the air and forward it on to you like originally, they have to pay those local stations for the privilege of "re-transmitting" the signal to you, even though the existance of cable increases the number of viewers for them which means they can charge advertisers more.

    And those broadscasters are getting increasingly greedy and asking for higher rates all the time.

    And of course the cable company has to charge you more to cover it.
  11. Dan203

    Dan203 Super Moderator Staff Member TCF Club

    Apr 17, 2000
    Aren't some OTA channels "must carry" for cable companies? If so are they forced to pay the local station for those even though they are forced to offer them?
  12. Tony Chick

    Tony Chick New Member

    Jun 20, 2002
    I get my locals both OTA and on Time-Warner cable. You get used to the cable quality, but then flipping over to the OTA is like peeling off a layer of dirt from the screen, and if there is any fast movement, the cable signal pixelates like crazy. I also used to have DirecTV so could compare all three, their Mpeg-4 signal was pretty close to the OTA.

    Simply re-encoding isn't really the issue, its the compression
  13. atmuscarella

    atmuscarella Well-Known Member

    Oct 11, 2005
    Rochester NY
    From what I have read the locals can either be must carry for free or negotiate whatever deal they can/want. What has been unclear to me is what happens if the local and the cable/satellite company cannot come to an agreement, in that case can the cable/satellite company then bring in an out of market channel broadcasting the same network or not?
  14. MScottC

    MScottC Member

    Sep 11, 2004

    You call it greedy, but aren't the OTA broadcast stations entitled to similar compensation rates that other advertiser supported Non-OTA channels are getting? That is the crux of what the major OTA networks are asking for. For instance CBS averages less then a dollar per subscriber yet it has many more viewers then ESPN which gets over $4 per subscriber. As I understand it, CBS is asking for somewhere around $2 per subscriber from TW in this current negotiation The OTAs are just asking for their fair share of the fees charged to the cable companies customers.

    As for the reason for the swing from "must carry for free" to "we want payments;" over the years, the 3 broadcast networks have seen their share of the overall viewership pie go from 90% of the overall market to something far smaller. That isn't because the quality of their programming has diminished in all cases. It's because technology has allowed for far more viewing choices on our video screens, Those networks believe they have every right to cover their production costs, including ever escalating talent and rights frees, and still make a profit, as any other company providing programming to the cable systems.

    Note that I am an employee of CBS News. However my comments are strictly my own and are not necessarily the views of my employer or any of its affiliates.
  15. aaronwt

    aaronwt UHD Addict

    Jan 31, 2002
    I thought all the HBO channels are sent using MPEG4 now? So any provider using MPEG2 would need to transcode them.
  16. atmuscarella

    atmuscarella Well-Known Member

    Oct 11, 2005
    Rochester NY
    Please don't act like these every increasing fees come out of cable companies. They are always past on to the consumer and are part of the reason cable/satellite bills have increase so much.

    There is no reason for the majority of people to pay for OTA available channels but the system is setup to force it as you can not opt out of getting them via cable or satellite anymore. The whole thing is just a money grab and they have got the Gov to support it by not allow competition from out of market channels.
  17. MScottC

    MScottC Member

    Sep 11, 2004
    I assume you mean "passed." I agree that they are always passed on the to the consumer. But that has little to do with the networks desire to get their fair share of the consumer's dollars. If I had my choice, yes, I'd pay for the OTA as part of my cable bill, but abhor the fact that I have to pay for ESPN and all the other sports channels which I never view. So quite frankly I don't mind a larger chunk going to all the channels I watch, including my own network, which just by the quality of CBS and Showtime, represent a big chunck of my viewing.
  18. Dan203

    Dan203 Super Moderator Staff Member TCF Club

    Apr 17, 2000
    The difference is that CBS is given access to public airwaves in exchange for giving away their content for free. If they think the cable model is more attractive then they need to give that spectrum back to the government and convert to a cable only channel. What they're doing now is using government protections to double dip and get the benefits of both. :thumbsdown:

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