Advertisements Hi, guys. I apologize for posing this non-TIVO related question, but this is something that has REALLY been pissing me off (and confusing me) lately. Its obvious from reading some of the posts on this forum that you guys seem to know a lot about general issues of TV broadcasts and cable companies, etcso I thought it might be worth a shot posting this question here. Also, Ive seen the occasional thread here discussing cable TV in general, so I dont think Im breaking any major protocol here. Basically, Im pretty distraught (pissed, frustrated, pick your adjective) by just how bad so many of my TV channels look. (We have standard basic cable. Not digital cable. Standard TVs. No hi-def anything. We have Cox Cable. We live in Rhode Island.) I KNOW that cable TV didnt used to look this way. Weve had cable for years (as have most people) and I cant remember ever consistently seeing problems like I have recently. I remember I used to (as recent as, say, 6 years ago) be able to turn to any channel, whether it was PBS, or CBS, or A&E or HBO (we had premium cable for a time) and have absolutely no problems. Everything always looked normal. (Assuming the cable was working, which it usually was.) Heck, the idea that I should even be on the look out for problems wouldnt have even occurred to me back thenthats how consistent things were. The only problems I would have with a program back then were if the actual content of the program or execution of the subject matter was poor. (Or if the cable was out completely, but thats a different issue than what Im complaining about today.) Ah, what innocent times those were. Nowadays, often the actual look of whats on screen is so off, in one way or another, it hardly matters what the program is. It could be the best movie ever made, and its still going to suck with the way it looks on say, the USA network. I guess you dont notice consistency and reliability until its gone. I dont think every channel suddenly turned crappy all at once. I suspect that this has been a gradual process, steadily growing worse over recent years, but its only within the past several months that Ive been consciously aware of it. I think its probably been like that classic movie Ten Little Indians, where one-by-one, each individual channel has started to look crappy, and I havent noticed until recently, when things reached critical mass. As of this typing, there are probably more channels than not that have some kind of visual problem or another. I also dont believe that its a problem with my particular TV or the coaxial cables. (Doing some channel surfing with the TV in the other room backs this up.) I cant prove it, but I honestly dont believe these problems are due to anything on my end. Just to give you a general idea, here is a partial list of some of the stations Ive noticed problems with. As you see, the problem symptoms arent 100% identical from channel to channel. I will list a couple problem-free stations too, just to give credence to the idea that this isnt a problem on my end. --NBC 10: One of the few stations that seems to come in okay. And thats a shame, since I pretty much hate their entire trashy lineup, including their news broadcasts. --PBS: We have access to three PBS channels. But two of them are so bad-looking that its almost comical. WGBH Channel 2 is so dark and fuzzy looking that I dont even bother any more to see whats on it. I havent noticed much macro-blocking per se but the extreme fuzziness and darkness renders any such small blessings irrelevant. (It might be relevant to note that I don't believe there were any problems such as these, say, 10 years ago.) WGBX 44 is nearly as bad. --Only PBS 36 (WSBE) actually looks decent. This is the only PBS station on which a program is actually enjoyable to watch. --FOOD NETWORK: Has some broadcast issues. Admittedly its not always easy to tell, since the networks executives have curiously come to the decision that all new Food TV programs must be shot with the ugliest cinematography possibleapparently using first-generation webcams from the mid 90s as their primary recording equipment. --But aside from thatthey often show repeat programs from a couple years ago that I KNOW were shot normally, and yet there is always a general washed out look to the shows, vaguely fuzzy, with frequent macro-blocking. (I believe thats the term.) Whenever someone moves their head quick, or tosses a sauté, or opening credit graphics come up, theres that friggin macro-blocking. This isnt a rare thing. Any given minute of Iron Chef America will have several instances of this. I KNOW these programs didnt look this way a few years ago when they originally aired. I wouldve noticed it. --TBS: One of the few channels that consistently looks normal. --ABC: I dont watch it much, but from what Ive seen, it doesnt have any major problems. --CBS: Shockingly, looks pretty bad. TONS of macro-blocking. I first noticed it a few weeks ago when I was channel surfing and caught some football. And then a few nights ago I wanted to see Lettermans return. I was shocked. To say that it looked barely better than a You Tube video would only be a slight exaggeration. Letterman came out on stage to much fanfare and a lot of ladies in spangled costumes (if memory serves). TONS of macro-blocking, tons of extra noise. You might ask, how did things look once Letterman was alone on stage? Surprisingly, things were still pretty bad. He had a new beard, which perhaps added to the broadcasts inability to keep up, but basically whenever he moved his head during the monologue there was macro-blocking and noise. --NESN: I watched the New England Sports Network all of last year during the regular baseball season. I never consciously registered that there was a problem. (And there might not have been at the time.) However, I just tuned in randomly a couple weeks ago and was chagrinned to note that things looked generally washed out and fuzzy looking. (Sportsdesk with Hazel Mae and Globe 10.0 in particular.) Now granted, maybe NESN has just recently decided to start recording their shows with some kind of inferior digital cameras, which would confuse the issue. --(And thats not totally implausible. I noticed that towards the end of the 2007 baseball season, all of a sudden all of the [pre-taped] on-field reports from Tina Cervasio during the pregame show were OBVIOUSLY being shot with inferior digital camerassince everything looked fuzzy and washed out during those segments. [That was something new. Until then, all such on-field reports were indistinguishable from the rest of the live broadcast.] And I know it was the cameras they were using for those outdoor reports that was the cause of this, and not the broadcast, because things would look fine for the rest of the in-studio preshow with Tom Cuaran.) --However, the theory that NESN now looks bad simply because theyre shooting their shows with bad digital cameras doesnt explain why even the non-NESN-produced commercials during the breaks also look fuzzy and washed out. --I suspect that sometime after the baseball season ended (after I stopped watching consistently), the NESN channel went down like one of the proverbial Ten Little Indians. --USA: While not as atrocious as some of the other stations, it just doesnt look right. While Ive never seen flat-out huge macro-blocking, like with CBS, the picture is frequently distant looking with a general sense of pixelization. Cold Mountain was on a few weeks ago, and the best words I can use to describe the problem would be craggy and noisy. --And just the other night, they were showing early episodes of Monk. I know you can expect some age with any older shows, but honestly, these shows arent THAT old! And yet, everything looked washed out and slightly ghosty. (The hint of trailing afterimages following every head movement.) I KNOW these episodes didnt look that way when they aired. I also caught part of a more recent episode (where Monk went to work in a regular office environment, undercover, and made some friends) and that looked kind of ****** toofuzzy, etc. --As I type this right now, L&O SVU is on, and definitely everything looks ghosty, especially noticeable with any onscreen movement. Even when people are just sitting and talking and moving their heads, I'm seeing hints of ghost trails. Im looking at the TV now and its VERY blatant. --TNT Channel 27: Looks pretty mediocre. Whether its a movie thats playing, or an episode of Law and Order, it just doesnt look right. (Movies almost always look flat-out terrible.) They were showing Cast Away a couple weeks ago. Its hard to describe exactly what was wrong, but there was a quality of artifacting to it that resulted in the movie, every once in a while, almost looking like videotape. The Two Towers was also on recently, and it looked distant and off and pixelized. --The Law and Order marathon last week also looked washed out and slightly fuzzy. There were also constant hints of what I call ghosting. By that I mean, every movement of Sam Waterstons head produced an almost palpable after-image trail (except more subtle than that). Not so bad as to be overt, but bad enough that I noticed it (driving me crazy), and bad enough so that it resulted in the entire show looking wrong. --ABC FAMILY: Okay, I never watch this. However, they were showing the first three Harry Potter movies a few weeks ago, and I tuned in. Overall, they just looked off and wrong. Like the images werent entirely there. I know such vagaries would never hold up in court. --However this would: The overall off look would frequently culminate to something unmistakably overt whenever there was a fast-moving and small object on screen. In Prisoner of Azkaban this happened at least twice. In one shot, a swarm of bats appear on screen at a great distance, then gradually get closer to the viewer. In another shot, Harry breaks Sirius Black from his tower prison and in one unbroken shot, they fly together away from the tower toward the viewer. --In both cases, when the bats were far away, and before Harry/Black got too close to the viewer, the same bizarre phenomenon happened. It wasnt macro-blocking but something more dramatic. Basically the entire movie momentarily turned into a primitive stop-motion performance. Like early California raisins. Or like one of those lenticular pictures you see. Like the movie is being broadcast at 2 frames per second. --Now, I know it probably isnt worth complaining about a couple instances in a movie broadcast. However, as I said, that was only the most overt instance of something wrong. The whole broadcast was off even before those scenes. Through Google, Ive found numerous pages talking about the idea of compression in relation how a cable company gets its programming to its customers. However, all those sites seem to mention the term (compression) in a positive waysort of like its a given that all channels are treated this wayand that thats a wonderful thing because humans are incapable of seeing any difference in the compressed outcome. (Thats whats implied, anyway.) Also, I got the impression that compression refers to digital cable customers, and we have standard cable. Could compression be the culprit in my complaints? Is compression a new thing in recent years, or have cable companies been doing it all along? I know that macro-blocking is associated with compression, but what about some of my other complaints, like the general fuzzy, ghosty, trailing-effects and distant qualities I often see? (I realize that my alternate complaints of things being dark and fuzzy on one station, and things being washed out and fuzzy on another station seem to contradict each other.) I guess if I had to sum up this entire post in the form of one question, it would be: WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE? Personally, I can think of 3 possible explanations: 1) The problem is me. And by that I mean, all these things Im complaining aboutfuzziness and bleached-out ghostly qualities and pixelization . Well, perhaps everyone else considers these to be good thingshallmarks of the superior look of modern standards. And Im some kind of antiquated fuddy duddy that I dont like the look of those things. 2) The individual stations/networks themselves, for whatever insane reason, are broadcasting a (REALLY) crappy product. And Cox cable is merely bringing that inferior product to me. 3) The fault lies with Cox cable. Theyre doing something to the broadcast of individual stations, resulting in a crappy look, the exact symptoms of which, vary from channel to channel. Id be very appreciative if anyone here in the know could give their thoughts on this matter. (Your responses dont have to be novel-length like this post is.) Would I be justified in complaining to my Cox cable service, or is this merely the way things are now and Im just out of step with the times?