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Just to throw in my two cents, I watched four games yesterday. Two on FOX, one on CBS, one on NBC. NBC's looked like crap. No question. Fox had the best image quality (tho only 720, of course). CBS looked good in 1080 but was noticeably washed out. NBC just looked like crap. Lots of compression artifacts.

BTW, a high bitrate is not an absolute indication of high quality. It just means the potential is there. Crap in = crap out.
 

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FYI, NBC is the WORST example of HD. Ever. Just horrible. Ghastly. If you want to compare cable vs. OTA networks, try CBS for 1080 or FOX for 720.

As for HBO and other premium channels, the quality is often limited by the source material. The endocing on Blood Diamond, for example, looks as bad as live football on NBC any time there's action on the screen. If the studio does a poor job of encoding the movie, it doesn't matter how much bandwidth HBO or the carriers provide. Crap in = crap out. That makes HBO et al a less than ideal choice for judging the quality of your HD signal. It's difficult to determine where the quality was lost. It could be perfect right up to the cable company or it could be bad at the source. The end result looks the same.

With the networks, at least you know that the network had significant input regarding the quality of the source material. Especially with live sporting events where they control everything starting at the camera, ending with the local affiliate.
 
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