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HD-Lite: A Not So Dirty, Little Secret
April 04, 2008 | by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Cable and satellite providers are coming under fire for delivering subpar high definition television.
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Posted by grumpy  on  04/04  at  07:53 AM

This article misses the point.

HD-Lite does not refer to compression (or over-compression).  It refers to the practice (that is/was common with DirecTV HD Channels) of _dropping resolution_.  In DirecTV’s case I believe the signal they actually transmitted was something like 1440x1080i.  So they dropped resolution, compressed (or over compressed) the sgnal, and the set top box uncompressed and _stretched_ the signal to display 1920x1080i.  (In other words, it works/worked sort of like an anamorphic DVD).

The point is they _threw away_ 25% of the pixels before they even started with the MPEG2/4 compression process.

Posted by locke6854  on  04/04  at  08:16 AM

Grumpy— You beat me to it.  Some broadcast 1080i is actually 1280 x 1080i, believe it or not.  (in addition to 1440)

Heres something interesting— Dishnetwork appears to have better image quality than DirectTV (as seen by screenshot comparisons on AVSForum), and apparently uses a higher bandwidth per channel…

But Directv has more channels…  how?  compression.  Do you want more channels?  Or fewer, better looking channels?

Also interesting is that Dish network refuses to publish the actual resolution of their programming.

Posted by james  on  04/04  at  09:16 AM

I have time warner cable with the scientific atlanta hd dvr box.  We get 13 hd channels with the option of paying 5.99 per month for three more.  Most of our hd channels are alright, but it seems to be the locals that stand out to me as the worst.  I have also had cox with their motorola hd dvr and i felt the local hd channels looked very sub par.  Apparently its being over-compressed before it get to the cable companies.

Posted by CoupleOfPoints  on  04/04  at  09:18 AM

Good article.

I would like to see an article which provides a table comparing the quailty of different HD sources (i.e. Cable, Dish, OTA, etc.) with some consistent, baseline standard like Blu-ray (using the bitrate, compression, etc. used by Blu-ray).

As I understand, Blu-ray makes available what is likely the best HD content one would be able to watch on an HDTV today. So, using Blu-ray as a baseline, one could easily understand and compare the differing quality of HD content they have available to them today.

Posted by David Dever  on  04/04  at  09:23 AM

Why no mention of OTA broadcasts?

In the Chicago market, we have a plethora of decent HD programming for free–this allows the individual stations to fit their channels and subchannels onto the available 19.39 Mbps bitstream by allocating available bandwidth to the individual channels / subchannels and compressing once.

The quality level from over-the-air HD broadcasts beats cable and satellite by a long mile, especially with a decent HDTV tuner.

Posted by River  on  04/04  at  10:22 AM

How true. Comcast where I live near Seattle is crap. The signal loss in there broadcasst is terrible. Too many variations between channels, even HD. All this after I had them out for two and half weeks trying to track down a source of fault in their pipe stream. My whole house has the most current cable and connections. Comcast was finding so many errors in wiring and faulty panels blocks away that contributed to the signal loss. I hope Verizone makes it to my neighborhood sometime.

Posted by BSW  on  04/04  at  11:31 AM

I think we are all forgetting 1 thing here - no matter how “bad” an HD signal might be, it is still WAY BETTER than the old #@$%%^ SD signals that we have been subjected to for so long!  It still amazes me that the major sports operations are still not all in HD to this day! -That is FAR worse than a slightly degraded HD signal.

Posted by nathan  on  04/04  at  12:37 PM

Sure, there are lots of variables.  But in general there is a slow trickle to “more channels rather than more quality” among most service providers.

Posted by Steve S  on  04/04  at  12:46 PM

The most control users have is with DVD and Blu-Ray media that we control.  The rest is subject to the will of the providers.

Broadcast as a medium (local over the air) is fixed in maximum bandwidth for the channels/subchannels it uses.  I don’t see that they have any reason to limit their use of what they’ve been given.  And I don’t think under present regulations they give/sell any of it to others.

Satellites are similarly limited, though the transponders of the satellites, when owned by a provider, can be constantly managed to change bandwidth (give pay-per-view more bandwidth than local channels).  But once the signal leaves the satellite users of the stream don’t interfere with each other in receiving it and using it.  It’s then up to the quality of the equipment to take it to your eyes.

Cable is also fixed in capacity, though again can be managed as to quantity versus quality of transmission (add more channels and someone’s going to pay once total bandwidth use of the cable has hit 100%).  And it’s a shared medium, so many things can happen on its way to your receiver.

What I’ve found so far in the S.F. Bay area is that Over the Air digital provides the highest quality of viewing experience.  I cannot say this is a function of higher bandwidth, since I don’t have the tools for comparison.  It may be the nature of a) the broadcast to ATSC tuner b)to the TV.  That, versus the DirecTV satellite to the HR-21 box and it’s tuning.  And cable is a bit poorer, and here, again, it could also involve the fact that cable is a shared medium, with internet traffic moving along many of the same wires.  This has the potential to impact data flow rates, with video having the most to “lose”.

Net: just know that this is a potentially long chain from source to destination, fraught with many potential bumps in the transmission road.

Posted by BH  on  04/04  at  12:59 PM

A couple thoughts:

1) The first HD-Lite complaints were directed at DirecTV for “down-ressing” or downsampling of their HD content, or taking 1920 x 1080 and dropping it to 1440 or 1280 (I think it was 1440) x 1080, which resulted in a degraded HD image. As I understand it, this practice was halted by that DBS company with upgrades. HOWEVER, altering of HD content still occurs, so the broader definition of HD-lite is used to include any alteration of the content that reduces the image to something less than “full HD.” Does this make sense grumpy? 720p and 1080i are both considered “HD.” So too can downsampling, bit rate shaping, and overcompression be considered “HD-lite.” That’s the thinking, at least.

2) When one speaks to service providers about their HD offerings, they talk only of the number of HD channels they have, and how many more they plan to launch in 2008. No one talks about the QUALITY of their HD. Why? Because it would SEEM that consumers are throwing their subscription dollars at the provider with the most, not the best. The consumer will get quality HD when they use what power they have to demand it: their money. THAT is the real point…

Posted by Dan  on  04/04  at  02:10 PM

It’s real simple Get Blu-ray and enjoy.

Posted by Soundzilla  on  04/04  at  02:52 PM

I know my DirecTV looks like garbage on most channels, and HD ones don’t look near as good as Blu-ray. The best image I get is from over-the-air ATSC broadcasts like American Idol using an antenna.

Another problem is that DirecTV (I don’t know about other providers), slices the edges off of movies filmed with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As a result, I often have to choose between an HD-Lite broadcast that’s formated down to 16 x 9, or watching an up-converted DVD that isn’t as colorful or sharp as the HD-lite signal.

No matter what, I’m swimming in HD hardware and bills for premium broadcasts and the best i can get out of my setup is on Bu-ray.

Posted by -E-  on  04/04  at  04:43 PM

TBSHD is by far the worst HD channel that Comcast provides.  May be the channel or may be Comcast, either way it’s horrible.  Most of Comcast channels are not what I was expecting.  I wasn’t expecting it to be my blu-ray player quality, but I was expecting more that what it is.

Posted by locke6854  on  04/04  at  09:01 PM


sometimes they dont cut a 2.35:1 ratio movie to 16:9…  many times, for broadcasts, they’ll show a movie in open matte, which will show MORE than what’s intended, instead of less.

it still ruins the composition of the scene, but you won’t ‘lose’ anything.

for an example of what this would mean—

see in this case, you’re not cutting off the sides, but rather “revealing” the tops and bottoms…  but its still not what the director intended.

Posted by Sandra Franker  on  04/05  at  11:13 AM

I am really unsure what move to make next. Should I bother subscribing for Hi Def sat. or wait it out? Why all the hype? Can I REALLY tell the difference and WILL it make the program I watch THAT much more pleasurable? There seems to be more variables than I can understand. Please help B.H.

Posted by Frustrated Consumer  on  04/06  at  10:46 PM

What the heck are you talking about?  DirecTV dropped HD-Lite last fall with the move to MPEG4. Not as good as OTA (nothing is) but darn close.

And they don’t have a dedicated movie channel of their own, so they can’t ‘chop’ movies at their whim.

Me thinks you doth protest too much…

“Another problem is that DirecTV (I don’t know about other providers), slices the edges off of movies filmed with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.”

Posted by W sexsmith  on  04/07  at  09:14 AM

I don’t buy that line ” subscribers want more channels” crap, it’s more like the providers push it onto us whether we want it or not and in the end it uses up more bandwidth. Give us a break already, there are so many useless channels out there now I don’t think we need more, just how many channels does one need. Get rid of the crappy channels and lets use the extra BW for the real HD programs.

Posted by Soundzilla  on  04/07  at  09:16 AM

I should’ve been more clear. I think it was TNTHD, HDNET, or Universal HD that broadcast movies like Ghandi in 16x9 when they are shot in 2.35:1. Of course DirecTV doesn’t have their own movie channel other than PPV, which I never use.

My point was that having to choose between a 2.35 movie DVD or a 1.78 HD version on satellite isn’t fun. Sorry if you think that’s too much to complain about but I find it annoying.

Posted by Dave C  on  04/07  at  10:50 AM

Just wondering if the analog shut off will effect this. OTA will be better but I guess it wont effect sat or cable??

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