Comcast swaps HD quality for quantity

To carve out room for more HD channels, Comcast has now made the decision to sacrifice on the side of quality. But will customers, already hesistant to pay extra for HD content packages, accept sub-standard HD?

As described in detail in a blog on the AV Forum's Web site, Comcast recently started to recompress and degrade HD video on some of its systems, with the process going into affect in most Comcast areas by early April.

Satellite-enabled competitors DirecTV and Dish Network have been following a similar procedure, but on their MPEG-2 channels.

More specifically, Comcast is now squeezing three channels instead of two into its 38.8 Mbps QAM.

To give people a better idea of the quality impact of Comcast's video recompression, an AV Forum blogger named "bfdtv" recently reported numeric bitrates obtained on Comcast vs. Verizon's FiOS, also showing the resulting video frames side-by-side for visual comparison.

All of the bitrates turned up lower for Comcast, with deficiencies ranging from 0.7 percent for Comcast's supposed HD delivery of HBO, to 38.5 percent for Discovery Theater.

If Comcast is offering 1080i video to subscribers, but the video is compressed so much that artifacts are produced, this seems to raise the question of whether customers are really getting HD at all.

Meanwhile, as recently reported in BetaNews, 41 percent of TV owners in the US now possess a high definition television, yet only 56 percent of those owners subscribe to an HD programming package, according to a survey by ABI Research.

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