hdtv

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So our Verizon FiOS home bill has been about $160/month. We were looking to chop that down a bit when I called Verizon this morning.

To put it as simply as possible, it’s complicated.

What I care about most is keeping the 20/20Mbps down/up Internet service. That’s $69.99/mo.

What I don’t care about is POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. So I canceled that. We use cell phones, and we’ll find another way to fax, as rarely as we do that.

That leaves TV.

What we still call TV isn’t what it used to be: channels on a dial. They are digital program sources that are organized by “channels”, but that’s a legacy convenience. A few are available over the air, as DTV signals. Those are…

  • WGBH-DT (still called Channel 2, actually on Channel 19). It also has an SD (standard definition) version. These are called 2-1 and 2-2, or WGBG-DT1 and WGBH-DT2. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WBZ-DT (still called Channel 4, actually on Channel 30). Affiliated with CBS.
  • WCVB-DT (Still called Channel 5, actually on Channel 20). Affliiated with ABC.
  • WHDH-HD (still called Channel 7, actually on Channel 40). Also called 7-1, It has a second channel on 7-2 called This TV. It’s SD. Affiliated with NBC.
  • WFXT-DT (still called 25, actually on Channel 31). Affiliated with Fox.
  • WSBK-DT (still called 38, actually on Channel 39). Independent. Owned by CBS.
  • WGBX-DT (still called 44, actually on Channel 43). Four SD channels, labeled 44-1 through 44-2. Called WGBX, World, Create and Kids. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WYDN-DT (still called 48, actually on Channel 47) with a directional signal). The picture is SD. Affiliated with Daystar. Evangelical Christian.
  • WLVI-DT (still called 56, actually on Channel 42 with a directional signal). Affiliated with CW.
  • WMFP-DT (still called 62, actually on Channel 18 with a directional signal). Labeled 61-1 and 62-2. The second is currently dark. Affiliated with Gems TV. Home shopping.
  • WBPX (still called 68, actually on Channel 32, with a directional signal). It’s four channels in one, all SD: WBPX Digital Television, Qubo, Eye on Life and Worship. Identified on the tuner as 68-1, 2, 3 and 4. Affiliated with ION Television.

For what it’s worth, I get all those on my laptop with a little adapter. Meaning that I don’t need cable for them. They’re free. They cost $0.00.

Okay, so Verizon offers two channel lineups in our region: Essentials for $47.99/mo. and Extreme HD for… I can’t find it now. $57.99/mo, I think. Essentials has the about same minimun channel line-up I get for free over the air. Extreme HD has what you want if you watch in HD: all the main cable and sports non-premium channels. Add DVR rental (for which one has no choice) for $12.99 and I’m at $140 or so, if I want the Extreme HD.

TV now is an HD deal. If you want TV, you want HD, because that’s the new screen you’ve got, even if you’re watching on a laptop.

The problem is, HDTV costs you. Unless you want the minimal legacy lineup of local over the air channels.

Anyway, here’s what I want: a la carte. Across the board. I’m glad to do Pay Per View for everything.

And right now I’m thinking hard about cancelling the Extreme HD I just ordered. We like the sports and the movies, but we can go to a bar for the former and get the rest from Netflix or something.

Meanwhile, kudos to Verizon for providing fiber, and the 20/20 connection. Here’s another message: I’d gladly pay more for even more speed. Especially upstream.

[Later...] Now I’m looking at the Verizon Massachusetts channel lineup and it seems like the only thing extra I get with Extreme HD is some sports channels. Is that right? Sports-wise, all I care about are NESN, ESPN, TNT and other Usual Suspects.

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Barack Obama wants to wait on the DTV shift currently scheduled for 17 February. On the grounds that it’ll be a mess, this is a good idea. But nothing can make it a better idea. It’s not that the train has left the station. It’s that the new OTA (over the air) Oz is mostly built-out and it’s going to fail. Not totally, but in enough ways to bring huge piles of opprobrium down on the FCC, which has been rationalizing this thing for years.

I explain why in What happens when TV’s mainframe era ends next February?. Most VHF stations moving to UHF will have sharply reduced coverage. The converter shortage is just a red herring. The real problem is signals that won’t be there.

Most cable customers won’t be affected. But even cable offerings are based on over-the-air coverage assumptions. Those may stay the same, but the facts of coverage will not. In most cases coverage will shrink.

FCC maps (more here and here) paint an optimistic picture. But they are based on assumptions that are also overly optimistic, to say the least. Wilimington, NC was chosen as a demonstration market. Bad idea. One of the biggest stations there, WECT, suffers huge losses of coverage.

Anyway, it’s gonna be FUBAR in any case.

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There’s a good chance that the best picture you can put on your HD screen doesn’t come from your cable or satellite TV company, but from your new HD camcorder. As time and markets march on, that chance will only get larger. That’s because the there is a trade-off between the number of channels carried and the quality of each channel. That quality compression shows up as “artifacts” in the picture itself. Gradations of shading and color, such as in a blue or gray sky, turn to a mosaic of blocks. (In this shot, I show how grass on a football field has pimples.) Carriers compete more by the number of channels they carry than by the quality of each channel.(There are exceptions to this, but on the whole that’s what we’ve got.) Meanwhile your camcorder quality only goes up.

And as camcorder quality goes up, more of us will be producing rather than consuming our video. More importantly, we will be co-producing that video with other people. We will be producers as well as consumers. This is already the case, but the results that appear on YouTube are purposely compressed to a low quality compared to HDTV. In time the demand for better will prevail. When that happens we’ll need upstream as well as downstream capacity.

So here’s a piece in Broadband Reports that shows how carriers can be out of touch with the future, even as they increase the capacities of their offerings. An excerpt:

In upgraded markets, Comcast is not only upgrading existing speed tiers ($42.95 “Performance” 6Mbps/1Mbps and $52.95 “Performance Plus” 8Mbps/2Mbps tiers became 12Mbps/2Mbps and 16Mbps/2Mbps), but is adding two new tiers to the mix ($62.95 “Ultra” 22Mbps/5Mbps and the aforementioned $139.95 “Extreme 50″ 50Mbps/10Mbps).

One recurring theme we’ve seen in our forums is that the new speeds have many users downgrading. In both forum threads and polls, many customers on Comcast’s 16Mbps/2Mbps tier say they’re downgrading to their 12Mbps/2Mbps tier — apparently because they don’t think an additional 4Mbps downstream is worth $10. Customers used to be willing to pay the additional $10 for double the upstream speed, but there’s no longer an upstream difference between the tiers.

That last line is the kicker. Comcast apparently still thinks that downstream is all that really matters. It isn’t. For anybody producing a lot of photography or video, upstream not only matters more, but supports activities where the user can see the difference.

In fact there isn’t a lot of perceived difference between 12Mbps and 16Mbps on the downstream side. Either is fast enough for a YouTube video. But on the upstream side, you can see the difference. In my case, that difference appears in the progress bars for pictures I upload to Flickr.

A few months ago I upgraded my Verizon FiOS service from 20/5Mbps to 20/20Mbps. The difference was obvious as soon as it went in. The difference will be a lot more obvious to a lot more people once those people start sharing, mashing up and co-producing higher-definition videos.

Just watch.

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