HD Cable vs HD Satellite, what is better picture quality? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 09-14-2007, 08:08 AM - Thread Starter
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I posted this question in another forum but think this may be the correct forum for this question.

have to decide between cable or satellite and assuming both have the same or close to the same HD channle lineup, which source would give me a better HD picture in general?
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post #2 of 20 Old 09-14-2007, 09:16 AM
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There is really no technical reason one should be better than another. In actuality, available bandwidth is the key to a quality picture. The compression algorithms (ie MPEG2 or MPEG4) also make a difference. Both of the satellite providers, Dish and DirecTV are moving toward MPEG4 and that has a positive impact on PQ. In my experience, the comparison standard should be how close a provider comes to the PQ available on Blu-ray or HD-DVD.

So far, particularly on a large screen, HD via cable or satellite is a very distant runner up in PQ (as well as audio) to HD disks.

One thing is certain: what is true today will not be true tomorrow. One problem you have with satellite providers is that you must sign a contract with them--at least a year--to get service. But they tend to be less expensive over the long term compared with most cable providers.

You didn't mention FIOS (fiber optic from Verizon). Right now, I think they are king of the hill compared with standard digital cable and satellite. But the availability is quite low--at least for now.

I think you will be able to make a better comparison once DirecTV's new bird, DirecTV 10, and Echostar's new satellite, about to be launched, are operational. These new satellites will make much more bandwidth available both for new HD content, and for improved bitrates as well. I do think that in the long run, either satellite provider will offer more consistent and better PQ than the majority of cable providers.

So you really have to ask your question with more specificity: Which cable provider, and which satellite provider, and which market are you located in. And whatever conclusions are drawn, realize that technology is moving rapidly, and what is true today will not be true tomorrow--literally.

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post #3 of 20 Old 09-15-2007, 11:56 AM
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The cable cos. that I am familiar with - Cox, and Comcast transmit a full resolution 1920x1080i signal. The satellite providers normally transmit HD-Lite 1280x1080i or 1440x1080i.
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post #4 of 20 Old 09-15-2007, 07:25 PM
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There really isn't a definite yes or no. Both satellite and cable companies get their material from the same source, it's what happens from that point to when it gets to you is the million dollar question. It all depends on your local Cable co. Satellite must compress to use their limited bandwidth.

My cable company here in northern va (Cox) told me they are not compressing HD material right now because they don't want to reduce picture quality. Sometime soon I bet they will as they are trying hard to fend off Verizion FIOS in the area by continually raising cable internet speed and adding more programming. Some people are fine with the quality of satellite in HD. I've seen in on D* a few times and have no big complaints. No complaints about my HD cable picture quality either. I'd say go with whatever option suits you best (price, equipment, channels).

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post #5 of 20 Old 09-15-2007, 08:55 PM
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I just saw D* today in microcenter displaying espn hd and it was a disgrace. No complaints about comcast PQ. Thank god I dont have D*.
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post #6 of 20 Old 09-16-2007, 06:21 AM
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It used to be that satellite was at a severe bandwidth disadvantage compared to a modern rebuilt cable system. This was because of the attempt to carry local channels and the requirement to carry all of the must carry stations in areas carrying locals.

When the cable companies carry locals (always) they only have to carry them for the one local area. But when the satellites carry locals they need the bandwidth to carry all of them for the whole country. That is a huge burden.

But I haven't kept up with this and I'm not sure how much this has now been alleviated by newer spot beam satellite broadcasting.

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post #7 of 20 Old 09-16-2007, 09:24 AM
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Provider....PQ......Price
Cable...............
Sat.................

Pick your poison.
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post #8 of 20 Old 09-16-2007, 09:56 AM
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YMMV. My cable company compresses the snot out of some channels (HDNets, UniversalHD and ESPN-2) while leaving the locals and DiscoveryHD looking pretty. I have both Cable and DirecTV. Some channels are better on D*, some are better on Brighthouse.

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post #9 of 20 Old 09-17-2007, 04:59 AM
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Can bitrate be a indicator of quality?
With analog, if the station/service/channel included a multiburst signal in their VITS, with the proper WFM you could measure it. Now with digital, is there a equilevent available test signal within the datastream?

Abundant OTA television is what makes this country different from all others. Lets keep it this way.
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post #10 of 20 Old 09-17-2007, 07:27 AM
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I have had D* for 7 years and loved it. However, I recently got FIOS from Verizon.

Standard Def PQ is night and day between the two...FIOS is WAY better in that aspect. D* over compresses their SD channels to the point that there were very many noticeable artifacts. However, with the advent of the D*10 sat launch, they may have freed up some bandwidth in the meantime. Also, D* is supposed to have at least 50 HD channels by years end.....i don't how many of those are channels you watch or if they are mainly "pay" channels.

If you have FIOS in your area I would seriously consider it.If not, D* is a good choice.

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post #11 of 20 Old 04-24-2008, 05:13 PM
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I've been doing some image quality comparison tests between my local cable provider here in Holland, and a Skandinavian satellite provider which i receive by dish.

Both providers run the same channel, Discovery-HD, in about the same bandwidth (~14Mbit/s h.264/MPEG4), so that's a nice one to compare.

Satellite wins. The image is a little bit more sharp. It looks more "real".

A problem is that i can't blame the cable receiver, because i can't use another one from a different brand to try out. Only that specific receiver is usable on our cable network.

Any comments?
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post #12 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 05:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by videobruce View Post

Can bitrate be a indicator of quality?
With analog, if the station/service/channel included a multiburst signal in their VITS, with the proper WFM you could measure it. Now with digital, is there a equilevent available test signal within the datastream?

No - and sadly all it would tell you is how good the provider was at distributing a test signal. Unlike analogue broadcasts - which are essentially uncompressed (ignoring interlace and chroma bandwith) the performance of a circuit with real pictures and test signals are essentially the same - which is why in the analogue world we have VITS, and other test signals, to measure phase errors, multi-path, frequency response etc.

However with compressed digital services - you need a whole different kind of test signal (as many of the analogue test signals are looking for errors that shouldn't exist in digital signals - and not for the errrors that can) - and AFAIK these aren't really workable for broadcast alongside/within the broadcast streams as the only way they can give useful compression (rather than data integrity) feedback is if they replace the video signal being carried full-frame.
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post #13 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 05:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bengbeng View Post

I've been doing some image quality comparison tests between my local cable provider here in Holland, and a Skandinavian satellite provider which i receive by dish.

Both providers run the same channel, Discovery-HD, in about the same bandwidth (~14Mbit/s h.264/MPEG4), so that's a nice one to compare.

Satellite wins. The image is a little bit more sharp. It looks more "real".

A problem is that i can't blame the cable receiver, because i can't use another one from a different brand to try out. Only that specific receiver is usable on our cable network.

Any comments?

Are both receivers connected via digital HDMI connections?

If either or both are analogue then there is also a possiblity that the difference is as much in the quality of the receiver video handling as the broadcast.

However - it is just (or more) plausible that the satellite version is simply better quality!
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post #14 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 06:30 AM
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sneals2000; To word it another way, if there was a 'digital' version of the VITS, it wouldn't tell you anything as compression rates could/would be different. Does that make sense?

Abundant OTA television is what makes this country different from all others. Lets keep it this way.
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post #15 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 06:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bengbeng View Post

I've been doing some image quality comparison tests between my local cable provider here in Holland, and a Skandinavian satellite provider which i receive by dish.

Both providers run the same channel, Discovery-HD, in about the same bandwidth (~14Mbit/s h.264/MPEG4), so that's a nice one to compare.

Satellite wins. The image is a little bit more sharp. It looks more "real".

A problem is that i can't blame the cable receiver, because i can't use another one from a different brand to try out. Only that specific receiver is usable on our cable network.

Any comments?

If both the cable and DBS sources, or outside hardware firms, can provide a means of recording the MPEG4 data (DVRs) you could compare the average bit rates for the same show and see if one source has a slight edge over the other bit-rate-wise. There's a current thread in the HD programming forum (AVSer bfdtv) comparing two cable sources here, all-fiber FIOS and hybrid Comcast (MPEG2). But here believe there's some tech reason why MPEG4 recordings can't be analyzed like this and the same may apply there.

But spectrum analysis comparing the luma output of STBs, if available, looking at various higher-resolution scenes, might reveal quantitatively the PQ differences you see. Here's an analysis by AVSer dr1394 of a crowd scene (next post) using a free/low-cost software program. Various firms, including one in Denmark, make plug-in PC cards (analog luma or MPEG readings) for spectrum analysis, too. -- John
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post #16 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 04:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

Are both receivers connected via digital HDMI connections?

Yes

Quote:


it is just (or more) plausible that the satellite version is simply better quality!

Ironicly the sat receiver is one of the cheapest MPEG4 receivers available here in Europe. (Pace DS810XE)

The cable receiver is from Philips (MPEG4 HDTV DVR).
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post #17 of 20 Old 04-25-2008, 05:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mason View Post

If both the cable and DBS sources, or outside hardware firms, can provide a means of recording the MPEG4 data (DVRs) you could compare the average bit rates for the same show and see if one source has a slight edge over the other bit-rate-wise. There's a current thread in the HD programming forum (AVSer bfdtv) comparing two cable sources here, all-fiber FIOS and hybrid Comcast (MPEG2). But here believe there's some tech reason why MPEG4 recordings can't be analyzed like this and the same may apply there.

But spectrum analysis comparing the luma output of STBs, if available, looking at various higher-resolution scenes, might reveal quantitatively the PQ differences you see. Here's an analysis by AVSer dr1394 of a crowd scene (next post) using a free/low-cost software program. Various firms, including one in Denmark, make plug-in PC cards (analog luma or MPEG readings) for spectrum analysis, too. -- John

Both streams do have fixed bitrates, they're constantly ~14,7 Mbit/s. The cable stream is even sligtly higher (15,2 Mbit/s fixed).

Here the sat stream;

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post #18 of 20 Old 04-26-2008, 06:02 AM
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Unless there's a common centralized source feeding MPEG4 Discovery to both the DBS and cable headends, perhaps it's the equipment, or settings, being used to encode Discovery's programming. In the U.S. there are wide variations from cable head ends for AVSers measuring the effective horizontal resolution from HDNet's (HD.net) Saturday 6:30 am ET test pattern . Many cable users can only measure ~1300 lines maximum effective horiz. res., while some can see ~1920X1080. Here, cable vs. DBS comparisons of HDNet's pattern must factor in whether the DBS source is downrezzing the signal--not being done AFAIK with MPEG-4 channels here, (or with cable sources reducing program formats, but with rate shaping and other tinkering to shrink effective resolution.) -- John
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post #19 of 20 Old 04-26-2008, 12:01 PM
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I have a 1024x768 Pioneer Kuro plasma, so shrinking the res done by the provider shouldn't be an issue for me.

Could it be that the Pace sat receiver is simply be able to draw a sharper/cleaner picture than the Philips cable box? Is it common that one brand settopbox is significantly sharper than the other with the same source material?
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post #20 of 20 Old 04-27-2008, 05:34 AM
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^^^Yes, it seems quite possible since the downconversion (scaling) algorithms easily might differ between STBs. (Depends on your hookup and menu settings for downconversion, too.) Tricky judgments here since you're seeing sharpness after Discovery's/etc. downscaling, not comparing the program's inherent effective resolution. Sharpness and resolution differ, as sublinks for discussions by Cowan and Schubin outline in this post . -- John
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