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This was found in today's paper...just passing it along:


Multimedia Answers: All HDTV not equal among cable providers


Thursday, September 11, 2003


By Don Lindich


Q: I am hearing that a DirecTV HDTV signal is far superior to a HDTV signal from my cable company. Is this true? My cable company is now offering HDTV through its digital service but I understand that this is sometimes a very soft signal. Garbage in and garbage out really has never reached such levels because I know that a bad signal on a great HDTV is only magnified like never before. Can you help? What do you know about this?



-- Mike Freer, Columbus, Ohio


A: The quality of the HDTV signal transmitted over cable systems is wholly dependent on the particular cable company. The quality of the signal will vary depending on the capacity of its system and its philosophy when it comes to image quality and signal transmission. Cable companies have capacity limitations over their cable systems, and an HDTV signal transmitted at full quality takes up a lot of available space. There have been reports that some cable companies offering "HDTV" service are not transmitting HDTV channels at full quality in order to conserve this space for additional pay-per-view offerings, video-on-demand and other similar channels and services.


Digital television signals are composed of millions of digital bits transmitted every second. The more bits, the better the picture. To be considered true HDTV, the signal must be at least 19.4 million bits per second. I recently spoke with a technician installing new capabilities for one of the country's largest cable providers. I asked him what bit rate it was using for HDTV, and he told me it was 10 million bits per second. While such a picture may look good compared with a regular digital channel, it is still well below what a full-quality HDTV signal should be.


A few months ago I received a question similar to yours regarding HDTV via cable. I contacted three cable companies and asked the bit rate being used for their "HDTV." All three said they would get back to me. None of them ever did.


In terms of personal experience, I recently visited a friend who is getting HDTV via cable. She has a Mitsubishi HDTV similar to the one I own. The PBS HDTV demo channel did not have nearly the clarity, vibrancy or visual impact I experience with my Mitsubishi HDTV receiving the same channel via an antenna. While she thought her picture was very good, I imagine she will be disappointed with it when she sees the same channel on my television.


Again, cable companies differ. If image quality is of prime concern to you, I would recommend you stick with HDTV via satellite or via an antenna over-the-air as it is a safe bet. If you would like to give HDTV via cable a try, call and ask a technician what bit rate the company is using for HDTV transmissions. If its HDTV is being broadcast at 19 million bits per second (Mb/s) or greater, you should have picture quality that rivals satellite and over-the-air HDTV transmissions.
 
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