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Getting the best picture quality on HDTV

Getting the best picture quality on HDTV



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Paul Nelson reportingSome cable or satellite customers say they're a little disappointed with high definition programs. They say the picture quality isn't much better than normal programming.

Let's say you go out and buy a brand new television; huge screen, stereo surround sound with 1080 progressive display, which is the highest of high definition. You're probably buying it for one reason and one reason only: picture quality.

Best Buy's home theater supervisor Trevor Kimmel said, "Every time a customer comes in and they buy a big television, automatically they assume the picture will look magnificent. However, there's a lot more that goes into it."

Kimmel says the only way to get the highest quality 1080p display is through a Blu-Ray player, an Xbox 360, a Playstation 3, or a newly defunct HD DVD player. He says cable or satellite providers can't match that picture quality yet.

"There's no way that with millions and millions watching TV [providers] will be able to handle a 1080 progressive signal," he said.

One man named Sumner says some of his HD stations look like regular channels. "I can tell that my picture quality is worse than my Xbox," he said.

The issue is one of bandwidth. High definition signals take a lot more of it than regular signals, and if you stuff too many HD signals into that finite amount of bandwidth, picture quality goes down. But this is a problem providers are trying to fix. DirecTV says its answer is to get more bandwidth.

DirecTV public relations director Robert Mercer said, "We've made significant investments to increase our satellite capacity and also to convert to mpeg4 technology, which really significantly reduces the amount of bandwidth that's required to deliver HD via satellite."

Mercer says DirecTV launched a satellite that could offer 150 national HD channels, as well as 1,500 local HD channels. That should be operational by the fall.

Comcast is trying a different method. Comcast public relations director Ray Child said, "We've begun using an advanced encoding technique called 'second pass encoding.'"

Child says second pass encoding lets Comcast keep its HD signals without decompressing them into a lesser quality video to save room on bandwidth.

But, Child added, "Picture quality depends not only on the provider, like Comcast, but it also depends on the original signal received from a particular network."

Some retailers think it will be several years before networks can broadcast in 1080p.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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