FCC: Cable may degrade local HD signals (a little)

September 12th, 2007

Cable TV subscribers who watch local channels’ HD broadcasts may be short-changed on signal quality, under an FCC action adopted Tuesday. While the ruling “provides cable operators with flexibility,” according to the commission, consumers who have splurged on home theater systems won’t be cheering a decision that can lead to diminished picture quality.

Cable operators will be required to carry local stations’ high-definition telecasts in HD after the shutdown of analog TV broadcasts on February 17, 2009. But the FCC will not require cable systems to pass through the entire HDTV signal as broadcast over the air. Instead, according to an FCC statement, “cable operators must carry broadcast signals so that the picture quality is at least as good as the quality of any other programming carried on the system.” In other words, cable companies can downgrade quality on local stations, but they aren’t allowed to make the locals look worse than the cable networks they carry.

The decision can be seen as a compromise between demands from broadcasters, who want cable companies to provide “all content bits” to their subscribers, and cable companies, who face capacity constraints on their systems because of the huge amounts of data that must be transmitted to provide HD programming.

Some cable companies will probably provide the full HD signal if system capacity is sufficient. But if you have an HDTV and want the best picture quality possible from your local stations (and you live in an area with reliable reception), your best bet is to watch over-the-air using an antenna.

• Link: FCC [pdf]


  1. hdtv antenna master says:

    So true!

    “Some cable companies will probably provide the full HD signal if system capacity is sufficient.”

    The problem is that their capacity is never sufficient. Too much content sharing very limited bandwidth. The result is higher video compression ratios required to fit into the available bandwidth. The more you compress the signal, the worse is the quality. Over-the-air HDTV will remain superior for many years to come.

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