I’m proud to say I am not one of those people who sit up close to the TV screen tracking pixels, or who put displays side by side to compare true black. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the changes happening in video delivery, or what’s making those changes occur. Here’s a list of five factors currently impacting the quality of television viewing. Mix in a few compelling characters and story lines (praise the writers who have gone back to work), and you’ve got a recipe for good TV.
- MPEG-4: An improved encoding standard over MPEG-2, MPEG-4 not only conserves bandwidth, but it uses more intelligent algorithms than its predecessor to deliver a clearer picture. For example, MPEG-4 enables the coding of individual objects on screen. Instead of relying solely on macroblocks sized 16×16 pixels as MPEG-2 does, MPEG-4 uses sub-macroblock sizes ranging from 4×4 to 16×16. More detail = better quality video.
- Compression: Generally speaking, compression degrades video picture, but there’s a wide range of compression levels. As operators increase the quantity of high-def channels on offer, some are making or will make trade-offs on quality by upping the compression. Of course, the more bandwidth they have available, the less compression they need. Everything ultimately comes down to capacity.
- Online Bit Rates: For those watching TV online, Dan Rayburn pointed out recently that bitrates have gone up significantly in the last six months. After years of no change, suddenly we’re seeing bigger video windows online and better frame rates. That all comes from increasing bitrates from 300 kilobits per second to 500 and 750 Kbps.
- Accommodations for Mixed Environments: It can be difficult to format TV for a consumer audience when some folks have standard-def television, some have HD, some receive MPEG-2 signals and some receive MPEG-4. However, more and more technologies are coming out that help manage the complexities of mixed environments. For example, the AFD extension to the MPEG standard means HD video can be coded scene by scene for best viewing on an SD set. Another example – new receiver/transcoders can transcode video for MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 viewing so content producers can create video in one format and consumers get the best available output for their individual settings.
- More HD Content: Yes, there is more and more HD content available every day. The studios are producing more and the operators are delivering more. They have a lot of incentive. With the DTV transition less than a year away, more consumers than ever will be purchasing their first HDTV sets in 2008. If enough people don’t already expect HD quality, the flood gates are likely to open in 2009.
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