Cable’s ongoing migration into all-digital video programming has raised expectations on quality that the industry may or may not be able to meet, depending on who its technology partners are and where and how the content is originating. As for problems with content upstream, we draw attention to an Olympics-related note published at the OnlineSPIN site of MediaPost Publications by Advanced Media Ventures Group Managing Partner Shelly Palmer. While NBC’s shots of the Alps were "absolutely breathtaking" on Palmer’s HD receiver, when it came to the men’s snowboarding event, the picture was so bad he called friends to confirm that it wasn’t just his set. "Bottom line," he wrote, "Everyone was seeing the same thing." As savvy a TV viewer as they come, Palmer then placed a call to some of his "uber-geek, techno friends" at the Olympics who confirmed what he suspected: The pool cameras at this event were standard definition (SD) shooting European format (625 line/50 Hz) widescreen, which were then upconverted (1,050 line/50 Hz HD) and then converted again to American format (1,125 line/60 Hz). Terrible footage Or in other words, as explained our colleague Editor-in-Chief of Film & Video Bryant Frazer, who alerted us to the Palmer posting, these snowboarders were shot in SD PAL, upconverted to 1080i PAL and then transcoded to 1080i NTSC. (For more, see original article) Watching in SD, Frazer agreed that the footage was terrible but added that his cable provider shared the blame: "Not only had (it) obviously been post-processed, with high- frequency noise (sharpening) added to the image, creating haloing around sharp-contrasty edges, but the compression Cablevision applied to our digital-cable picture meant that whenever the camera panned, all the highlights in the snow suddenly vanished, leaving a big white smear as the dominant image." Of course, not all viewers are as particular or informed as these gentlemen. Quite the contrary: Thanks to a survey done by our friends at Scientific-Atlanta, it’s becoming better known that a preponderance (56 percent) of HDTV sets are not even connected to HD feeds. But the HD tide is rising, and the video-quality knowledge set of cable’s front- line technical teams is going to need to rise as well, at least in order to explain plausibly when a problem may not reside within the plant, but rather within amateurish production teams. Encoding news As it happens, executives from EGT visited us in Rockville, MD, last week, with a related message. The six-year-old, Atlanta-based video technology company has produced a line of encoders that it says are associated with digital simulcast deployments at six MSOs—last week’s announcement with Adelphia being the most recent news. Backing up EGT’s "best video quality/lowest bit rate" mantra were several striking image comparisons: one set involving a key Super Bowl play where the goal line appeared clean and straight on the one hand, and macro-blocked on the other. The message: Encoders are not created equal. Getting into the news cycle this week, V Com announced that Cox and Adelphia have approved its edge decoder, and the company expects additional approvals from other US and international MSOs. From the Super Bowl to the Olympics to the World Cup later this year in Germany, events are drawing more and more consumers to the digital and HD video table. Cable should be ready, well before these customers have learned to connect their HD sets with an HD feed. – Jonathan Tombes

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