Best HD? Cable, Satellite, or Antenna?

AfterNoon

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#1
Which gives the best picture in High Definition?

Cable?

Satellite?

or Antenna?

Right now I'm on cable with Cox and I don't care for the quality of picture that much. I have a HD DVR and it just doesn't come in so clear. I'm thinking about either getting a antenna and watching OTA in HD (which most stations I really like are OTA anyway), or does Direct TV's HD that much better than cable?
 

FOX TV

Contributor
#2
Yes, OTA HD is better !!!

Which gives the best picture in High Definition?

Cable?

Satellite?

or Antenna?

Right now I'm on cable with Cox and I don't care for the quality of picture that much. I have a HD DVR and it just doesn't come in so clear. I'm thinking about either getting a antenna and watching OTA in HD (which most stations I really like are OTA anyway), or does Direct TV's HD that much better than cable?

Hello, And thanks for your question. OTA DTV offers Clear video, numerous audio options, as well as a program guide and instant program ratings, along with High Definition programming, which all combines to make DTV a comparable product to those services that are provided by the cable and satellite providers. It is a true fact that the picture quality of the OTA HD signal is much more robust than the satellite or cable delivered versions due to the heavy data compression rates used by those distribution methods.

The intention of the digital TV systems designers was to allow the over the air content to rival that of satellite or cable, and in my opinion, they did a very god job of it over all, and the HD video quality is much better. All of the benefits listed above are comparable in every way to the satellite or cable delivered signals, with the added benefit of much clearer and crisper picture.

The reception of DTV signals does have some lingering issues that are nagging at best, and problematic at worst. If I were you, and I was considering changing over, I would recommend that you review the posts on this forum, and learn all you can before taking the plunge into OTA DTV reception.

Look at your reception statistics on TV Fool and post them here if you need a good starting point. If you have already done this research, or have reception knowledge, then a simple answer to your question is Yes, OTA HD signals look much better than sat or cable, and to some people, that alone is enough reason to erect an antenna and see what is actually out there, and it's free.
 
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Piggie

Super Moderator
#3
In a nutshell the satellite companies have more available room to run the newer version of HD, called MPEG4. This option is totally unavailable OTA and limited on cable systems. Satellite is leading the way into moving toward 1080P using MPEG4.

But and listen close. Since most local OTA is put on satellite and cable via feeds from the local TV station, in the vast amount of cases, the satellite or cable company gets the same feed quality that you receive OTA.

Every system has it's drawbacks.
 

Don_M

DTVUSA Member
#4
:welcome:

The general consensus is that the lightly-compressed signals provided by an OTA antenna will beat the picture quality of cable HD noticeably, and satellite HD slightly.

Couple of other things:

• Most satellite boxes have inputs for signals from an OTA antenna and can tune local digital and HD broadcasts. That way, you may be able to put up an antenna and save a few bucks a month on the provider's local-channel fee. For a host of technical reasons, this is very difficult or impossible to do with cable service in most circumstances.

• Unless you're a Tivo user, the DVR you have probably won't work with a satellite service because it's proprietary to Cox Cable.

• If you go OTA only, a Tivo will still work. If you don't have Tivo, you'd have to buy a DVR or DVD recorder made specifically for over-the-air use in addition to an antenna. Of course, you'd also lose access to cable-HD channels such as ESPN, Sy Fy, HBO, and others.
 

Aaron62

Contributor
Staff member
#5
All three of the answers above are from some very smart dudes, I only offer an armchair perspective as I have been a Direct TV customer for a couple of years. I rate DirecTV's HD quality under OTA. Is it noticeable? Barely, but since I know the quality is better OTA, I always change to an antenna when I watch football or local broadcasts in HD. I feel that DirecTV has a bit more quality of HD programming than cable, but that's just my opinion. Hope that helped. :)
 

FOX TV

Contributor
#6
Sorry, Accept my apology !

In a nutshell the satellite companies have more available room to run the newer version of HD, called MPEG4. This option is totally unavailable OTA and limited on cable systems. Satellite is leading the way into moving toward 1080P using MPEG4.

But and listen close. Since most local OTA is put on satellite and cable via feeds from the local TV station, in the vast amount of cases, the satellite or cable company gets the same feed quality that you receive OTA.

Every system has it's drawbacks.
Sorry Piggie, but I have to disagree on this statement "the same feed quality that you receive OTA", is most likely true in some cases, but not all. This seems especially true with cable, as a LOT of cable systems still have bandwidth issues such as the smaller systems who are still depending mostly on an electromagnetic pipeline (Copper) instead of an optic one.

They lean heavily on compression rates to save precious bandwidth, and they get by with it because there are no industry or FCC observed bit rate standards for digital video re-transmission. There was a proposal in DC a few years ago that stated that the entire bit rate be resent with no "Stealing" of data bits for sat and cable providers bandwidth benefit fund, but I never heard any more mention of it other than the initial article I read in an industry trade magazine that tracks DC and FCC issues that affect broadcasters.

There are FCC standards for analog video, and you can meet these standards and still have crappy video. Remember that NTSC stands for....(You may know this one...).

I do agree that satellite has more options for bandwidth combined with the use of MPEG4, and their bandwidth is customizable based on the needs of the signal being up linked, and they can always launch more bandwidth when the need is great enough.

If you look at the design of their newest dishes, you can see that they are capable of "Seeing" up to 5 satellites at once. And don't all OTA broadcasters wish MPEG4 was doable in our meager 19.36 pipeline!

Maybe someday they will come up with some new compatible standard that can be broadcast along side of, and still be compatible with legacy DTV such as is being done now with mobile/hand held TV, and please accept my apology for disagreeing with you. LEGACY DTV, doesn't that make it sound old already?

Also, remember that I work for an OTA company, and of course I think that OTA video is sooo much better than the others...lol
 
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Yes616

The Mod Squad
#7
Simple bottom lines. OTA is the best. Satellite is good but you will wish it were better, especially if you compared it to OTA. Cable is the worst and a very noticable worst.

Now if you are looking at the picture on a small to medium sized screen say 32" or less, you will not see too much of a difference. Once you go above 42" the difference becomes more noticable. The bigger the picture, the more you will see the difference.
 

IDRick

DTVUSA Member
#8
Your question is a very good one but difficult to answer. In my case, I see little difference between OTA and Cableone's broadcast of our locals. Cableco's differ widely so YMMV. Dish provides our locals over satellite feed and IMO, their locals are slightly below that of OTA and cable. All three have outstanding HD programming when they receive a good feed (such as MNF in HD or college games). Other cable stations are bit starved on both cableone and dish (TNT-HD and TBS are two good examples of lower quality HD stations).
 

Fringe Reception

Super Moderator, Chief Content Editor
Staff member
#9
Which gives the best picture in High Definition? Cable? Satellite? or Antenna? ...
--------------------------------
:welcome: AfterNoon,
You may not realize it but you just landed in a bee hive of brilliance: those who have responded (so far) to your question are really 'in the know' about free OTA (over-the-air) HDTV and this forum is fantastic.

I only have OTA and here are a couple of my personal observations from a consumers' point of view: none of my friends that have quality HD-ready televisions who pay for satellite or cable have anywhere near the quality of picture I have at home and I guarantee they would be echo my statement. Their typical first response to seeing my television is WOW.

Secondly, last week I was in the video department at my local Fred Meyer Super-Store where they have about 30 HD-ready TV sets on display. I asked the department manager (he knows his stuff) why don't they setup an OTA antenna system so they would have the best looking TV sets for sale in town. (their pictures look like crap!) He said: "I know, but the store manager won't let me do it". Too bad because it could drive up their sales.

One caveat: if you are using an older TV with a conversion box, it will downgrade the OTA HD signal to standard-definition (SD) so there will be little difference in picture quality, except it is free.

As suggested above, please check TVFOOL.com and submit your address and an appropriate antenna height. A rooftop antenna (height) is almost always best. Share the link here (your address will be concealed) and we would be happy to help you!
Jim
 

FOX TV

Contributor
#10
Simple bottom lines. OTA is the best. Satellite is good but you will wish it were better, especially if you compared it to OTA. Cable is the worst and a very noticable worst.

Now if you are looking at the picture on a small to medium sized screen say 32" or less, you will not see too much of a difference. Once you go above 42" the difference becomes more noticable. The bigger the picture, the more you will see the difference.
Very good observation about display size. This is a case where bigger is not always better. I normally don't recommend displays much out of the 40's range, and on some signal sources, even that is pushing the limits of quality for my own personal tastes.

Back in 2002 when I first got a 32 inch HD wide screen CRT TV, my SD Direc TV looked terrible when compared compared to early SD digital OTA TV. The macro blocking was terrible, and very noticeable. It was not signal drop out, it was just a lack of definition due to high compression levels, as you could actually see the individual blocks that make up the picture. They have since improved the quality of the picture, as I still use the same TV set and Satellite receiver with the same channel line up and I no longer see this any more.

There are just so many pixels available, and when you increase screen size, you also increase pixel size to the point where it becomes noticeable to the human eyes perception of the viewed image.

Question?

(Do we or I use to many acronyms on here for newbies?)
 
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#12
The quality from all of the providers (unfortunately) varies widely.

Having installed for both satellite companies and having installed many antennae and converter boxes, and having troubleshot and tweaked cable systems, and calibrated numerous TVs, here is my opinion of all of the options.

When set up properly (this is key):

OTA has the best quality,
typically followed closely by Dish Network,
and last DirecTV.

I left out cable because it varies so much. I have witnessed cable that rivals Dish Network at the top, and cable that is easily the worst.

The quality of your installation and the setup/calibration of your TV, can and will affect your picture quality. This is the primary reason that there are so many differing opinions regarding the same providers.
 
#13
In a nutshell the satellite companies have more available room to run the newer version of HD, called MPEG4. This option is totally unavailable OTA and limited on cable systems. Satellite is leading the way into moving toward 1080P using MPEG4.

But and listen close. Since most local OTA is put on satellite and cable via feeds from the local TV station, in the vast amount of cases, the satellite or cable company gets the same feed quality that you receive OTA.

Every system has it's drawbacks.
The biggest difference in MPEG2 and MPEG4 is that MPEG4 compression needs less signal to operate correctly. I'll put it this way, if your signal is peaked, you won't likely see a difference. If you have lower signal, though, an MPEG4 receiver is likely to give you a better picture than MPEG2.
 

AfterNoon

DTVUSA Jr. Member
#14
I've read through everything you've guys posted which was all very interesting. I'm looking into pricing for DirecTV but am a little hesitant about the quality of HD. I wish there were a store that I could walk into and compare our local cable HD to DirecTV to OTA. If I end up paying $15/month extra for the best picture, I really don't care as long as it is the best picture. Like one of you mentioned already, if the picture quality is even slightly better for over-the-air, I'll probably end up switching over to it but I just don't want to spend the extra money for satellite service if their isn't a clear difference over cable HD.
 

IDRick

DTVUSA Member
#16
AfterNoon,

Here's a possibility for you... Do you have a friend that is a Directv sub and a cable co *internet* sub? If so, there is a quick test that you can do at his/her location. The cable co can not totally shut off their tv signal when they provide *internet* only service. Many times the locals are available on the cable co line if your tv has a QAM tuner. All they need to do is connect the cable co line to their tv cable input and scan for digital cable channels. Assuming the locals are there, you can then compare to Directv locals by simply changing inputs on the remote. Using this technique, I was able to compare local HD channels from our cable co versus local HD locals from Dish at a buddy's house.

I have watched HD from Directv at three different homes. All had excellent quality. Personally, I have some issues with Directv's marketing approach and prefer Dish over Directv.

HTH,

Rick
 

scandiskwindows9x

Moderator of DTV Latino
#17
all is according with the Video compression bitrate and video codec while larger be the bitrate, better will be the image +of 19.39Mbps, cable and satellite systems would works at more of that rate so can look better, but ota also looks good, sometimes cable and satellite video can have MPEG artifacts so all is according with the bitrate of compression

for that get an idea in Santiago a TV channels goes at 14.30Mbps in H264 via OTA and looks ok, but another one runs at 7.60Mbps and if you start to see the image carefully will notice some mpeg artifacts in the objects edges.
 
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#18
One other thing with OTA you get to see the program first over Sat and cable feeds. I was watching a football game at a friends place with two TVs, one fed by OTA and the other by cable. The OTA program was a good +5 seconds ahead of the cable. Talk about instant replay!
 

n2rj

Moderator
Staff member
#19
One other thing with OTA you get to see the program first over Sat and cable feeds. I was watching a football game at a friends place with two TVs, one fed by OTA and the other by cable. The OTA program was a good +5 seconds ahead of the cable. Talk about instant replay!
This is not a general rule. It really depends. For example WNYW and WWOR (NYC Fox and MyNetwork TV) send a standard def feed out of master control in Secaucus to the cable companies via fiber. Some other stations do something similar. Timewise, I've noticed that the fiber feed, even after it is distributed by the cable company is a couple of seconds ahead of the OTA signal. I have to double check when I get home but I'm pretty sure that's the case. The bug and other graphics are also slightly different on the cable feeds.

For the HD feed they get that OTA and it is only about 1 second behind, if that.

Quality wise, many cable companies pass local signals "as-is." They are supposed to not apply any material degradation but that is a subjective standard. Some simply just play it safe and don't apply any additional compression. FiOS definitely does not, they keep all HD signals 2 per QAM.
 
N

Nicole

Guest
#20
More HD options with DISH Network

Which gives the best picture in High Definition?

Cable?

Satellite?

or Antenna?

Right now I'm on cable with Cox and I don't care for the quality of picture that much. I have a HD DVR and it just doesn't come in so clear. I'm thinking about either getting a antenna and watching OTA in HD (which most stations I really like are OTA anyway), or does Direct TV's HD that much better than cable?
DISH Network offers more HD channels than any other provider and as an employee for DISH I know that they're still offering free HD programming for life to their new and existing subscribers. Aside from the programming I know that they offer special movies monthly in 1080p and they come through beautifully! The best part is that all this great programming is available and DISH still charges less than other providers.
 

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