"Digital" cable TV vs. analog cable TV vs. OTA: my experience.

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jack Briggs, Dec 29, 2002.

  1. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 1999
    Messages:
    16,738
    Likes Received:
    129
    I just noticed another query about so-called "digital" cable, and I thought I'd offer information about my own experiences to help others reach a decision. Make of this what you will:

    About two and a half years ago, my former cable provider, AT&T Broadband, began offering "digital" cable. My only interest in it was the possibility of obtaining a better picture; I had no great need for additional channels. Word had it that AT&T's "digital" receivers possessed S-video outputs, and the salesperson with whom I spoke assured me the boxes slated for the Los Angeles market had them.

    Therefore, I agreed to having a "digital" cable receiver installed in my main home-theater setup, while I would keep an analog cable feed for the bedroom. (At the time, I was not enamored of going through the hassle of dealing with a DBS dish and my apartment building's manager.)

    Alas, when the "cable guy" arrived, I was dismayed to see that the "digital" receiver did not have a working S-video out, which was the only reason for my interest in the first place. There was a location on the back panel marked "S-video," but it was an empty slot.

    The installer insisted none of the boxes intended for the Los Angeles market had working S-video outputs. An angry call to AT&T the following day confirmed this. And I expressed my concerns in no uncertain terms about having been misled.

    However, I decided to keep the box and determine what the big deal, if any, was about "digital" cable.

    I didn't like what I saw (and heard).

    First, many of the channels that were in stereo on the analog feed were instead in mono on the so-called "digital" feed. Only the local broadcast channels and the few "premium" channels I still subscribed to put out a stereo signal.

    Next, the compression artifacts. Quite frankly, most of the channels looked mediocre at best while some were just short of unwatchable. The analog picture in my bedroom setup was much superior.

    And, of course, the channel-selection process was noticeably and annoyingly slow.

    As for the additional channels, big deal. Most of them didn't interest me. (A year before, I had already discontinued all my HBOs, Showtimes, Cinemaxes, Movie Channels, and other so-called "premium" services, as I prefer not to watch panned-and-scanned movies.)

    I stuck with this dual-feed arrangement for about a year, always telling anyone who would come to my house that I preferred "watching television" on the bedroom setup. It had gotten to the point that I was using the "digital" cable only to warm up the Sony WEGA and to give it some 4:3 programming to counterbalance any uneven phosphor wear from watching several 16:9-encoded DVDs.

    The situation might have remained this way but for AT&T Broadband's greed and arrogance. To wit:

    Since the provider was in the midst of an all-out campaign to get consumers to "ditch the dish" in favor of its "digital" cable "service," it began migrating my few remaining cable channels of interest over to the "digital service" only. Gone from my analog feed were Turner Classic Movies, Sundance, IFC, and others.

    To watch them, I'd have to go to my main home-theater system.

    The hell with that.

    In anger and in protest, I called AT&T Broadband and asked them to pick up both receivers. This was not quite a year ago. My thinking was that I'd switch over to DBS.

    Something interesting happened, however. I rediscovered the purity of a good OTA signal. And, luckily, my most-watched and favorite network, PBS, is one of the best signals I receive. The colors look truer and purer.

    What a trip, I thought. All along, most of my "television watching" had been relegated to PBS anyway. And here I was, getting it for free, with a better picture to boot.

    Add to that my more than 450 DVD titles (almost a third of them being multi-disc boxsets), and I had precious little incentive to pay for "television" again. I still haven't switched over to DBS. I'm not interested.

    Moral of the story? You probably already have reached this conclusion without my help: "Digital" cable is a marketing ploy more than it is a technological benefit. The only rationale for a "digital" cable signal is the ability to split it into more lines.

    Otherwise, the picture "quality" I endured was muddy and washed out, and the sound was clearly inferior.

    Not all cable providers are as bad as AT&T Broadband, however. Some people are enjoying truly superior images and sounds with "digital" cable (especially those who are fortunate to be receiving high-def images in this manner).

    For most of us, though, it is a bad deal.

    "Ditch the dish"? I say, "The hype is tripe." "Digital" cable is a moribund industry's way of diverting our attention from the superior medium of DBS.

    Still, though, I can't get over how good my PBS affiliate, KCET-Channel 28 Los Angeles, looks thanks to my trusty antenna.

    Hope this helps.
     
  2. Rob Rodier

    Rob Rodier Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2002
    Messages:
    538
    Likes Received:
    0
    And the digital service is almost twice as much! AT&T in Miami is horrendous.

    -rob
     
  3. BrentPollard

    BrentPollard Second Unit

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2001
    Messages:
    445
    Likes Received:
    0
    When I have visitors over to watch a movie they are quite stunned to find a $20,000.00 plus system with rabbit ears on top of my TV. I gave up on cable almost 4 years ago, mostly because I was sick and tired of being force-fed commercials and finding myself surfing continuously and cursing all the way and paying for it.[​IMG]
     
  4. Ahmose

    Ahmose Extra

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2002
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    0
    Is it even possible to get Prologic out of my AT&T "digital"
    cable box ? The box has only composite RCA outs.
    I have the audio-out hooked up to my rcvr which is setup on Prologic 2,i have tried HBO, Starz and other "digital channels" but i never get anything out of my surrounds.
    It's especially agonizing when HBO displays that the programming is in DD5.1 !!
    I have fiddled with all the audio settings from the cable box menu to no avail.
    Any advice would be much appreciated...
    It sure looks like i will have to go with satelite.
     
  5. Rob Rodier

    Rob Rodier Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2002
    Messages:
    538
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  6. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

    Joined:
    May 22, 1999
    Messages:
    5,182
    Likes Received:
    0
    My CATV company went through an upgrade and started offering "Digital" service. So I took a chance and ordered it.

    I split the CATV signal so I could watch ordinary Analog directly in my TV, and used the Composite/Left/Right from the digital box to alternate inputs. This allowed me to do an A/B comparison.

    Video quality was ... about the same. (We had just gone through a re-cable in my town.) But I was shocked to find out some non-network stations (WB, UPN) had snow/noise on the video signal on the digital feed as well as the analog. There was occasional pixilization/blocks, but this happened only once or twice per week.

    I did like the 2 day program guide and the "reminder" feature. While Pay-Per-View was offered, I never used it.

    After a few months, I moved some things and forgot to plug the phone line back into the CATV box. A few weeks later I got a call from the CATV service as they had not been able to contact the box. I asked them to cancel the service and they offered to send out a tech to collect the box.

    When the tech showed up, I showed him the WB and UPN channels and asked him how come the video had noise/snow even on the digital feed.

    "Oh, we have a large antenna down town that gets those stations. The noise is already present. It only gets converted to digital for the trip through the local coax."

    I talked to him some more and asked about some of the other systems in town and what he saw as giving the best picture.

    "You know, the best picture I have seen on large-screen TV are from those little dishes."


    It was not for a few years when I discovered the PVR's that were a part of the Sat service. Then I bought one and will never go back.
     
  7. Stephen Tu

    Stephen Tu Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 1999
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    0
    WB & UPN are "network stations". They have local affiliates just like CBS/ABC/NBC/Fox, just fewer of them.

    In the vast majority of digital cable systems, all the basic channels are still carried in analog form only. Think about it -- they still have to transmit analog for all their non-digital cable customers; why would they waste bandwidth to transmit an identical digital version on the same wires? The only channels that are typically transmitted digitally are the added channels you get, e.g. the multiple HBO channels, multiple Showtime, music channels, other channels listed on the "digital tier".

    So it's no wonder that video quality is about the same; it's the exact same old analog signal! The only difference is using the analog tuner built into cable box, vs. using the tuner in your TV set (or VCR/PVR etc.)

    The problem is that all these marketers have tried to brainwash people into thinking that "digital" is a synonym with "quality", when it really isn't. Video quality is going to be the result of many factors. Digital can be good, it can be bad, it can be mediocre. Analog laserdiscs look a lot better than digital VCDs, but are worse than the best DVDs. S-video out is also not any guarantee of quality; it only really helps when the source itself has separate B&W/color signals. On the analog channels, it would be irrelevant, probably worse (e.g. better comb filter in the set than the cable box). And DVD through a composite connector still rates to look better than digital HBO through S-video.

    The only reason to get digital cable is if you really want the additional channels it offers, or if HDTV is offered through your area. And in either case one should consider satellite / OTA alternatives. Don't expect any improvement on the channels you already receive.
     
  8. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 1998
    Messages:
    8,936
    Likes Received:
    347
    Location:
    Boise, ID
    Real Name:
    Dennis
    The best money I spent on HT in the last few years has been my RCA DTC-100 OTH/DirecTV box. I just use the $24/month basic DirecTV service and watch my local PBS channel (KQED DT-30) in all its over the air HD glory. The optical digital audio cable plugs right into my receiver. And the RGBS output feeds right into my CRT projector.
     
  9. Michael St. Clair

    Joined:
    May 3, 1999
    Messages:
    6,001
    Likes Received:
    0
    Unfortunately, cable quality (both analog and digital) varies about as much as tap water quality. It largely depends on your local vendor.

    In my experience, this the the quality of broadcast video, from best to worst.

    1) OTA (with good antenna for local conditions) / Big Ugly Dish
    2) Good analog cable
    3) Good digital cable
    4) DirecTV / DISH
    5) Bad digital cable
    6) Bad analog cable

    I wish what I watched was available OTA. But fortunately, my digital cable is very good, and my analog cable is extremely good.
     
  10. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 1999
    Messages:
    3,301
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  11. Sundar Prasad

    Sundar Prasad Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2000
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well, digital cable service up here in Vancouver is very good. I have a Motorola receiver which provides both S-video and digital coaxial outputs. They do the same analog/digital thing where all channels up to 59 are analog, and almost everything above that point is digital. The tuner and comb filter in the Motorola box are pretty much equal to my JVC HRS7600 SVHS deck's tuner/comb filter when it comes to the analog channels. The quality of the digital channels is very good. They probably have the same resolution as the analog channels, but are noticeably smoother and have zero noise. I watch quite a bit of the National Geographic and Documentary channels which are in their digital line-up. Good programming and good quality signal. They are also starting to show more widescreen movies on the MovieCentral channels, and have just added four channels of HD (but I need to get a replacement cable box for HD).

    So digital cable quality depends on the location and the broadcaster. Probably wise to do a test run and then decide.
     
  12. Roberto Carlo

    Roberto Carlo Second Unit

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2002
    Messages:
    445
    Likes Received:
    0
    Cox of Fairfax (VA) is excellent overall. Premium channels are somewhere between LD and DVD in video quality. Below channel 100 varies: some like the Travel Channel are soft; others like Discovery and TNT are very good. All of my Showtime channels come in DD 5.1 when Showtime broadcasts that way. And, best of all, they carry NBC and ABC in HDTV (they should be carrying CBS soon), as well as HBO, SHO and Discovery HD Theater. (I get the latter 2).
    I don't mean to sound like a commercial. :b I'm just emphasizing what has been said before: digital cable varies wildly in quality. Sometimes, it can even be good. [​IMG]
     
  13. AndyB

    AndyB Auditioning

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2000
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree with the above posts in that you can't really make a blanket statement about how good (or bad) digital cable is. I have had Dish Network in the past and now have Time-Warner digital cable in New York City. I had to switch because I moved from an apartment building that offered Dish Network from a common rooftop dish to another building that did not offer any satellite service.

    Because of the very negative posts on this forum and seeing a friend's AT&T digital service in Pittsburgh, I wasn't expecting much from Time-Warner. My understanding was that many of the channels would still be in analog. Time-Warner's web site claimed the set-top box would have S-video and a digital output, but as one poster above experienced, you don't always get what's promised.

    I have to say however, that I was very pleasantly surprised by the Time-Warner system in New York and (overall) like it much better than Dish.

    All the channels are digital. The picture is actually significantly better than Dish. Many non-premium channels (ie. Food Network) that were soft and washed-out on Dish are sharp and vibrant on TWC, without noticably more MPEG artifacts. Premiums are near-DVD quality. Local channels are excellent and superior to my NYC locals on Dish. (I believe TWC gets a direct digital feed for these) In particular WNET-13 (PBS) , which I never could get a satisfactory picture of before either on analog cable (ghosts from on-air inteference) or Dish (poor feed with ghosts and soft from overcompression) is quite good on TWC digital, although still a little soft. OTA for locals is out of the question here in Manhattan, especially after 9/11.

    Don't get me wrong, some channels are still overcompressed, but overall it's significantly better than my experience with Dish. The one complaint I do have about the picture is that at least my feed suffers from occasional "drop-outs" which result in a dropped frame or blocky areas from data-loss. This seems to vary channel-by-channel and over time. Even with this problem, I still prefer the picture overall to Dish.

    The set-top box supplied by TWC (Scientic Atlanta Explorer 2100) is great. It contains the promised S-video and digital outputs. The on-screen program guide is great. The bottom half contains the program grid, the top left corner contains a description of the currently selected program, and the top-right contains a PIP of the current program. There are no ads (like my friend's AT&T digital) The interface is fast and responsive and packs alot of program info on the screen.

    Time-Warner will also supply, on-request, a set-top box that receives seven HDTV channels (HBO, Showtime, CBS, NBC, ABC, WNET-13 (PBS), and Fox).

    In addition, TWC now offers video-on-demand movies with pause, rewind and fast-forward. And it appears that these are shown letterboxed! Although I watch most of my movies on DVD, they had Fellowship of the RIng extended edition (which I don't think Netflix has). And it was letterboxed.

    They also have VOD for all the premiums. Although I have no interest in the pan-and-scan movies offered by these channels, I can now access their orginal programming (Sopranos, Sex in the City, etc.) whenever I want it.

    The service seems to be a good value. I have the digital cable plus 4 premium channels plus RoadRunner cable modem for $108. Subtracting out the $45 cost for RoadRunner, that comes out to $63 for the video services.

    Although I know I sound like a commercial for Time-Warner, I think they are right on the money with what they are offering now, at least in NYC. I don't know if this is representitive of other Time-Warner systems.

    I see that many of the negative digital cable comments come from AT&T subscribers. I have also read that AT&T and Comcast use a system called Headend-In-The-Sky (HITS) to compress and distribute their digital content that many have claimed over-compresses the channels. Maybe this is the reason for the negative reputation digital cable seems to have.
     
  14. Alan Pummill

    Alan Pummill Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 1999
    Messages:
    1,262
    Likes Received:
    1
    My TWC here in Ohio does real well, with local analog, digital and high def.

    Gregg Loewen did an ISF calibration on my PRO-620HD several weeks ago and when watching HD, it IS like looking through a window.

    My buddy has an arial for his HD, and a dish for the rest, the picture quality I get from TWC kicks ass compaired to his.
     
  15. Joseph Dubin

    Joseph Dubin Auditioning

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Like Andy, I live in NYC, but in the Bronx, which is serviced by Cablevision. I had been subscribing to a local dish service which did not provide surround sound and so-so picture quality, so when I saw Cablevision now offered digital service I changed carriers.

    Andy can get the YES network (owned by the Yankees which carries all their games) while Cablevision does not due to finanial issues (natch). Otherwise, it seems our services are the same.

    Video: Overall the picture is superior to what I had before. The box has the standard antenna, video and S-video outputs so I'm able to use S-video for viewing and the video output into my VCR's line feed, which really allows for better recording. The antenna feed is also used for ease of operation for my wife when I'm not home.

    Audio: Box outputs for optical, coaxial and l-r. Rich surround is heard with some in 5.1 No problem with mono stations, they sound great. The 45 music stations also are of cd quality.

    The interative menu and video on demand is similiar to Andy's and also allows me to set the box for taping any program with just one push of a button.

    This is not to say everything is perfect.

    Video Probems: Like others, the local stations tend to be a little snowy.

    Audio Problems: The cable box is set-up for my living room HTS. So not to pay for two boxes I use an old VCR rabbit to get the picture into my den HTS (looks very good even though it is not run through a video feed) and run coaxial cable from the cable box to my den HTS for the audio. Problem: While I get full 5.1, etc I have to switch to the mono antenna feed to hear most of the first 21 stations (mosly all local, qvc, etc).

    But using the l-r audio outputs in the living room system (receiver is just AC3-ready and 5.1 inputs are used for my dvd player which has built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders). Here, I get audio for all stations without having to switch to the antenna feed.

    Also, on a handful of stations the audio comes from either the left or right channel only.

    These are all problems Cablevision can eventually fix. Even with them, TV is a joy to watch now with the high quality picture and HT sound. Digital definately is the way to go.
     
  16. Joseph Dubin

    Joseph Dubin Auditioning

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Like Andy, I live in NYC, but in the Bronx, which is serviced by Cablevision. I had been subscribing to a local dish service which did not provide surround sound and so-so picture quality, so when I saw Cablevision now offered digital service I changed carriers.

    Andy can get the YES network (owned by the Yankees which carries all their games) while Cablevision does not due to finanial issues (natch). Otherwise, it seems our services are the same.

    Video: Overall the picture is superior to what I had before. The box has the standard antenna, video and S-video outputs so I'm able to use S-video for viewing and the video output into my VCR's line feed, which really allows for better recording. The antenna feed is also used for ease of operation for my wife when I'm not home.

    Audio: Box outputs for optical, coaxial and l-r. Rich surround is heard with some in 5.1 No problem with mono stations, they sound great. The 45 music stations also are of cd quality.

    The interative menu and video on demand is similiar to Andy's and also allows me to set the box for taping any program with just one push of a button.

    This is not to say everything is perfect.

    Video Probems: Like others, the local stations tend to be a little snowy.

    Audio Problems: The cable box is set-up for my living room HTS. So not to pay for two boxes I use an old VCR rabbit to get the picture into my den HTS (looks very good even though it is not run through a video feed) and run coaxial cable from the cable box to my den HTS for the audio. Problem: While I get full 5.1, etc I have to switch to the mono antenna feed to hear most of the first 21 stations (mosly all local, qvc, etc).

    But using the l-r audio outputs in the living room system (receiver is just AC3-ready and 5.1 inputs are used for my dvd player which has built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders). Here, I get audio for all stations without having to switch to the antenna feed.

    Also, on a handful of stations the audio comes from either the left or right channel only.

    These are all problems Cablevision can eventually fix. Even with them, TV is a joy to watch now with the high quality picture and HT sound. Digital definately is the way to go.
     
  17. jeff peterson

    jeff peterson Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 1998
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    0
     
  18. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2001
    Messages:
    5,987
    Likes Received:
    36
    Location:
    The BK
    Real Name:
    ManW
    Wow! That's great to hear such positive comments about TWC in NYC. Somebody else in another thread in the Display Devices forum said they saw a terrible TWC feed at his friend's place in NYC, but maybe something was wrong w/ the setup.
    I plan to order TWC's basic DTV package and get HD programming so I can catch some NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl in HD this month. If it's as good as you guys say, I might just stick w/ it instead of switching to Directv later this Spring. TWC's DTV package is more expensive than Directv, but I won't need to buy an HD sat receiver or make 1-year commitment w/ them. Also won't need to deal w/ OTA locals either although it would've been nice to get HDNet for free, and I won't have to pay extra for running analog cable into the old 32" TV.
    Cool! [​IMG]
    _Man_
     
  19. Joseph Dubin

    Joseph Dubin Auditioning

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Jeff, can't thank you enough for your advice about the bi-directional splitter and the radio shack link. I just subscribed to digital TV and the regular video splitter caused a sight deteriation in picture quality. Connecting a 10db video booster made it too strong. I never heard of bi-directional splitter to compensate for the 3.5 db drop until your posting and it did the trick!

    Picture though S-Video is fantastic and feed through channel 3 (for second system) through an old VCR Rabbit is remarkably clear (audio is through coaxial and l-r outputs bypassing mono sound from VCR Rabbit).

    Thanks again for this tip. It made my day!
     
  20. Justin Lane

    Justin Lane Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Messages:
    2,149
    Likes Received:
    0
    I see no one has chimmed in on Comcast Digital Cable, so I will. It has to rate on the lower end of the digital cable providers. Here in Southern New Jersey we get boxes with no S-Video or coaxial video outputs (just unpunched punch outs where they are supposed to be). Other then the premium channels, everything is still analog in nature, providing no upgrade over standard cable.

    My one major peeve with their service is that you must get digital cable if you want any sort of extra programming. Gone are the days where you could get HBO or Showtime with just an analog feed. They are finally rolling out some Hi-def in the area, but at this time it is in very few markets, and of course not available to myself. So, as of right now I am getting cable in the analog variety only. If it wasn't for the fact Comcast is the only broadband provider in the area, and they have exclusive coverage of the Sixers and Flyers on Comcast sportsnet, my service with them would be cancelled on the spot.
     

Share This Page