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Questions: Digital TV signals from Cable vs. Satelite

by rhythm Earthsong / November 6, 2006 7:46 AM PST

While looking to upgrade from a basic analog TV signal from our cable provider, we came up against some conflicting info, please help.
- First the TV salesman insists we shoud not buy a plasma or LCD while still on an analog signal, 'cause it'll look really crappy. But the cable provider (Time-Warner) insists there's actually very little difference in quality between the analog signal and the digital one, as long as it's an analog signal coming directly into the TV thru cable (as opposed to analog through antenna, definitely crappier). Time-Warner cable says only 6-8 of the 80 channels we receive are true analog, the other 70 or so are digital sources anyway. Who's got it right?
- We can rent the digital TV-top box from Time Warner which, supposedly, transforms our same analog channel line-up to "crisper" digital. They say it's not quite the same as getting the box with their all digital package, but if 90% of their analog package is transmitted digitally anyway, why would the signal be even better with their digi-package, as long as we rent a digi box?
- Satelite companies claim their signal is even better, 'cause it's digital right from source all the way thru, as opposed to an analog signal that gets converted to digital on top of your TV. But doesn't their signal go through at least one A to D conversion along the way? And if 90% of TW's analog package is actually digital in origin, is there really going to be any difference? This is very confusing, please help.

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Digital is not necessarily HD. . .
by Coryphaeus / November 6, 2006 8:28 AM PST

A digital signal is the same as an analog signal. When it goes through their box to a standard TV, it's analog. Digital is a selling point for SD programming. Some may argue the picture quality, but on an SD TV you probably won't see any difference.

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"SD"? Sorry I don't know what that stands for.
by rhythm Earthsong / November 6, 2006 9:04 AM PST

So what's "SD" programming?

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Standard definition
by mrobzo / November 6, 2006 10:45 AM PST

That's all. Or it also means secure digital in reference to a small memory card for digital cameras PDAs, MP3 players, etc.

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got SD... further clarification
by rhythm Earthsong / November 6, 2006 10:05 AM PST

coryphaeus, I read this site's digital TV explanation, so now I know SD stands for the low end digital transmission (480i), and that, according to your repsponse, I won't see any real difference on my standard TV, only if I get a ED or HD plasma/LCD. So that answers part of my original questions, thanks. So, knowing that, just to clarify further:
- if I did buy an ED or HD plasma, but not upgrade my basic analog cable signal to a digital package, would it, as the salesman suggested, look extra-crappy compared to how it looks on my standard tube TV (if, as you say, analog and digital are the same signal, it shouldn't look that much different)? And, if so, would simply adding my cable company's digi box into the signal path make it significantly better? And would satelite be even better than that?

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It's a possibility. . .
by Coryphaeus / November 6, 2006 11:06 AM PST

A High Definition TV will take the 480 signal and upconvert or "add content" up to 720 or 1080 depending on the native resolution of the HD TV. When you add content, some TVs do it better than others. Some will look fuzzy and the resolution suffers. Most HD TVs suffer from mosquito noise and the screen door effect when trying to display an SD picture. I'll let you research (do a Google) these two terms. But in essence, to take full advantage of the newer TVs, you really need to get the proper input. I don't mean just a "digital" signal, I mean HD programming.

Find a good TV store and look around. I did for over two years and I bought the Sony SXRD. I used to sell all the HD TVs and after one look at the Sony, it was done. Even the DLP crowd agrees. The Sony looks like film.

I have DishNetwork. Why? I think it's the best.

But do yourself a favor. Forget the "digital" aspect and break it into two choices. SD or HD. Your choice.

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OK cory, last (hopefully) clarification...
by rhythm Earthsong / November 6, 2006 12:34 PM PST

I appreciate your highly informative posts...very technical, but hopefully I'm getting it. Looked up screen door & mosquito, got them. Understand how added content could make things worse, not better.

Gonna try to simplify for my particular needs, here's the thing: we don't watch much TV, and for what little we do, our very cheap ($13/month) basic 80 channels and standard Panasonic 32'' tube has been just fine. We added a TiVo which made it even finer. We just don't watch enough to justify jumping up to a $50-$60 HD programming package from Time-Warner (or a similar priced package from Dish). The only reason we got into all this research was 'cause we thought it would be cool, room-decor-wise and eye-candy-wise, to put a big 50'' plasma against our big den wall. That's when all the fallout started...''A big plasma will look like junk with your analog signal'' (BestBuy salesman)...''Putting our digi box in the path will fix that'' (Time-Warner salseman), etc. Bottom Line: we really would love the big plasma on our wall, but if the image is gonna look awful, and by awful I mean even worse than our current analog-tube image, we're not gonna spend $50+ a month to get it right, we're gonna skip it.
If the image will look at least as good as our current tube, maybe a bit better with a digi-converter box, or better 'cause the TV itself it newer better technology, we'll do it. I understand that without an HD program package, we'll probably see some ''mosquitos'' and ''screen doors'', we're probably already seeing that or our current tube and we're used to it. I don't know if a plasma or LCD will make those pixel-based problems even worse, compared to tube. So, if you can, try answering based on those parameters, not on going for a perfect image. Thanks

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Plasma picture quality
by technomite / November 6, 2006 10:23 PM PST

Plasma ED TV will give you a 480-P DVD quality Picture with your digital signals and 480-I with your analog signals. Your 32 in.SD TV is creating a 350-I picture.
The screen door effect seen on large plasma TV's is present on all large tv's when you are closer than 6ft away from the screen. Plasma ED TV's are not HD but the will give you a high quality picture better than you can get on your SD TV.

Keep in mind that Plasma ED TV's and Plasma HD TV's are not the same. HD TV's require an HD signal to get HD (720-P) picture quality.

Hope this helps.

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Thanks technomite, further clarification please...
by rhythm Earthsong / November 7, 2006 12:44 AM PST
In reply to: Plasma picture quality

So based on what you are saying:
A plasma ED or HD will definitely give me an improved, not worse, picture than my 32 in. SD, because I'll be jumping up to at least 480 interlaced (analog signals) or progressive (digital signals), from my SD's current 350i. And although I won't have yet upgraded my basic cable package from ''analog'' to ''digital'', my image on a plasma or LCD will still look better, not worse, than my tube TV (like the BestBuy salesman said), 'cause I'm still going up in resolution. Correct?
Coryphaelus said the so-called ''analog'' and ''digital'' signals coming from my cable provider were the same anyway. That said, I could buy a big plasma or DLP now, enjoy a bigger picture and somewhat improved image, without even upgrading my current basic ''analog'' package to a ''digital'' or ''HD'' package, which I can always do later on. Is that accurate?

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by chrisss72 / November 6, 2006 10:31 PM PST

DTV is no good. I have time warner and the signal is fine in hd. Regular digital is ok but DTV digital is terrible. Plus you have to watch your bill with DTV. They try to rip you off. THere customer service is horrible. Go with local direct line cable. Its always better to go direct then wireless or satalite.

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Just FYI to clear things up,, I hope!
by jcrobso / November 7, 2006 1:30 AM PST

SD, Standard Definition stands for analog NTSC TV, the kind we all have. Broadcast TV and VHS tapes are SD.
ED, Extended Definition is the format of DVDs. This is a digital format, uses MPG2 encoding can be 640x480 or 720x480.
The HD formats are HD-MPG2 encoded and are 720p and 1080i/p.

Dish and Direct broadcast digital video using MPG2 encoding. They are changing over to MPG4, but this will take a few years.
When I switched from analog cable to Dish I had both for about a week, the Dish picture was so much better than the analog cable. Even though I was watching on an analog SD TV, I could see the difference.
Cable is analog SD, but now many companies are changing over to ED-MPG2 digital, YES they will look better than the analog version. ED has at least twice the resolution of SD.
Lets talk about analog TVs. Most of the analog TV made in the last 15 years 20" and up have very good resolution.
My old 32" Toshiba resolution vastly exceed what was broadcast over the air or supplied by analog cable. This is limited by RF channel bandwidth of 3.5 mhz.
When I hooked up the TV to the Dish receiver using S-video I got a much better picture. This is because the down converted MPG2-ED video used all of the SD bandwidth or about 5.5mhz.
You would get about the same effect from digital cable.
If you have any more questions, just ask. john

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Answer these basic questions
by rhythm Earthsong / November 7, 2006 3:37 AM PST

''If you have any more questions, just ask. john''

Thanks, John, don't mind if I do.

First, thanks to all who have responded. You've supplied me with a wealth of technical info, and I've gotten quite an education. The only problem is I'm not sure my most basic questions have been answered within all those tech specs. Maybe they have and I'm just slow, but I'm gonna relist my basics one more time, and see if anyone can just go line-by-line giving direct answers.

1. Is the signal supplied by the bigger cable providers (in my case, Time-Warner) in their ''digital cable'' packages DIFFERENT from their ''analog cable'' packages? I know I get far less channels, but is the actual SIGNAL different? Time Warner themselves say at least 70 of the 80 basic analog package channels are already ''digital sources'' anyway, and for what it's worth, even with my current ''analog'' package, when I switch from one of the few remaining analog channels to a digital one, the resolution improves dramatically even though my ''package'' is not a ''digital cable'' package. I actually have two ABC feeds, one a local analog affiliate and the other the national network feed. Switching between them shows a dramatic clarity improvement on the same show.

2. If I buy a big screen plasma or DLP TV (I'll probably get an HD model, just 'cause it's not that much more expensive than an ED model), but DON'T UPGRADE my cable package to a full ''digital package'' (which based on the answer to #1, could be different in NAME only), WILL I , OR WILL I NOT, see a significantly degraded image on the new TV. Some of your replies indicate it will still be an improvement over my tube image, though not as improved as it could be with HD signal, while the salemen at the big TV stores say it'll look awful, actually worse than my tube image.

3. Everything else you guys are telling me about an even BETTER image by going to cable-digital-HD packages, or possibly BETTER STILL by going satelite-digital-HD, is great info for the future, but for right now is a moot point, 'cause we only pay $13/mo. for our current basic analog cable, and we just can't afford a $50-$60/mo. package right now. You may ask, ''Then how can you afford a new $2500+ TV?'', but that part is through a gift, it's just the big cable monthlies that would hurt.

So try to answer those questions directly, if you can, and Thanks again everyone!

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SD on ED vs HD
by minger44 / November 10, 2006 5:24 AM PST

rhythm Earthsong - i'm in the exact same boat as you and have the exact same concerns - namely, will ED or HD have poor conversion of an analog cable signal, and between ED adn HD, is one better than the other in conversion. have you received any new info? or have you purchased your TV yet? can you share with me any info you might learn? and i'll do the same for you?


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Don't Listen to Time Warner
by BobbytheBeast / November 24, 2006 12:45 PM PST

I have Time Warner Basic Cable service (72 analog channels). Upgrading to a Digital Service package only gives you more channels. The basic cable channels are still analog. If you get a new HD TV with an ATSC/QAM tuner (digital cable ready) you will get the same analog channels you've always received and they will be upgraded in resolution to whatever the native resolution of your new TV (usually 720p, 1080i, or even 1080p). In addition you will receive all digital channels that your cable company transmits "in-the-clear" (unencrypted or unscrambled). Depending on your location, it is very possible that your cable company transmits local HD and SD digital stations unencrypted over the cable coming into your house. I'm just like you. I don't want to upgrade to the TWC digital service, because it's just more crappy channels. I don't want more channels. I want more resolution. I still subscribe to the TWC basic service and I receive 15 local broadcast digital stations over the same cable with my QAM tuner. Six of those are HD. TWC enters into retransmission agreements with your local broadcast TV stations and many times carrying the digital HD and/or SD subchannels is required. But TWC won't tell you that. They are only interested is getting you to upgrade and rent their lousy set top boxes. Whoever told you that most of their basic service is digital anyway is just trying to get you to upgrade service. Your basic service is all analog, and they would still be analog even if you upgraded to "digital" service. They have to be analog or otherwise all the people with analog TVs and analog tuners couldn't get them. Only the additional channels in their digital tiers are transmitted digitally, thus requiring a digital tuner or set top box to receive them. My basic cable service looks very much improved on my HDTV (1080p native resolution) than on my analog TVs. And the HD that the QAM tuner picks up is incredible. The only hitch is, since TWC is very secretive about this, you may need to contact your local TV stations that broadcast digital signals to find out what subchannel their signal is carried by TWC. I was lucky and got all 15 of my local station subchannels from the chief engineer at one of the stations. I would definitely recommend getting a digtal HDTV with a QAM (digital cable ready) tuner, and keeping your basic cable service.

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Why don't you just get an HD Receiver?
by condeboy / December 7, 2006 8:28 PM PST

That solves both your problems. You get the picture quality you want without monthly payments and the $13/ month bill is not effected. You can roll that tuner price into your cost. Or better yet, get a TV that has a tuner built in. The antennas are no bigger than satalite dishes (DTV or Dish Network), I hear you can even use regular rabbit ears.

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by stewart norrie / December 8, 2006 3:06 AM PST

BLA BLA BLA STOP dont bother buying a hi-def t.v. unless you are going TO FEED IT. Please just upgrade your cable or satellite system to a hi-def system and add the hi-def package which is usually very cheap add a h.d.m.i. cable and enjoy By the way cable sucks go dish network or direct t.v with a dish system you can throw up an outside antenna and receive your locals in hi-def Also the hi-def box will feed your 5.1. sound system dont be so cheap.forget digital it means nothing just adds more bells and whistles stew

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by stewart norrie / June 13, 2007 2:44 AM PDT

First buy the darn t.v. make sure its 1080P (most new hi-def sets sre now 1080P STOP. Next call Dish Network and order there 211 hi-def system then add the hi-def and VOOM package $15.00 extra per month next when dish installs the system they only supply componit vidio cables so go buy your self a h.d.m.i. cable to replace the componit cables at this point you will have tons of hi-def channels and once you see Planet earth on Discovery h.d. theater you will be blown away actually all the channels with the hi-def package are awsome now there is more throw up a outside antenna do a digital scan on the receiver and all your local hi-def channels will go into the main menue for easy access I receive 18 local digital channels 9 are in hi-def Also digital means you must feed it stewee

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Trying to maintain the same flexibility
by kodiakblue / June 12, 2007 1:39 AM PDT

I have cable TV. I work a lot of weekends and nights so I record quite a bit.
All old stuff, no cable box, VHS recorders and a handful of splitters that allow me to record several broadcasts at the same time.
How, as the cable company slowly converts to digital, can I maintain this flexibility? I mean, what are the options? Several DVRs, a DAC,what is available and will work other than TiVo and/or using the cable box offered by the cable company? Cable boxes appear to be a terrible limitation on the kind of recording I've been able to do for years. Literally, I'm used to being able to record 3 sporting events all on at the same time.
Thanks for any help or suggestions.
It's pretty much all new stuff to me.

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Looking for optoins also!
by txblue / October 31, 2007 7:21 AM PDT

We are still using mulitple VCR's thoroughout the house with standard cable. Even with the 70" Mitsubishi we bought in '99 (so no, it's not HD, not even widescreen) Now we are ready to buy a new 'big' TV for the new gameroom we just built - hubby wants digital TV (like more channels to surf won't drive me more crazy) but I refuse to have to rent a box from TW. We pay too much for standard cable and internet. So I'm understanding from some posts that I can get some digital stations via the standard cable plugged into my new TV Right? I also assume I can hook my extra VCR and record from my standard cable - as I've done for years - and I saw a digital tuner DVD recorder/VCR for a reasonable price at Sams - so I wonder if the VCR quality will be different on that? Any thoughts from the experts out there? Why isn't there a standard digital cable - like standard analog, where you can just plug the cable into the back of a digital tuned TV/or other component and get the signals. I can't stand the cost of spending this much on a TV to use it as a monitor with a cable STB.

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EARTHSONGIf you dont watch t.v. that much just forget it
by stewart norrie / November 11, 2006 12:27 AM PST

If you took the plunge and why not? quality hi-def t.vs are at such cheap prices right now that anyone could afford one Then upgrade you time warner unit to a hi-def box +add the hi-def service Then brlieve me you wouild watch a lot of t.v. WHY The hi-def programming is quality programming well worth watching Discovery h-d theater alone is breathtaking T.N.t. hdnet, h,d net movies espn Also if you switched to the Dish network for $15.00 extra per month you will get the hi-def package and VOOM and with the dish system you can throw up an outside antenna and receive your local over the air channels in hi-def. At least your in so you can at least get some informationIT SEEMS YOU HAVE A LOT OF HOMEWORK TO DO good luck steweeee

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Listen to Steweeee...
by grc24 / November 24, 2006 3:07 PM PST

Don't bother with cable anything. get Dish network and watch your set come alive. The HD pogramming is breathtaking. Discovery HD is amazing. One program to watch is "Sunrise Earth." WOW!!! ESPNHD is great as well. Check out to check the availability of your local stations that transmit in digital. It's a great site and will even tell wich direction to aim your antenna to get the best signal. Also, what type of antenna you'll most likely need. If your able to get your locals through an over the air antenna in digital, then you don't have to bother paying the extra $5./month to get them through satellite. All local stations are ordered to brodcast in DIGITAL by Jan. 2007 and have till 2009 to do so or will turned off. Something to think about.

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by stewart norrie / December 9, 2006 12:55 AM PST
In reply to: Listen to Steweeee...

I have had the Dish 811 for 3 years and never a problem best picture and sound PERIOD. Well last had problems with umit I called customer service and we tried all the tests over the phone no help anyway Dish sent me a new replacement in 3 day free Al i had to pay was shipping. Sunrise Eart ios awsome but check out the 1/2 hour show on h.d. net NOTHING BUT TRAILERS EYE POPPING sorry for bad spelling jusy got out of bed stew

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DTV vs Digital Cable
by cnwhiteprints / November 2, 2007 6:38 AM PDT

Does anyone know why specifically do we need a digital converter for cable tv if we already have a digital tuner in our tv? Do the cable companies send a different type of digital signal than what the local broadcast stations are going to be sending after 02/2009? I have searched and searched on the net with no such luck finding an answer.

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Because they want your $$
by txblue / November 2, 2007 6:50 AM PDT
In reply to: DTV vs Digital Cable

It's my understanding that they encrypt the digital signals for 'cable' channels - now I don't mind if they encrypt HBO, but they shouldn't scramble the standard stations like Discovery, ESPN, etc if they come on the standard digital package. They also want you to have to rent the box so that they can upsell you with PPV, etc. I'm thinking of buying a small QAM tuner TV just to see what I'd get w/o the box!

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