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How do over-the-air HD broadcasts compare...

by minimalist / February 20, 2008 4:09 AM PST cable and satellite versions?

I don?t have cable TV (just internet) as I prefer to just watch DVD?s and rent the few shows I want to see from Netflix (btw, Lost Season 3 on Blu-ray looks a-m-a-z-i-n-g, definitely something to pull out to show off your system).

So just for kicks I got out my rabbit ears and hooked them up to my 46? 1080p Sony LCD. To my surprise I get 3 or the local channels in digital HD (ABC in 720p, CBS in 1080i and PBS at 1080i).

At first I was impressed. And then movement started happening and it turned into block city. Absolutely Horrible quarter inch pixels and larger during lots of movement and VERY noticeable. It was like someone applied a mosaic filter in Photoshop whenever there was any action on the screen.

So am I just seeing the worst that HD broadcasts have to offer or is this an example of the quality to expect from cable and satellite HD? If it?s the latter than color me underwhelmed. If that?s the case than I?ll just watch my blu-ray discs and up-scaled DVD?s thanks.

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I have never seen an OTA...
by stuntman_mike / February 20, 2008 5:08 AM PST

HD broadcast before, but I can tell you that my HD cable looks great. BD quality? Of course not, but better than an upscaled DVD.

The pixelation that you are talking about is a non issue. I am not saying that it absolutely never happens, but it is so infrequent that it is almost to the point of never.

It is worth the investment to me. But then I watch al ot of TV, especially sports lol.

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It looks better than a DVD...
by minimalist / February 20, 2008 8:59 AM PST

if the image is perfectly still that is. Whcih is of course the problem because movies are not still. Add even a small amount of movement and its amazing how quickly this pristine image degrades. Its kind of shocking.

It was my understand that OTA HD broadcasts are an either/or situation. Either you have it or you don't. There is no image degradation due to weak signal. It just cuts out. The image degradation seems to be coming strictly from the compression in the broadcast itself.

For example, an Expedia ad came on last night. White background, small little bit of text in the middle of the screen with a little globe and airplane graphic above it. The stationary "Expedia" text looked crisp and clean the entire time. The little airplane swirling around the cartoon globe just above this text looked like blurry pixelated garbage. As soon as it stopped spinning and became still it became just as crisp as the text.

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Rabbit ears???
by jcrobso / February 20, 2008 6:59 AM PST

Unless you very close to the transmitter you will need a better antenna.
If you have a good antenna OTA HD looks very good. But 1080i will still show some pixalation on fast motion, 720p looks better OTA. John

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by Riverledge / February 20, 2008 7:39 AM PST

WERE JUST FINE. MAYBE NOT RABBIT-EARS, BUT A DEDICATED "TERK" type antenna, might do a better job.

HD broadcasts of NON-HD programming will ALMOST ALWAYS look like crap!

Wish I could help a lot more, but I've been spoiled by cable; even COMCRAP cable.

Best wishes,


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by ns387241 / February 20, 2008 11:37 AM PST

I have a rather powerful antenna and receive crystal clear HD OTA siganls. I would be one of those staisfied customers, I guess.

HD OTA Signals are by far the best transmitted signals I have seen so far. If you get the right antenna and live in the right location, there is practcally no distortion.

To find out what channels you can receive and what strength antenna you would need to receive them, log on to
I would recommend out of the Audiovox/Terk Family, but a good antenna is a good antenna from any brand. Also, I prefer the more sensitive, non-amplified antennas, like the Terk HDTVi over the cheap amplified ones (under $90). For those with more financial resources, I have had good luck with the Terk HDTVo.

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I would agree
by gabereyes / February 20, 2008 12:49 PM PST
In reply to: HD OTA

OTA looks the best over cable and Sat.

I have a terk square shooter outdoor ANT and dish network, I use the OTA ant for local shows because it looks better on my set, not sure why but it may have something to do with hooking it straight to the TV vs going through a sat or cable box.


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by goplay18 / February 24, 2008 11:38 PM PST
In reply to: I would agree

great observation gabe...yes it does look better going straight to your set. here is why; the signal you're picking up with your antenna
ota is coming straight from your studios in an uncompressed form. that is true hd video, as well as pure digital audio signal getting to your tuner.
i am a technician with one of the country's larger cable companies, and i am also a subscriber to directv. i have high-end audio/video equipment in my home and i closely monitor all possible types of high definition broadcasts.
first, just let me get this out of the way...a 1080p tv and a blu ray disc is just about unbeatable! anyone that doesn't have this yet needs it!
as for cable/satellite/ota broadcasts are concerned, the ota, uncompressed signal is best. however, you do need to optimize the signal reception and there are a number of factors that come into play as to how to acheive this. such factors are the ant. you are using, as well as the location of your home in proximity to the broadcast towers, to the layout of land and buildings surrounding your home. i have the high-end outdoor antenna that works just fine, and i have also tried an array of indoor antenna's, both non-amplified and amplified. what worked for me was starting cheap and trying them out to see what worked best. your tv tuner will also play a role in how well you pick up ota broadcasts also. with my newest television, the ota antenna that i am most pleased with is an indoormodel with a $49. price tag. it is the Phillips MANT510. it is the most used at this point. so just start cheap and see how lucky you get.
as for cable hd signal, i have to say it is very good. or at least from my company it is. but it is a compressed signal. we get the signals from the broadcasters in an uncompressed format, but it has to be compressed for us to send it out through the cable plant. however, if you've got a tight cable company in your area, and the last technician at your home made sure your home was clean (undamaged shielded cable, proper fittings, tight connections, no ingress/egress, proper levels and values) then you're really in for a treat. the difference you will see is mostly heard. the audio won't be as crisp, atlthough you will still get what is being broadcast. and cable companies have optical audio output and HDMI output set tops. but your run-ins with tiling and freeze frame and rainbow effect will be almost non-existent. it is a pure joy. well worth having and most cable operators now have all locals in HD as well as your major sports and movie networks in HD.
as for satellite....this is actually my least favorite of the three.
audio from satellite is almost always better than the other two sources. but, seeing as directv is not a studio themselves, i would have to think that they have to degrade the source that they are receiving in order to get it to us. how many times, i really don't know. i know they advertise a lot more HD than cable, and they are telling the truth. they have a lot of HD channels. but in reality, about half of them don't look as good as some cable companies' digital broadcasts. but, this is just my opinion, and i try to be as unbiased as i can be. i actually let the directv guy park in my front yard! with my cable truck in front of my house.
so, take this and run with it. i hope it helps some of you to find what you're looking for. and trust me, when you get it you will know it....and you will love it!
one more thing before i go...a good place to start as far as determining how your house sits and the type of signal you should be receiving in your area, go to under antenna tech help, click on HDTV channel lists. from there you will be able to pick your immediate area or an area very close to yours. you can get detailed maps that display your homes location and the proximity to your local towers, including direction, layout, obstructions, etc.
and it will suggest types of and strength of ota antenna's for you to consider.
happy viewing!

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in an uncompressed form???? Not true!!!!
by jcrobso / February 25, 2008 12:01 AM PST

The video is compressed and compressed a lot!!!!
All digital video is compressed using MPG2 compression!!
That Max bandwidth of an OTA signal is 18megabits and if the station has sub channels like NBC and ABC use, the main channels are compressed even more. John

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by Pepe7 / April 17, 2009 1:33 PM PDT

You are correct about the compression issue. This is a good example of a technician not being familiar enough with the basics of the technologies/hardware/software they deal with on a daily basis. No wonder consumers get mad sometimes(!)


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Uncompressed it is...
by blazeracer / June 12, 2009 11:42 PM PDT

MP2 is the analog to digital encoding, not compression. It changes the bit rate significantly when it makes the conversion from analog to digital so the data stream is smaller, but it's NOT compressoin. It's also what's considered lossless encoding, meaning NONE of the originating analog signal, video or audio, is lost. If the image or sound is captured in high definition, it's encoded and transmitted/broadcast in high definition with ZERO loss. OTA uses MP2, of which the data rate is still too high for cable or satellite.

MP4 which is used by satellite and cable companies takes the originating MP2 signal and squashes it so they can jam 200 channels down one wire, making the picture look not as crisp. That's why cable and satellite will never be able to touch OTA for picture quality.

I'm using a Antennas Direct Clearstream 2 antenna into a 65" projection TV. In 1080i I can see the dimples on the football.

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YES it is compression!!!!
by jcrobso / June 15, 2009 2:15 AM PDT
In reply to: Uncompressed it is...
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by BLKCLK500 / January 11, 2013 10:55 PM PST



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(NT) You don't have strong enough signal.
by ahtoi / February 20, 2008 3:09 PM PST
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I'm about 20 miles from the source.
by Rollbar / February 20, 2008 9:26 PM PST

I bought a powered V wing antenna, (don't recall the brand but got it at Radio Shack; $75). Mounted it on a pole about 20 to 25 feet up. Just stuck it in the ground next to the house and attached it with a bracket at the roof eves. Works great even though I live in the woods. Rain on the foliage can cause problems but otherwise a pretty good picture.

It's attached to my computer monitor however, (30 inch 1080i Olivea). For regular viewing, I use Direct TV on a 55 inch Sony A3000.

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OTA is the best
by HTHMAN / February 21, 2008 11:32 PM PST

I have Dish HD and an OTA antenna. If I switch back and forth, the antenna channel always looks better. I am sure it is due to the compression that the satellite and cable providers use. The antenna is a nice backup in case your provider is down.

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OTa is best
by gretzkyv99 / February 21, 2008 11:41 PM PST
In reply to: OTA is the best

Mainly due to the fact that there are bandwith restrictions with Satellites. Cable is pretty good as well, then there are your satellite broadcast.

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Very comparable in my house
by netboomer / February 22, 2008 12:03 PM PST

I've now been the owner of a 37" Magnavox LCD for about 3 weeks, with both Comcast HD and a Channelmaster UHF roof-mounted antenna. Having switched back and forth between inputs looking for a difference on the same channel, I would say that the image quality for both is just stunning. Maybe two identical sets side by side would reveal a difference, but I don't have that luxury.

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Rabid pixellation
by dolbyg / February 22, 2008 12:27 PM PST

I have had my HDTV receiver in Los Angeles county for 7 years, now. Consider that this is the entertainment capitol, or was until the WGA's strike. The number of HDTV broadcasts has grown to 23 channels. My receiver has an on-screen signal strength meter that has allowed me to draw a correlation between the strength and the pixellation.
If you use little rabbit ears in the Boonies, don't expect an impressive picture.

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Get an outside antenna
by tom.o / February 22, 2008 8:14 PM PST

A weak signal equals depixelation (break up into blocks). I have been running OTA HDTV since the early days when you needed a STB for HDTV. The outside antenna does the trick. Mine is on a large outside unit; because we still watch some of the weaker channels on VHF.

HDTV is being broadcasted on the UHF frequencies. In 2009, the VHF TV signals are gone. I would invest in a really good UHF antenna. Go to to see the locations of signals being broadcast in your area. Buy a digital rotator and tune to the station. The fact is that UHF HD is very directional.

I recently picked up an HDTV for my 86 year old father. He is about 35 to 40 miles line of sight from the broadcast towers. We tried several top rated indoor antenna and all would eventually depixelate. I got a splitter (there was already a signal booster amplifier in the line), connected the new TV to the old outside antenna and the depixelation problems are gone.

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Not all digital is UHF
by Mikebiker / February 23, 2008 1:06 AM PST
In reply to: Get an outside antenna

Not all digital broadcasts are on UHF. Once the analog broadcasts are ended, some digital transmissions will be moved back to VHF. In my area, after the transition, there will be three stations transmitting on VHF channels.

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Not all digital is UHF
by rsadda / February 24, 2008 8:27 AM PST
In reply to: Not all digital is UHF

Your signal must be weak. You probably live a little too far from the OTA broadcast source. I use an old rabbit ear antenna and get a beautiful picture from local CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, PBS high definition broadcast channels. Absolutely no pixellation!! But then, I live just accross the river from local broadcast stations in downtown New Orleans. Try an outdoor roof antenna or a TERK or Radio Shack HDTV indoor antenna. You may have better luck with that.

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Weak signal causes blocking
by smitbret / April 24, 2009 11:28 AM PDT
In reply to: Not all digital is UHF

I have my outdoor antenna connected through my Dish Network 722 receiver. I ended up going OTA because Dish wasn't broadcasting the locals in HD until about a week ago and I wanted to watch the NCAA tourney in HD. According to my Dish Network receiver, my OTA signal strength on the CBS station is 96 (0-100), but the broadcasts still suffered from the blocking during movement. I've since watched NBA basketball on the ABC affiliate that is only running about 76% and not had the same problem. The NBC affiliate doesn't have the problem either, but the transmitter's only six miles from my house and it's always 100%. The message I'm getting is that OTA broadcasts are never compressed?

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I don't think I care about TV enough to bother with
by minimalist / February 23, 2008 2:13 AM PST
In reply to: Get an outside antenna

an outdoor antenna. I might be willing to buy a better quality indoor antenna for the few times I just have to see something being broadcast on network TV or PBS.

I checked and I am in a city center between 8 and 14 miles away from all the digital broadcast towers in my area. All the houses are 1 and 2 story but there are a lot of big 50-60 foot mature trees in the neighborhood.

The rabbit ears I am using are from the late 90's and have a fine tuning knob at the base and a about a 8" loop at the base for UHF channels. Is there any type of indoor antenna that would make a difference over what I already have or is this as good as it will get on an indoor antenna?

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by BLKCLK500 / January 11, 2013 11:01 PM PST


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Avoid amplification if you can.

Get a highly directional non-amplified antenna

I was one of the (very) early adopters of DTV with a samsung SIR-T151 HD ATSC tuners. What I found from my own experience and reading some other forums is that the gain of amplified antennas often cause a distortion in a digital signal. Once I got an Zenith HD-TV1 (not sure of the model #) highly direction non-amplified antenna, the problem was solved. Another friend of mine found that he could use an amplified antenna but use the barest minimum of amplification for it to work. A little amp can go a long way, the dynamics of the digital signal is a lot different from analog.

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HD broadcasts over the air Vs Cable
by Ron Geiken / February 23, 2008 8:32 AM PST

I have Cox cable, and usually will watch my local HD channels on the Cable, but in case it would be off the air, I have an indoor antenna that has an amplifier that I can use in emergency. The HD signals with the antenna is great, and I could watch my local channels with it if the Cable happens to be out. If I look at the analog channel with this antenna, it is extremely noisy and almost impossible to watch. The same channel in HD looks fine. Any given antenna will give a much better picture when it is used with a digital input vs and analog input. If you have a good out door antenna, you should get excellent HD signals. Digital is the wave of the future, so everyone might as well get used to that. And irregardless to what some "Purist" may say digital will give you the best quality TV picture with any given antenna. If the input signal is to weak, neither digital or analog will give you an adequate TV Picture.

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by Riverledge / February 23, 2008 9:06 AM PST


I HAVE COMCAST CABLE (RIP-OFF) for both sets, and an antenna for EMERGENCIES. There POTENTIALLY over 40 receivable OTA signals in my area.

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Your pixelation problem is weak signal...
by mostinc / April 17, 2009 10:18 AM PDT

I am not sure how far you are from broadcast but my DTV converter (Zenith) is great and it has a signal meter. Put on the signal meter and you will find that pixelation occurs whenever the signal gets real low. I have amplified antenna in attic. It works great except one station seems to go pixelated once in a while. That might be testing since we have not officially started DTV full time service yet.

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Transmitting antenna locations
by mjd420nova / June 15, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Here in the San Fran bay area, a number of the local stations have moved their transmitter sites when the shifted to digital formats. This resulted in the complete loss of their signals by those with outside antennas for OTA. Reoriented the antennas and the signls are back and sharp as ever. When the broadcasters finish upgrading their transmitters and shift back to the original sites, the antennas will have to be moved again. Massive pixelation is an indication of weak signals. If it's pointed in the right direction an amplifier maybe needed to boost its strength. Many broadcasters have reduced their transmitter power thinking that the new digital signals are easier to pickup and have thereby lost some fringe areas that were getting borderline signals to start with.

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by BLKCLK500 / January 11, 2013 10:43 PM PST
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