DirecTV sued over 'HD Lite' service

Peter Cohen, a subscriber to DirecTV’s HD satellite service, has filed a class action lawsuit against the DTH provider for reducing the quality of its HDTV signal by lowering the bit rate.

When Cohen initially signed up for DirecTV’s HD package in 2003, the operator promised “astonishing picture quality.” Within a year, Cohen charged, DirecTV broke it promise by reducing the quality of its HD satellite channels.

Cohen’s lawsuit, drawing a wave of supporters from various Web sites, got its first public hearing last week when a judge ruled against DirecTV on its motion to compel arbitration in the case.

The complaint, apparently shared by other vocal DirecTV critics, has resulted in DirecTV’s service being tagged “HD Lite” because of the low bit rate the service uses to transmit HD channels.

“We believe the plaintiff’s underlying claims are completely without merit because DirecTV’s high-definition service is high quality, true HD service under accepted definitions for satellite TV,” DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer told the Web site

Subscribers have claimed that DirecTV highly compresses HD images to create more channel space. This compression, to save bandwidth, reduces image quality.

Since information about the lawsuit surfaced, has reported that it received approximately 100 negative e-mails from DirecTV subscribers, complaining that the service’s nine-channel national HD lineup fares poorly compared to rival EchoStar, which airs 30 national HD channels.

Earlier, DirecTV announced plans to change to MPEG-4 compression technology for HDTV. That change is expected to occur next year.