DISH Network, the satellite TV provider, last week became one of the first TV broadcasters in the United States to transmit a full 1080p/24 (1920 x 1080 progressive) resolution program to its subscribers. The offering, which began Aug. 1, was a video-on-demand selection of the feature film, “I Am Legend.”
EchoStar’s DISH said it will start offering feature films shot in the 1080p/24 format whenever the content is available, claiming it’s the same quality as Blu-ray video discs. Until now, other services have transmitted the 1080i (interlaced) or 720p HD formats. For consumers, VOD offers the higher image quality but at a lower price than renting a disc, the direct-to-home satellite company said.
The 1080p upgrade is a no-charge addition for anyone who owns an HD DVR capable of playing MPEG-4 video. A software upgrade is being made available that allows the 1080p service.
Competitor DIRECTV said last week that, in addition to adding 30 new HDTV channels starting on Aug. 14, it will transmit movies in 1080p by the end of the year. The satellite provider also said it plans to be the first company to distribute all of its HD programming in the MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding standard with Dolby Digital Audio by the end of this month. DIRECTV is also planning to launch its 12th satellite next year, which will push its national HD service offering to 200 channels.
The Web site Electronista said the DISH milestone closes one of the perceived image quality gaps between TV and pre-recorded forms of HD such as Blu-ray (also delivered in the 1080p/24 format) and digital downloads. While downloads in particular are rarely offered in 1080p, both these and Blu-ray often provide better image quality than most live TV, which is hampered by the frequent need to heavily compress the signal in order to save bandwidth space so it can be transmitted easily.
The “New York Times” ran a column challenging whether the DISH 1080p service quality equals that of a Blu-ray disc. It quoted Pete Putman, a TV engineer and owner of Roam Consulting, who said for a 1080p to look like at Blu-ray program the service would have to increase its bit rate to 16Mb/s or 18Mb/s. Putman believes that both DISH and its competitor, DIRECTV, are sending out signals at about 6Mb/s to 8Mb/s in order to conserve transponder capacity.