The Engadget HD Interview: DirecTV's CTO RE: HD Lite

Ben Drawbaugh
B. Drawbaugh|01.11.07

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Ben Drawbaugh
January 11, 2007 8:36 AM
In this article: DirecTV, features, hd, MPEG2, MPEG4, satellite
The Engadget HD Interview: DirecTV's CTO RE: HD Lite
Rmulo PontualAfter we finished covering the DirecTV press conference, we had a chance to catch up with Rômulo Pontual the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of DirecTV and ask him some questions about HD Lite and DirecTV's HD locals distribution methods. We were very surprised that he would answer our questions considering the current pending lawsuit against DirecTV for HD Lite.

Have you ever heard of the term HD Lite?

What do you think of that term?
I don't know what it means.HD Lite is when you take 1920x1080 and shave it down to 1280x1080i which is what many believe DirecTV does and some have actually confirmed it in different ways. Is there a reason why you cut down the resolution?

We spend a huge amount of resources to optimize our transmission and the configuration we have today is the configuration that is the best video quality for the consumer, I don't want to tell you how, because it is a trade secret. Consumers should judge by the video quality.

So you are saying to ignore the specs and look at the quality and that is where the proof is?

Put the screens side by side and look at the quality.

So you think that even if another provider has a higher bit rate and a higher resolution, your picture quality is better because your compression technology, despite the bit rate?

Bit rate is not a good measure, if it was MPEG4 would be worse than MPEG2, you have to put them side by side and see the quality. Because we have generations of equipment and they improve with each generation, they improve motion sensing, pre-fusing, all of those improvement need to be accounted for, so put them side by side.

You don't feel that DirecTV has sacrificed picture quality at all in order to deliver more HD channels?

Everything in life is a balance, we are not contained in capacity with MPEG4, but we were in MPEG2. MPEG4 will be a leap better in in terms of quality. I could argue that our local MPEG4 transmission today is even better than a ATSC signal.

Another question about your local HD delivery? My understanding is that in Tampa rather than installing an MPEG4 encoder at each local affiliate, DirecTV has a antenna in Tampa that they use to receive the local channels and then DirecTV transcodes the compressed MPEG2 signal to MPEG4 for delivery to subscribers. Is this accurate?

We have multiple way of collecting the signal, it varies market to market, supplier by supplier. I don't know if that is how Tampa channels are done.

Is that one of the scenarios?

There are cases where we get the ATSC signal OTA.

Is it DirecTV's goal to install the transcoders into the local affiliates so that you can encode the source, rather re-compress the ATSC signal?

It is our goal to be a forfront of quality and in the case of this collection of ATSC which is MPEG2 it will be at a lower quality, and we will try to find a way to get the signal at a higher quality.

Any time line on this goal? It seems interesting that you would want to set it up once and have to go back and redo it.

t depends, the same suppliers may get better MPEG2 encoders and they may decide to dedicate more bandwidth to their HDTV channel.

Either way with all multi-casting thats going on today with the local affiliates, wouldn't it always be better to grab the original source from the affiliate before it goes into the MPEG2 encoder?

We have a process to do that, the supply isn't always ready to do that, how they operate, it's cost related, it's a case by case.

Thanks for your time.
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