“57 channels and nothing on.” Bruce Springsteen clearly did not set his sights high enough, as the new competition among broadcast television providers is the number of high definition channels that they will deliver. DirecTV has set the bar, promising 100 HD channels by the end of this year, increasing to 150 by the end of 2008.
Verizon has stepped up to meet the challenge, and now also promises to provide 150 HD channels by the end of next year. The company plans to have 60 HD channels by next spring, and more than 1,000 HD on-demand movies by the end of 2008.
Verizon has an added advantage in this race, however. The fiber optic network that delivers the content to subscribers’ homes has enormous bandwidth. (Bandwidth describes how much information can be sent through the line at a time.) Satellite services such as DirecTV are limited to the amount of information that their satellites can broadcast. And local cable companies also have less bandwidth available than fiber optics. As a result, Verizon does not have to compress their video content as much. DirecTV’s switch to H.264 (MPEG4) compression helps by making the data stream smaller with less loss of image quality than MPEG2 compression, but they still face limits.
HD signals on cable and satellite can be squeezed so hard that the image quality is degraded. If Verizon’s FiOS can deliver noticeably better image quality, that may turn out to be more important than the absolute count of stations available.
If you are considering satellite service, compareDirecTV and DISH Network offerings at hdtvprofessor.com/SatelliteTVService/satellite-comparison.html.