BBC HD – Quality Observations

I was wandering around town today, desperately trying to find anywhere that stocked a particular model of Freeview+ PVR. In this I was woefully unsuccessful. However, two of the shops I tried were showing the BBC HD Preview Loop.

First one I looked at did look ever so slightly on the grainy/fuzzy side. It was still an improvement over what I useually get when SD is upscaled on my modest 22″ TV. But the edges seemed to lack a little. Nothing that would seem to justify the wailing and gnashing of teeth that is increasingly common on the BBC Internet Blog.

Then I looked at the TV next to it.

Major difference. Seriously. It was the exact same feed, but there was a subtle-yet-significant increase in clarity. The edges looked a lot clearer and the overall picture quality seemed improved. From the same channel. At exactly the same time.
This suggests to me that some equipment does a better job at displaying the channel than others. This brings up the very real possibility that when BBC staff insist that the channel looks fine when they watch it that it actually does. It would also go some way to epxlain why some people don’t see the same level od quality degredation, and even that some programs have simultaneous conflicting reviews of good and bad quality. Maybe it really is people’s setups.

It was actually quite interesting to watch about 7 screens all on one wall, all showing the same channel, and all displaying it in subtly different ways. Some reminded me of the screencaps of poor quality that people post. Some reminded me of watching a Blu-ray at home. Again, this was from the exact same programme.

A bit later on, I was in another shop that also had the same channel on. I didn’t see the same level of quality variation, but I did notice a couple of things.
For one, there was a TV next to them that was showing a standard BBC channel. Even during a couple of glitchy HD shots (see below), the HD output was noticeably better quality than the upscaled SD. “Barely better than SD” seems ever more hyperbole to me at this point.

I did notice one sequence that didn’t quite work. A pan up a skyscraper had a little bit of “tearing” as the camera panned up.

Then again, I’ve seen worse on a movie in a cinema. The Matrix: Reloaded. Multiple Smiths. The heads all tore. Badly. And, like broadcast HD, that was new technology at the time. Several years on, the same thing can be done so much better.

Things will improve. And they already look pretty damned good to me.

Now if only I could get HD before moving this year. (Damned minimum contracts)

Addendum: (January 10th 2010)
Someone has added that they hope the BBC doesn’t think they’re “just a vocal minority of whinging users”. Well I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what you are. And you come over that way even to people outside of the BBC. (see my prvious post…)

The other problem I have is that there are some people commenting on the blogs whose opinions or motivations I actually respect quite a lot. Sadly, that whole side of the argument is spoiled for me by some persistent axe-grinders.

What also doesn’t help is the shifting goalposts of what the complaint actually is. Many times, people will say that “this is no better than upscaled SD”. But as soon as somebody who signed up after the August ’09 change of encoders and birtates, this changes to “people aren’t saying it’s not improved over SD, just not as good as it used to be” – but that’s not what people are saying. They are atually saying that there isn’t much of a difference to SD at all.