[extropy-chat] META: Cable Speeds and delays [was: related to SecondLife]

Robert Bradbury robert.bradbury at gmail.com
Tue Dec 12 19:09:44 UTC 2006

Ok, I'm satisfied with the MPEG-2/frame/ECC build-up answers (and
requirements) [1] but what I'm *really* complaining about is that it now
seems to take significantly longer to build up and display the frame after
switching channels (other family members have noticed this as well).

>From time to time one also encounters "Channel temporarily unavailable,
please wait" (or something to that effect), particularly on the 3 channels
allocated to local town services, but I think I've seen it on some other
channels as well.  This makes me think that Comcast may have reprogrammed
the digital tuner [2] to select one out of "many" active channels (where #
active << the 400-600 "available") and if one is switching to channels not
currently "active" then one has 2 delays (a) wait for it to queue and get
fed into the live data stream and (b) wait for that data stream to be
subsequently decoded from the MPEG-2 into something the TV can display.

Another question might be *how* are the cable companies going to handle
"movies on demand" if 9999 customers request 9999 different movies all at
the same time?  Obviously if I've got digital HDTV TV + 3 Channel Tivo +
ultra high speed internet on the same cable to a few hundred homes something
has to give someplace.  I'm speculating that it is already giving and the
perceived "new" delays I'm seeing are due to the fact that they are pushing
the limits and not compensating sufficiently.

The moral of the story is: rent a DVR from Comcast, and stop watching live
> tv.

For DVR/Tivo to work you have to *program* the box [3].  Given how
frequently broadcasters are changing time slots on programs one might well
have to do this once a month at this point.  It becomes an open question as
to whether one loses more time to trying to make sure you record the
programs or having to watch the commercials.

And only a real dumbass is going to *rent* anything like this.  An Uber-Geek
(like moi?) is going to turn a spare PC into an Monster-Tivo able to record
6 or 9 channels continuously onto 750GB hard drives for an entire week.  The
spare CPU cycles will be spent identifying the commercials which run over
and over and over again and remove them from the recorded sequences.  Then
they spend all day Sunday watching the most interesting programs commecial
free.  I suspect that one might also be able to speed up the viewing rate by
a factor of 2 or so and not lose a lot.

But the question remains -- if we are headed towards "anything for anyone
anytime" that means you may need 2-6 hours of video bandwidth per person per
day.  That can probably be supplied even by DSL if one has anticipatory data
availability but once you allow commercial skipping you blow the classical
marketing model entirely out of the water.  Indeed -- I don't need 999
channels or even 99 -- I need maybe 6 but I want to pick those six and not
have to pay for the rest.  Ideally I'd like to pay for just the programs I'm
interested in.  That is what is making the people in the media crazy right
now is that the "eyeballs" are finding lots available for a flat fee each
month which is more interesting than what the studios are supplying.  If
this ultimately expands into distributed WiMax networks that are effectively
"free" then both the suppliers (TV-cos) and the distributors (Phone &
CableCos) have very large problems.  Of course this isn't going to happen


1. I had satellite many years ago and am familiar with both the delays and
partial picture loss due to poor weather conditions.
2. The digital tuner is a Motorola DCT 2224/1661.
3. I've been through my "program the VCR to accumulate lots of tapes so you
can watch whatever you want when you want it" phase. It doesn't interest me
very much.
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