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Verizon Defends 'Uncompressed HDTV' Ads

Verizon Communications is standing by its claim that FiOS TV delivers “uncompressed” high-definition channels, while acknowledging that the video it distributes to customers is already compressed by programmers.

Verizon is running a TV ad campaign claiming that FiOS TV delivers “pure uncompressed high definition,” touting the supposedly superior picture quality available through the service over cable.

In one of the spots, a fictional cable customer excitedly plugs a coaxial cable into the back of a flat-panel HDTV set, saying, “This is going to look amazing!”—only to watch the TV spit the cable out. The hapless customer repeatedly tries to reconnect the cable, without success.

But the statement that FiOS TV delivers “uncompressed” video is, on its face, not true. All digital video that is delivered by commercial cable, telco or satellite TV services must be compressed.

A single uncompressed 1080i HDTV stream would consume around 1.5 Gigabits per second. That would occupy almost two-thirds the capacity of one Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) wavelength, the newer-generation fiber-optic networking technology Verizon is deploying for FiOS.

In fact, Verizon delivers video in MPEG-2 format—the same compression technology used by virtually every cable operator.

Verizon media relations director Bobbi Henson, asked to substantiate the claim in the TV spots, said the point of the campaign is to show that “our FiOS TV customers are receiving HD that’s not compressed by Verizon.”

“It’s true that content owners compress their video before sending it to video service providers,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “But we forward the signal to our customers the way that we receive it.”

Verizon is attempting to highlight the fact that many cable operators perform additional processing on digital video signals—a process called transcoding or rate shaping—before distributing them to subscribers’ homes, in order to save space. The more highly compressed digital video is, the more likely it is to exhibit blocky and blurry images.

In her e-mail, Henson called attention to a comparative test, conducted by an audio/video enthusiast in northern Virginia, of HD programming delivered by Comcast and FiOS TV. He posted the images he captured on a message board at AVSForum.com, showing clear differences between the two services.

Verizon has claimed that its fiber-to-the-home network allows it to deliver HDTV without any additional transcoding.

But the two main reasons Verizon has more shelf space than cable is because FiOS TV offers a smaller analog tier than most cable operators and delivers video-on-demand and other interactive services over a separate Internet Protocol network.

In addition, Verizon is in the process of eliminating even those few analog channels. That’s because it promised the Federal Communications Commission to do so by the February 2009 digital TV transition date in order to receive a temporary waiver to the FCC’s ban on set-tops with integrated security functions.