I don’t have pay TV. This has been a problem at times because I haven’t been able to explore its capabilities very well. But the cost to benefit ratio is, to me, too high.
Over the years I have heard many criticisms of Foxtel picture quality. Without having access to it myself, it has been difficult to check. However last year someone kindly lent me a copy of the interesting TV show ‘Dexter‘. This had been recorded on a DVD+R from a Foxtel box using RGB output. The recording quality of the DVD+R was set to the SP mode, which means that a single-layer disc will fit about two hours of recording.
Now look at the picture to the right. At the top is a full frame towards the end of the premier episode of ‘Dexter’. Beneath it is a detail — without any scaling at all — from this frame. That on the left is from the DVD (ie. from Foxtel), that on the right from the SDTV broadcast. Note: SDTV, not HDTV. The broadcast standard — 576 lines — is the same for SDTV and Foxtel.
It’s pretty obvious that the free to air SDTV picture is much sharper and more detailed than the Foxtel version (see, for example the hole in the right-most foot. You can’t see this at all in the Foxtel shot). The colour is actually better with Foxtel. That isn’t evident from this, but from human faces, the red is a little pumped with the SDTV. Or perhaps not so much SDTV as the digital TV receiver I used to capture this.
The SDTV shot was a direct digital capture, while the Foxtel shot was after digital to analogue (RBG) conversion, and then re-encoding to MPEG2 for DVD. But my experience is that this whole process, while I object to it on principle, does not lead to really marked quality changes. So I reckon that the left detail fairly represents the lesser quality of Foxtel.
UPDATE (Friday, 11 July 2008, 10:06 am): I have struck out a sentence above. Since I captured the SDTV image from the MPEG2 digital video file which I transferred from the set top box to my computer, the set top box’s video processing capabilities had nothing to do with any overblown reds.