The HD Bottleneck

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Fun little reminder from Ars Technica on just how hard it is going to be to get the vaunted "triple play"—voice, data, and video all on the same wire—into American homes. This is important as the entire regulatory framework of telecom at both the state and federal level assumes the triple play is right around the corner, that the cable and phone duopoly will actually compete for customers, Wire vs. Wire.

Not so fast. Eric Bangeman explains:

Voice and data are no problem. Plug your VoIP-capable router into a phone jack and you've got phone service throughout the house. And 802.11g can transmit data faster than it can be downloaded over the vast majority of Internet connections. High-definition video is the sticking point.

MPEG2 HD video streams need an average of 10 to 18Mbps of bandwidth, with a peak somewhere between 13 and 19Mbps. When you add DVR-like functions such as fast-forward, rewind, and other modes to the equation, the bandwidth can spike to nearly 60Mbps. A typical scenario of a single HDTV stream, 2 SDTV double hops (e.g., going from , and a single ATSC digital TV stream requires anywhere from 50 to 84Mbps, with the upper ceiling hitting 148Mbps if all four streams were performing DVR-like functions simultaneously.

Plus content providers will insist that all HD content that enters the home is wrapped in some protective DRM sheath. Not impossible to overcome hurdles—Bangeman provides some likely solutions—but not exactly like flipping a switch, either.

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  1. Which is why nobody but ATSC broadcasters will use MPEG2 when the triple-play goes mainstream. As TFA points out, current H.264 implementations use about 50% of the bits for the same video quality. More efficient encoders could further reduce the bits required while maintaining quality.

    What will be interesting in cable vs. phone competition is to see whose legacy infrastructure cripples them more. Telcos have preferable star-topology networks, but vastly inferior copper pairs to the house. Cablecos have inferior daisy-chain networks, but superior coax lines in.

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for the link. My infrastructure classes just got another industry rag reading assignment…

  3. VoIP is for old people. The teenagers I know need two things: high-speed wireless and a cell phone. They download the shows they want to see over Bit Torrent and text message their friends on the phone. The ultimate winner is going to be all-encompassing wireless.

  4. ATSC? 18Mbps of bandwidth? MPEG2 tripe-play mainstream with an H.264 implementation VoIP-capable router?

    Can one of you guys tell me how to program my VCR?

  5. Can one of you guys tell me how to program my VCR?

    No, and I won’t fix your computer, either.

  6. ATSC? 18Mbps of bandwidth? MPEG2 tripe-play mainstream with an H.264 implementation VoIP-capable router?

    Cable Guy lifted that from an old Star Trek episode. I believe it was Uhura’s response to Kirk’s, “Get Earth on the line for me, will ya’ honey?”

  7. Can one of you guys tell me how to program my VCR?

    Get a Digital Video Recorder (e.g. TiVo, or your cable company’s product) if you don’t want to bother to RTFM.

  8. DVR is for old folks, too. Read Mike’s post.

  9. I believe it was Uhura’s response to Kirk’s, “Get Earth on the line for me, will ya’ honey?”

    Ahh, that was back when liberated women wore hemlines way up El Norte!

  10. Our local cable company offers television, broadband and telephone. Our local telephone offers phone, broadband and cable through a satellite company. I’m currently using the cable company (competively priced, I save about $20 a month with the bundling).

  11. Can one of you guys tell me how to program my VCR?

    Sure, but the cost per question is exponential.

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