High Definition Movie Downloads and HDTV Online - HD DVD Rental, Cable and Theater Alternatives

Movie Downloads Online - HDTV from the internet
compare DLP LED vs SED vs SXRD Now that the new high definition HD DVD players are being released, we figured it was time to look at movie downloads and HDTV online as an alternative ...
by Adrian Biffen 
Systems Administrator
AeroHOST Web Systems
May 4, 2006

  Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems is Launched!  
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  End Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems  

Online Television & HD Movie Downloads - new compression systems make it a reality

HDTV television and movie transmission is rapidly gaining market share, and a new high performance compression standard called AVC (Advanced Video Coder) is about to really heat things up, enabling the internet to become an full alternative content delivery system.

When a TV studio shoots a program in high definition, what you see in your home is nowhere near the actual quality of the original telecast. HDTV video produces an enormous amount of data, and the only way to transmit that data within the bandwidth limitations of conventional delivery systems (off air, cable, satellite) is to use a compression system, in much the same way that a compressed JPEG still image sent over the internet is much smaller than the original raw format picture. The new AVC technology now makes online delivery feasible; here are some examples of the new services that are emerging:

Free Movies Now - Top Rated Download Site
Thousands of Movies, TV programs, Sports Events
Movies, DVD, HDTV, TV Online Downloads
Advanced MP4 technology - Download and connect HDTV, DVD Movies, TV programs, Sports Events
Movies Online
Download and connect HDTV, DVD Movies, TV programs, Sports Events
Satellite HD DVD Movies, HDTV, Sports Online
Connect to Satellite TV feeds over the internet and download HDTV, DVD Movies, TV programs, Sports Events
i-StreamTV - straight to your PC
Now you can watch TV shows from virtually anywhere with an internet connection! No extra hardware is needed.

HDTV television broadcasting over the air uses MPEG-2 compression with a data rate of approximately 20 megabits per second. It actually doesn't look all that great compared to the original source broadcast, and 20 megabits per second is still a lot of bandwidth to use for each channel.

DVD movies are affected in the same way - the only way to cram a full length feature movie onto a DVD disc is to compress it, and regular standard definition DVD discs are produced using the MPEG-2 compression format that was released for general use in the last century, around 1995. Ten years later, in 2005, the h.264 AVC extension to MPEG-4 was released, and it is this technology that will change everything.

Without getting too technical, the software code (or algorithm) that compresses and decompresses the audio and video is called a CODEC (compressor/decompressor). MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, XviD are examples of existing CODECS in common use. AVC is a new CODEC, the full name being MPEG-4 part 10. Also known as H.264 and H.26L, it was written by the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) together with the ISO/IEC Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) as the product of a collective partnership effort known as the Joint Video Team (JVT). As you may have guessed, this is a very smart group of engineers that have one downfall: they're not very good at naming things. In this article, we'll refer to it as AVC (Advanced Video Coder).

Cable and satellite TV have an advantage over broadcast TV as they do not have to adhere to the standards dictated by the FCC in the last century. HDTV over cable or satellite is transmitted at a slightly faster rate than broadcast TV - approximately 25 megabits per second - so it sometimes looks slightly better than broadcast TV. However, having to allocate that much bandwidth to each channel is still a problem for cable providers because it defines the limit on how many channels can be carried to each viewer, without rebuilding their entire system. Satellite providers have somewhat of an advantage as they can launch new satellites with additional transponders to increase capacity (and several new AVC satellites have already been launched for service to the Americas).

Over-the-air broadcasters are basically stuck with MPEG-2, but cable and satellite companies are quickly jumping on the AVC bandwagon because AVC needs only about 8 megabits per second for HDTV content, compared to the 20 to 25 megabits per second that MPEG 2 requires. The picture quality is actually superior and it allows providers to carry three times as many channels as they could with MPEG-2. Wow!

AVC for HDTV is clearly a winner, affecting a wide range of content delivery systems. It is a part of both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc high definition video specifications, and Europe's governing standards body has approved H.264 for over-the-air HDTV broadcasts.

How does h.264 AVC affect Internet movie downloads & HDTV?

Assuming you have something like a fast cable modem, the short answer is that it makes the internet a much more realistic alternative to conventional broadband systems for real-time viewing and delayed downloading (i.e. recording). Say goodbye to the jerky stall-and-go internet video we've all been used to. No, it isn't on a par with standard cable or satellite broadband systems, but it nevertheless provides an interesting option for watching standard TV (non HDTV) that has been encoded and compressed with AVC, because that will work in real-time. Also, if you can be happy with viewing an HD movie some time after it has been downloaded, you'll be able to buy or rent it directly online. Regular DVD movies should be watchable in real-time, with perhaps a short delay of a few seconds from start time.

If you have a reasonably fast cable modem at your house, you should be getting about four megabits per second of downstream bandwidth. With AVC h.264 encoding, that speed would allow you to download standard TV program content approximately four times faster than real time, so there won't be any waiting - you'll see it in realtime, just like watching TV.

Currently, if you download an hour long 720p HD movie, you can expect a wait of somewhere between one and a half to two hours to download it, depending on the resolution and how it was encoded. After about a half an hour, it may have buffered enough data for you to start watching it as the rest of the program finishes downloading. With AVC encoding, it may take one or 2 seconds for the buffering to occur - after that, you're watching it in real-time.

HDTV content at 1080p resolution (1920 pixels across by 1080 high at 24 frames per second) requires a bit rate of about eight megabits per second. But that movie could also be encoded at half resolution (960 pixels by 540 pixels), requiring a data rate of as little as 2 megabits per second (scaling it by half in each dimension results in 1/4 the total pixels). Now we're back in the realm of realtime broadband delivery: a cable modem that can sustain a download speed of two megabits per second would be able to download that clip in more-or-less real time. There would need to be a slight delay for buffering, but it would be measured in seconds. If you wanted the full 1080p delivery, you'd have to wait longer for the buffering, or you could just let it download automatically and watch it later.

So this means we have a scaleable situation coming, where you'll be able to custom order the resolution, depending on the speed of your connection and your computer (don't forget that your computer is an important factor - my 1.8 GHz laptop is just barely able to play footage encoded at 720p). Nevertheless, when you order your programming, be it HDTV or HD-DVD, you'll be able to choose between a large version at full 1080p if you're willing to wait, a medium version at 720p (that could be upscaled), or a small version at widescreen standard definition SD (853 by 480) for those who don't have a two-megabit connection or an HD display.

It won't be long before we have 15 GHz computers with 30 megabit per second fiber-optic internet connections that will allow us to watch TV and HD content in real time, encoded at resolutions higher than that of theatrical film. Double Wow!

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This series of articles is designed to help you get through the complicated process of choosing and setting up an HDTV home theater system. It is part of our overall website, which is about the X10 home automation system that uses the A/C wiring in your home - you don't need to run any wires. (for complementary home automation products such as lighting control and motorized blinds and shades, see our home automation DIY kit article) Here's a brief topic summary of these home theater articles, with direct links:
Article# Topic
1 HDTV Definitions and terminology used in home theatre systems
2 HDTV news from Jan 2005 Las Vegas CES show
3 HDTV remote control consolidation issues
4 DLP projector decision: My reasons for purchasing
5 BenQ DLP 6200 review -projector setup process
6 HTPC: using home theater PC for DVD display
7 DVD software player review: watch DVD on your PC
8 Upsampling DVD player vs HTPC - comparison with Zenith DVB 318
9 Sony HDRHC1 Handycam review: widescreen high definition 1080i camcorder
10 Wireless video sender solves the 'extra tv' problem
11 SED Toshiba-Canon HDTV display review - the flat panel HDTV race heats up!
12 Canon SX 50 Realis LCoS projector review - first 3 chip LCoS projector under $5,000
13 Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector review - first 'Dark Chip3' DLP projector under $4,000
14 Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online? - Windows Media Center Extender
15 Play Station 3 vs Xbox 360 - Sony and Microsoft Compete for gaming market
16 SXRD vs SED vs DLP - Sony raises the HDTV bar with Qualia and Grand Wega series
17 LED DLP light engine from Samsung vs SXRD, SED - 1080p resolution arrives
18 HD DVD vs Blu-ray: We review the new Toshiba HD DVD players (HD-XA1 and HD-A1)
19 H.264 AVC: High Definition advanced codec for movie downloads and HDTV Online

For the sake of clarity, here is a repeat of some acronym and terminology definitions relating to the various display technologies, used in the other table below to compare the various screen types:

TLA Three Letter Acronym
HDTV High Definition Television. The highest quality video picture available in Digital TV. In the U.S., the 1080i and 720p resolution formats in a 16:9 aspect ratio are the two acceptable HDTV formats. Regular NTSC analog TV is 480i.
HTPC Home Theater Personal Computer. The use of a PC as a processing and source control platform for a home theater system.
RPTV Rear Projection TV. The type of home theater screen system where the image is projected onto the back of the screen. Can be DLP, LCD, CRT projection technology.
Lumens An ANSI Lumen is a measurement of light radiation or brightness. A 3,000 Lumen projector creates a brighter picture than a 2,000 Lumen unit. The ANSI prefix is a standards designation (American National Standards Institute).
Nits Plasma and LCD manufacturers use this term to define the brightness of their screens. Another term for Nits is Candelas per square meter (Cd/m2). One nit = 0.2919 foot-lambert. Nits includes an area definition, unlike lumens, so you can't simply divide by Watts to establish a Nits/watt spec.
480i 720p 1080p resolution measurement in lines, p for "progressive scan", i for "interlaced scan". Conventional TV (e.g. 480i) is interlaced whereby the screen is scanned twice by alternate lines that are interleaved (interlaced), whereas HDTV (e.g. 720p) can scan all lines sequentially (consecutively or progressively).
DVI HDCP Digital Visual Interface technology with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Developed by Intel Corporation, HDCP is a specification to protect digital entertainment content through the DVI interface. The HDCP specification provides a transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment content to DVI-compliant digital displays. Some products, such as set-top boxes and DVD burners will require this connector. Even if you have a HDTV set-top box, if it lacks the DVI, your signal may be degraded.
HDMI High Definition Multimedia Interface. Like DVI, HDMI is another digital interface, and from what we saw at CES 2005, it may become the universal standard. Developed by Sony, Hitachi, Thomson (RCA), Philips, Matsushita (Panasonic), Toshiba and Silicon Image, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has emerged as the connection standard for HDTV and the consumer electronics market. HDMI is the first digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio and intelligent format and command data in a single digital interface.
SACD Super Audio CD uses a new recording technology called Direct Stream Digital. DSD records a one bit digital signal at a sample rate of 2.8 million times per second, 64 times higher than conventional CD's. 
NTSC Existing color TV standard developed in the U.S. in 1953 by the National Television System Committee. NTSC vertical line resolution is 525 lines/frame and the vertical frequency is 60Hz. The NTSC frame rate is 29.97 frames/sec.
CRT Cathode Ray Tube - venerable old style picture tube
PDP Plasma Display Panel, plasma is a physics term for an electrically charged gas
LCD Liquid Crystal Display, same as laptop screens
TFT Thin Film Technology, a type of LCD
DLP Digital Light Processor, a reflective light switch chip developed by TI. Has a very fast response time - no motion lag
TI Texas Instruments Corp., original manufacturer of DMD's and DLP's
DMD Digital Micro-mirror Device - chip for DLP technology by TI
DNIe Digital Natural Image enhancement - chip for optimizing video picture quality, by Samsung (used in their DLP units)
LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon, reflective light switch
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel.
SED Surface conduction Electron emitter Display by Toshiba/Canon
FED Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony
OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson
D-iLA Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier, LCoS chip developed by JVC
QXGA high screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, attained by D-iLA chip
DCDi Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (a de-interlacing method to eliminate jagged edges (jaggies) along diagonal lines caused by interpolation, developed by Faroudja corp. An important feature to look for, this Emmy® award winning technology was once only available in products costing $20,000 or more, and is now available in numerous products costing well below $2,000
aspect ratio ratio of screen width to height. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is conventional TV and 16:9 is HDTV (and film)
3-2 pulldown a method of film-to-video conversion
twitter and judder   terms describing film conversion related artifacts
anamorphic lens   a special lens that compresses the pixels of a 4:3 screen into a 16:9 format, and allows a projector to use the full brightness of the display, without black bars above and below the image. Must normally be removed for regular 4:3 viewing.
SDE  Screen Door Effect is a term used to refer to the visible pixel structure on a screen.
YADR! Yet Another Dang Remote! A common exclamation heard from people who just bought their third or fourth home audio/video component. And then there are further unmentionable expletives when you find out a component isn't supported, or it's just too complicated to program everything in?? Maybe it's time to read about our experience in the remote control review article.

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The following table provides a quick comparison of the display types; "pixelation" refers to the ability to see individual picture elements (pixels) at normal viewing distances (note that all the types below can contribute to the YADR index). Please note that these products are being constantly improved and not all manufacturer's models may be subject to the disadvantages listed below:

CRT conventional
picture tube
Cathode Ray Tube: very sharp and bright, high contrast ratio, good picture view from side, low cost, handles regular analog NTSC channels well, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited in size to about 36", picture can fade 
CRT projection
low cost, large screens possible, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited viewing angles, visible raster lines, mis-convergence can be a problem, picture can fade over time 
LCD flat screen panel Liquid Crystal Display: bright, sharp picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, solid state, no moving parts picture can fade over time
LCD projection fairly bright, large screens possible, sharp picture, no moving parts display can fade due to heat damage to organic compounds that some manufacturers use in the LCD, projector bulb can fail
PDP Plasma flat screen panel Plasma Display Panel: bright picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, wide viewing angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive, some pixelation, display can burn out.
DLP projection Digital Light Processor: bright, sharp picture, high contrast, no  pixelation, reflective system won't burn out picture element, very fast response time - no motion lag. possible visual "rainbow" artifacts on single chip versions caused by spinning color wheel, projector bulb can fail
LCoS projection Liquid Crystal on Silicon: bright, sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SED panel display Surface conduction Electron emitter Display: very bright picture, very high resolution, can hang on wall, very high contrast ratio, can be viewed from any angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive at first, not available yet
FED panel display Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony, properties are similar to SED expensive at first, not available yet
OLED panel display Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson expensive at first, not available yet

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