Sunday, June 14, 2009

NBA Finals on ABC – Blurry Picture and Sub-Par HD

Tonight the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 99 to 86 to win the 2009 NBA Finals. I am not a huge Lakers fan, but I do enjoy watching a good basketball game and did manage to catch the first and last games of the series. While the games were good I was a bit distracted because both games that I watched had pretty poor picture quality and the majority of the wide-angle shots were really bad for a major sporting event. Not at all what I had expected in today’s  High Definition standards.

The first game I watched was on a projector at a sports bar, and I had just figured that there was an issue with the projector, but the same thing happened tonight while watching at home on my new computer. After upgrading and purchasing a new antenna I have been able to receive all of the local HD broadcast channels (also called Over The Air or OTA) in full digital HD format. I prefer watching recorded TV from a DVR so that I don’t have to watch commercials, but for sports I will usually switch to the OTA HD signal and watch it live. In tonight’s game though I noticed that while the Cadillac commercials and commentary shots were sharp, a lot of the actual game was pretty blurry and hard to follow.

It sounds like other people have noticed this too, and it appears to be an issue with how ABC broadcasts the event to TV stations and cable providers. While their other shows look great, the sporting events that involve a lot of fast motion do not end up looking very good. My guess is that they try and compress the signal too much, because if you combine a low bit rate signal with a lot of fast movement and flash photography you are bound to get poor picture quality. Luckily the original recording is kept at a higher quality, so all of the highlights and re-broadcasts appear much better than the live event.

The funny thing was that even the overlay graphics like the scoreboard would appear blurry at times. Check out this 10 second video of the scoreboard that I made, where you can see the whole thing (including the ABC logo) goes blurry and then takes a few seconds to recover. Gets pretty annoying when this happens throughout the entire game. If this had happened during the commercials you can guarantee the sponsors would be asking for their money back!

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