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Why Does My TV’s Picture Quality Keep Changing?

A remote control in hand. Shallow depth of field, with focus on the remote.

Q. I have DIRECTV and sometimes it seems like the picture on HBO and some of the other channels is better than at other times. Is this true or am I seeing things? I also notice that when I watch Netflix, the picture sometimes will go from really clear to kinda fuzzy. Can you help? — Bonnie, Viera, Florida.

Bonnie, you are not seeing things, so to speak. DIRECTV and other TV providers will sometimes raise or lower the ‘bitrate’ it uses to transmit a channel’s signal. In laymen’s terms, that means the TV provider will lower or raise the strength of the signal.

Why would it do this?

Lowering the signal strength can allow the TV provider to include more data, or channels, into a satellite space or cable spectrum. For instance, if DIRECTV decides to offer multiple-channel coverage of the NFL Sunday Ticket or another one-day sporting event, it might lower the bitrate for some other channels to create room for the extra channels. Then, when the sporting event is over, DIRECTV will likely raise the channels’ bitrate back to its normal level.

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This is why you might notice that the HD picture on one channel looks better on some days compared to others.

This practice is so often used that channels will sometimes require a TV provider to transmit their signals at a minimum bitrate. The channels realize that a lower bitrate will diminish their picture quality and hurt their reputation with viewers.

watchingnetflixNow as for Netflix, and other streaming services, the picture quality can vary depending upon the strength of your Internet connection, or the service’s server and delivery system.

For example, you could be watching House of Cards on Netflix and the high-def picture will look crystal-clear. But then suddenly the picture will lose some detail and clarity, perhaps looking like something you might see on an old VHS tape. And then a few seconds later, it will revert back to a high-quality picture.

It’s quite possible that your Internet signal strength experienced a slight dip during the change.

If you think this is a regular problem, you can test your Internet signal at various web sites, including SpeedTest.net. If the test indicates your Internet speed is lower than what your Internet Service Provider says it should be, give them a call.

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About TV Answer Man (703 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

1 Comment on Why Does My TV’s Picture Quality Keep Changing?

  1. Bitrate is not signal strength, but signal quality. They lower the amount of information in the signal, or detail. If you buy a gallon of premium gas or you buy a gallon of cheap low grade gas it is still a gallon but the quality of one is better than the other.

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