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.
Click Amazon: See today’s best-selling TVs!
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.
Click Amazon: Today’s 1-Day-Only Deals!
This is why you might notice that the HD picture on one channel looks better on some days compared to others.
Click Amazon: The Latest Smart TVs!
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.
Now 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.
Finally, it’s also possible that your streaming service is to blame. It may be experiencing some technical snafu that is causing your picture to buffer, or lose crispness. This happens from time to time, but usually doesn’t last long. If it does — and you eliminated your home Internet service as the cause — contact your streaming service to see if it’s having issues.
Hope that helps, Happy viewing.
Need to buy something today? Please buy it using this Amazon.com link. This site receives a small portion of each purchase, which helps us continue to provide these articles.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann
I said the same thing on DBS talk and took a lot of heat, but I was right! Again! NBC always looks weak here because it shares its bandwidth with 4 other stations. But on Super Bowl Sunday I noticed that right at 5 p.m. the picture suddenly got sharper and cleaner. That alone proved to me that Directv and the individual stations play games with bandwidth when it suits them.