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Why Your TV Picture May Be Fuzzy

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.

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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.

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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.

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvpredictions.com. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann
@swanniontv

About TV Answer Man (1133 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.

2 Comments on Why Your TV Picture May Be Fuzzy

  1. It’s all about the bandwidth, which people don’t understand, and that’s why their OTT services don’t always look that good, or why they lose their signals sometimes during big events. I’ve been with satellite for years and my picture quality has always been great, I’ll stick with it for as long as it’s around.

  2. 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.

    What does this mean ?
    Why would a channel require a TV Provider to transmit at a MINIMUN bitrate when it hurts their reputation ?

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