Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def UnionS

The State of the Union address last night was a snoozer, but we HDTV gearheads had fun jumping between the networks, checking out which net was able to deliver the best HDTV signal from lens to screen. This was a notable occasion, because all the networks were using precisely the same feed—the same cameras, same everything—where the only difference was between the Capitol pool feed and the viewer.

We took an HD gander at NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and HDNet, to see who delivered the crispiest, most colorful and most gorgeous HDTV signal of all.

For our eyeball test, we looked at a typical array of HDTV stations on our Samsung 1080p reference monitor, delivered via Time Warner Cable in the medium market of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sure, some of the differences might be in the local transmitters, but this is a pretty good representative sample of HDTV content delivery in the US circa early 2007. We took some pictures, all at the same F-stop and shutter speed, and along with those are a few value judgments.

Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def Union

NBC
This picture had a bit of a green tint—notice W's hair looking a little green. The overall sharpness of the picture was just medium compared to the others. There were a few more compression artifacts noticeable in the moving areas, and the sound was rather tinny, with a little too much boost in the midrange for my taste. Grade: B

Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def Union

Fox
This can't be HDTV. In fact, it's not. This is just a widescreen feed, and looked quite blurry compared to the others. Nevertheless, the colors looked more saturated than in the other feeds, and the sound was quite good as well. Grade: D-

Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def Union

ABC
ABC was riding its video levels on the hot side, and its feed appeared to have more of a green cast to the naked eye. It was also not quite as sharp as its competitors, and there were noticeable edge compression artifacts. Besides that, the compression was generally good, and the sound was about equal to the others. Grade: B-

Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def Union

HDNet
This was one fine-looking feed, and would have won this battle had there not been some sort of weird edge enhancement evident throughout the broadcast. It appeared that W's image had been cut out and placed over the background. The sound from HDNet was very good, though. Grade: B+

Network HDTV Quality Tested: GW's Babbling Tells Us The State of the High-Def Union

CBS
This feed gets the nod for the overall best-looking picture we received. There were a few visible compression artifacts, and the sharpness and contrast were slightly better than all the others. Plus, the sound was the most balanced and distortion-free of all the examples. Grade: A- The winner!

Except for that lame-looking feed from the local Fox station, all the HDTV pictures during the State of the Union address last night were good-to-excellent from our Midwest vantage point. If not viewed in rapid succession, it would have been extremely difficult to tell the difference between them.

It was a telling exercise nonetheless, where I found myself wishing for no compression artifacts at all. We can only hope for that in the not-too-distant future.

How about you, readers:

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