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Scott D. Pierce: Cougars may be less fuzzy on BYUtv soon

Published April 22, 2014 10:44 am

Advances in technology will make it easier for fans to get HD signal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As we near the end of the third full year of BYU's football independence and membership in the West Coast Conference in most other sports, BYUtv is looking good.

Fuzzy in spots, but overall the university's cable TV channel has delivered on its promise to bring Cougar fans as much live content as possible and plenty of access to recorded games.

(There are hundreds of games on BYUtv.org. It's difficult to imagine even die-hard Cougar fans being interested in most of them, but they're there.)

The one big complaint from BYU fans across the country is that the signal they're getting on DirecTV, Dish Network and most of the 900-plus cable systems that carry BYUtv is that the picture is fuzzy. Which it is.

The satellite giants and the vast majority of those cable systems carry a standard-definition feed of the cable channel. Which looks fuzzy on your HD television.

It's reminiscent of — gasp! — the fuzzy picture viewers put up with for most of those frustrating years on The Mtn.

This is not, however, the fault of BYUtv. You've heard this one before, but the blame lies with your satellite/cable provider.

"Everything we do leaves our building in HD," said Derek Marquis, managing director of BYUtv. "They down-convert it to SD."

Comcast carries BYUtv in HD here in Utah and in a few markets across the country. You can pick up an HD signal over the air in Utah, and at BYUtv.org. As for the Dish, DirecTV and those hundreds of other cable systems, "That's a lot of negotiating to get people to switch from SD to HD," said Marquis. And BYUtv is in the midst of ongoing, "very active conversations with Dish and Direct and the larger cable systems to get us converted to HD."

No, this is not some big plot against BYU and the Cougars. It's a technical issue.

Marquis compared it to a pipe through which the television signal travels. That pipe has room for two SD channels, but only one HD channel.

"So when I go to them and say, 'Hey, we'd like you to take our SD channel and make it HD,'" Marquis said, "then they have to make the decision — what SD channel will we drop in order to free up the space in the pipe?"

Marquis is not unrealistic about that. Nor is he unrealistic about the chances of getting satellite and cable systems to make the switch, even for a channel that is given to them for free.

"We don't charge them," Marquis said. "But they really do have to ask themselves the question, 'Is anyone watching? Is it justified to use the bandwidth to offer this channel in HD?'"

Which is why, weirdly enough, any buzz generated by BYUtv shows like "Granite Flats" and "Studio C" is good for Cougar fans — they help BYUtv make a case that it belongs in HD. And while the change hasn't happened yet, there is reason to hope.

"All of them — including Direct and Dish — have not told us, 'No,'" Marquis said. "They've told us, 'Not yet.'"

The good news is that the technology is changing rapidly. There will be some big changes "in the coming months — not years, months — because compression technologies are advancing so rapidly that instead of getting two SD channels in a pipe, they can get four or eight or 16."

So it's entirely possible that the Cougars will be less fuzzy on BYUtv. Soon.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.