July 03, 2015

Virgin confirms BT Sports Europe

No pricing yet though. Here's the press release:
"Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up, already the most comprehensive available for UK sports fans in one place.

The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive, said: “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it.  Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.”

Virgin Media customers will have access to live televised matches from English Premier League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, at home or on the go.  For sports fans who want more than football, Virgin Media offers over 30 sports channels showing all the major live sporting action in HD or on the go. They include Sky Sports, BT Sport, British Eurosport, Premier Sport, BoxNation and Racing TV.  Virgin Media is the home of all the major live sports in the UK, in HD or on the go."

BT Sports Europe coming to Virgin Media?

Not a source I've seen before, but according to IP TV News:
Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up. “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it,” explains Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive. “Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.” The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.
No word as to if it will cost customers more or whether we will get the channel in HD. Stay tuned.

Virgin Movies - quality drop but still a premium price

It looks like Virgin Media are playing around with Virgin Movies On Demand content. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed but I received an email this week from one unhappy VM customer, which I'm posting here in the hope that someone at Virgin Media will take note and perhaps explain what's going on and what they're going to do about it. (Thanks to Jay for bringing this to my attention.)
“We have been virgin customers for the past 5 years and have been quite satisfied with the service up until this point.  We have been using the Virgin Movies on Demand service extensively for some time now, watching as many as 4 movies a week from the "Out This Week" section at an approx cost of £3.99 per Standard Definition rental.“Prior to around four weeks ago everything was fine with the service, movies streamed fine and were clear, decent quality and had no problems such as pixelation.  We first noticed there was a problem when we rented a film called "The Mule" on 5th June and since then all of the Standard Definition films that have been added, have been of extremely poor quality, so bad in fact that we consider them unviewable. The picture quality is very pixelated, dark, grainy and out of focus, it's just awful to try and watch and is far below the acceptable level for standard definition as used for normal channels.“We have a 50 inch Plasma TV and have compared standard definition channels available through our TiVo Box, they are all vastly superior in quality compared with what we can now receive through Virgin Movies.  “We know that the problem is not with our TV or the TiVo box, because all the standard channels are okay and the same as before, it's only the Virgin Movies service. This can't be a streaming problem either, as all the movies that were made available prior to that bunch of "Out This Week" Movies, are all still available in a clear and decent viewing quality.“We reported this a few weeks back and specifically mentioned that it was relating to Movies on Demand. An engineer came out a couple of days later and said that there was not really anything that could be done about the problem with quality.  “Yesterday i spent a difficult two hours in a Livechat with a Virgin Media agent who was at time very argumentative instead of trying resolve the situation.  “It took a lot of effort and explaining for him to actually understand the problem. He did do comparisons in their office using the TV available, in the end he admitted that there was in fact a quality issue with the new movies available. After confirming the issue, he simply said that there was nothing that he could do about the matter.“When a customer is paying for a premium service such as a movie rental, they would expect at least the same quality as on the normal channels being broadcast, not the terrible quality material now being provided.  In order to get around this we have resorted to renting the HD versions, paying an extra pound per movie.  However, in the "Out Now Movies" there are maybe 30 rentals available and only about 5 are in HD.  “It used to be that around 80 - 90% of the films were available in SD and HD, but that's simply not the case anymore.  Not only are we unable to watch the majority of the content, and having to paying more when HD is available, the HD content is no longer as sharp and detailed as the HD movies used to be and we don't believe that they can be accurately described as high definition.“Having ruled out the TV, The TiVo Box and Streaming as being the cause of the problem, it can only be that the movies themselves have been encoded into much lower file sizes in order to cut down on bandwidth usage. We are surprised that this would be done for a premium rental service.“We are very disappointed in the situation, not only with the new low quality content, but also by the way this was dealt with by the engineer and the customer services agent.”.

July 02, 2015

New in July on Netflix

The Guardian has a useful summary of what's in the pipeline for Netflix this month: http://gu.com/p/4a9et. It includes new TV series and added films, but sadly doesn't say what's leaving (often important to know - check MAFT's blog for that info).
For those who have Amazon's Prime, the Guardian covers that too http://gu.com/p/4a9g3.

Now TV boxes get an app refresh

Details and screenshots can be found on the NowTV community blog.
A shame though that didn't refresh the awful green Now TV logo that looks like something from a junior school art class playing with their first computer programme.

June 17, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead - a BT exclusive not coming to Virgin Media soon

Now this is an interesting development in the battle for the great British couch potatoes. Determined to take its battle with the almighty Sky into new territory, BT announced a deal to exclusively bring American network AMC to the UK. In recent years, AMC has elevated itself from being a so-so US cable channel to an HBO-rivaling home of award-winning drama, with shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mad Men and the biggest cable show of them all, The Walking Dead.
The new UK channel Awill launch in September with a particular ace up it's sleeve: the Walking Dead spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead.
The channel will also show long-running hits Breaking Bad and Mad Men. It's been announced that it is being made available for the first time in the UK to BT customers via its YouView pay-TV platform. 

Delia Bushell, managing director of BT TV and BT Sport, said: “AMC has showcased some of the biggest and most celebrated series on US television in recent years, including Breaking Bad and Mad Men. We’re confident our viewers will enjoy AMC’s cinematic approach to storytelling and look forward to offering them an outstanding selection of TV series and films in the months ahead.”
The question for Virgin Media (and Sky) customers is will this be a BT YouView exclusive? According to BT's own announcement, AMC will be a "BT Exclusive". So, much like Sky doesn't wholesale the Sky Atlantic channel to other platforms, it looks like BT is planning to keep this just for its own customers. That's a game changer, and it looks likely to leave Virgin Media the premium-priced platform with neither HBO nor AMC content. Of course, existing show deals with FX and Netflix may mean we still get AMC content (I recall Better Call Saul  being a Netflix exclusive for the commissioned two seasons and I think FX have Walking Dead for another series at least), but again Virgin Media are losing out by the company not playing in the content market itself.

June 16, 2015

New Now TV box on its way

Sky has announced its next-generation Now TV box and a new monthly streaming plan for Sky Sports. The refreshed lil' box will debut this August for £14.99 with an ethernet port and a five times faster processor. It is to be based on the Roku 3 player which hopefully means it will finally support 1080p streaming too.

Sky is also refreshing the crappy Now TV user interface to make it "quicker and easier" to navigate. No specific release date yet for that, but Sky says later updates in the year will improve discovery, tagging and bookmarking, and also add the ability to auto-play next episodes.

June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones on Now TV - the Nialli verdict

I'll be watching the final episode of season five of Game of Thrones this evening via the On Demand service on my Now TV box. To date it's been a near-faultless service this time around (let's not remind ourselves how poor the experience was a year ago) and viewing has been a good experience, no buffering whatsoever and fine 720p picture quality.
I still find the menu system on the Now TV box ridiculous (a curious mix of horizontal and vertical navigation that I've not fully mastered in three months) and there are bugs you'd have thought they would have ironed out by now, for example a "whoops, something went wrong" message at the end of every show if you don't press stop. I noticed a drop down to SD for a few minutes at one point (I think that was possibly broadband related) but generally it's proven reliable.
All told, the service has met my family's needs and has meant that we've been able to watch Sky Atlantic content legally, including GoT, Mad Men and Thronecast, at a reasonable price and without venturing near a dodgy download or the guy in the pub with the DVDs every Monday. It's not a service for everyone but worked for us.

Postcript: with GoT finishing tonight I went online to Now TV to cancel my subscription. When the site asked me why I was cancelling I said it was too expensive, and immediately it came back offering me the next four months of Entertainment pass for £3.49 a month, which will be worth taking for series two of True Detective alone. I wonder if that will happen again in four months’ time?

June 12, 2015

New on Netflix

Whatever the price you're paying, Netflix UK is finally getting its act together in telling you what's new on the service. Check out http://www.netflix.com/recentlyAdded for info.
Personally, I still think they should make MAFT's New on Netflix UK site official: how he keeps up with what's being added and, just as importantly, removed, is beyond me.