October 26, 2007

First Seasons of Lost and Brothers and Sisters in HD

Looks like Virgin Media has added more episodes of both Lost and Brothers and Sisters in High Definition to its Video On Demand listings. You still have to hunt around for Lost HD (it's not under 4OD or High Definition, but only appears in the A-Z listing for TV Choice on Demand) but they've now added the missing episode and you get 1 -13 inclusive, all free.
Brothers and Sisters season one is where you'd expect it: under High Definition, Pay TV. They've added the missing episode and it now runs through to the end of the season, episodes 13 - 23. 99p each. The earlier episodes are similarly priced in Standard Definition.

October 25, 2007

BBC HD highlights for the rest of the Autumn

The BBC's trial service is due to run another month until the findings of the Public Value Test evaluation by the BBC Trust is announced at the end of November. Here is the final list of highlights for the trial service:

Not Going Out
The Royal Television Society and Golden Rose award-winning sitcom returns to for an extended second series this autumn. (already broadcast on BBC ONE)

Live at the Apollo
The BAFTA nominated series Live at the Apollo returns with guest hosts Jack Dee, Joan Rivers, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Lee Mack and Dara O Briain. (From BBC ONE)

The Green Green Grass
The third series of the comic spin-off from Only Fools and Horses (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle
Jennifer Saunders stars in this new comedy drama. (From BBC TWO)

Fairy Tales
Four comedy dramas made in Northern Ireland make up this anthology of modernised fairy tales. (Simulcast with BBC TWO)

The Tudors (Simulcast with BBC TWO)

Robin Hood (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

Strictly Come Dancing (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

The Antiques Roadshow (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

Heroes (Simulcast with BBC ONE and BBC THREE)

England v Croatia (Simulcast with BBC ONE on November 21st)

For those wondering what happens once the trial is over it was reported in September that the BBC Trust has given a provisional go ahead to launch a full HD channel "as soon as possible". OFCOM also gave the new BBC HD channel the green light. As reported in Digital Spy;

The Trust said the channel should have a mix of genres, which will be specified in the service licence. It said that the service must not become a "head-on competitor for sports and movie HD channels".

Other conditions include not replicating the BBC One schedule through simulcasting, but that the service should show programmes from across the BBC's portfolio of channels, in order to "make the best use of the upgrade in quality that HD offers".


Not much change in the BBC HD schedule in the coming week - more Heroes (hurrah!), Tudors (yawn) and the gloriously defined wrinkles of The Antiques Roadshow and Last of the Summer Wine, but there's a little treasure parked at 9pm on Thursday Nov 1 - Galapagos. This has some of the most breathtaking HD photography I've ever seen and is highly recommended if you want to put something on your V+ hard disc to impress the neighbours with. Glorious.

October 23, 2007

HD On Demand changes this week

Just sitting at the box and have noticed some additions and changes in the VM Video On demand offering for ex-NTL areas:

Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador
Superstorm 1
Superstom 2
the Innocence Project 1 - 7 (not ep 4 for some bizarre reason)

Filmflex HD (all £4 unless mentioned)
Amazing Grace
Apocalypto (£4.50)
Arthur & the Invisibles
Goal II
Hannibal Rising (1p...yes, 1p! And still you'll feel robbed!!)
The Illusionist
A Knight's Tale (£3)
The Messengers
The Painted Veil
Until Death
Wild Hogs

More from Berkett on his likely Virgin Media strategy

Interesting piece in the FT today on Berkett stepping up his campaign to be made permanent CEO at Virgin. Berkett appears to be suggesting that if he gets the job he may be more concilliatory towards Sky; "fighting the gorilla in its home zone was silly". There's not many customers who would disagree with that, though the stand against Sky's allegedly extortionate price hike for its basic channels was in my view justified at the time, the subsequent tit-for-tat playground fighting lost the plot completely.
But from an HD/premium TV service perspective, we're assured that (according to Digital Spy) Virgin will continue to offer premium television services; the shift will be made in terms of marketing rather than product offering. Whilst that may be true, one must have concerns that the money will fund the growth opportunity (broadband provision) rather than improve the less exciting TV service. I don't pretend to understand the funding of VM, but if money is as tight as analysts suggest, the shift of emphasis away from digital TV is not good news for those of us hoping for an evolution of the V+ and HD services rather than stagnation.

October 22, 2007

Virgin to become Freeview+?

I shared the cynicism of some when a story appeared in The Times this weekend suggesting Virgin Media was focusing on broadband rather than premium TV services going forward, but it's repeated, with quotes, in The Guardian today:
[Neil Berkett, acting Virgin Media CEO] wants to move the focus away from TV and onto more mass-market households who do not need Sky's sports and movie channels but do want more than basic Freeview digital TV. Virgin Media reckons these households can be tempted with services such as video on demand that require fast broadband.
"Despite our technical advantage we are still not really standing out from the crowd," admitted Mr Berkett. "I really do want to re-focus our energies onto the broadband platform."
"Think of Freeview as a nursery and you have millions of kindergarten kids who once they have got the taste for multi-channel TV may upgrade an element of the service."
I, for one, find this v. depressing. So those of us who at the top end of the market (VIP package, V+ dependent) are now going to have to settle for a Freeview+ service? That line about the Sky Movies and Sports channels is particularly concerning, especially at a time when there's a popular misconception with the general public that you can't get any Sky channels on cable. Clumsy or just plain foolish? Or ominous...is he saying that VM customers may not have the Sky Premium channels going forward?
I have cable out of choice - I do not want a dish on the outside of my house but Virgin Media appear to be going out of their way to push me to Sky with their lack of investment in HD services. If the FreeSat service next year offers more HD than cable I may even go there. Even though I work in IT I do not want or need 50mb broadband at home - the 20mb I currently have is more than sufficient and what use is it if the downloaders of pirated TV, movies and games are capped with download limits? That's the same folly as having a car capable of racing at 250mph with a speed limit on 50 on the roads!
I could be wrong...it could be that Virgin are planning to shift all their services over to IPTV and everything will be delivered over IP. But I don't think so. I think Burkett is desperate for a strategy that differentiates the VM offering and pulls in some more customers. Freeview+ certainly ain't it and besides, BT Vision is already offering that with limited success.
Somebody buy this company quick!

October 20, 2007

Technical specfication for the V+

Here's a link to the technical spec for the V+. (Actually, it's for the original silver Telewest TVDrive that many of us have been given as a V+ by Virgin Media like the one pictured.) Anyone interested in what may be coming soon (no guarantees) should have a look at the manufacturer's site at http://www.saeurope.com/index.html, where there's some extremely impressive kit that could hit our shores. Or not...
The good news for those who didn't know is that, whereas Sky customers are likely to have Amstrad boxes in future, Virgin Media's supplier, Scientific Atlanta, are part of Cisco and are regarded by most as the most innovative and reliable set top box manufacturer around.

Recent BBC HD problem "sorted"?

I've been following this thread at Digital Spy with some interest, as I've had a similar problem when (effectively) recording two HD channels* simultaneously myself (as reported in previous postings). Is it sorted? Time will tell - but I think it's a problem with the box being unable to handle two HD feeds rather than a network issue.

*Yes, I know we only have the one HD channel, but if you record one and watch at the same time, you've got two tuners accessing the HD channel. If you want to record an HD programme and watch it, my advice is to actually watch it from your Recorded Programmes listing rather than as live TV. You'll only then have the one tuner accessing HD, and will still be able to pause or rewind without stretching the box to its limits. Well, that's my theory anyway!

October 17, 2007

+1 Channels

One of the reasons Virgin Media have given for not carrying more High Definition channels is a lack of bandwidth whilst they're still supporting the old analogue TV service over their wires. (Understandable, though I really do wish they'd bite the bullet and make the digital switch for the entire network and swallow any churn as a strategic necessity.) And the situation's not helped by the fact that Virgin are using the legacy Telewest HD technology rather than the less bandwidth hungry new .h264 standard; an HD channel on Virgin takes roughly four times as much room as a Standard Definition one and twice as much as HD on Sky.
But hang on, there IS sufficient bandwidth there; believe it or not, at my last count there are some TWENTY FOUR of these dang-fangled +1 channels now littering the Virgin wires. What's more, nine of them are Virgin's own offerings, including the newly launched V1+1 (surely that should be called "V2"?) and Dave+1 (sounds like a party invite).
Now Channel 4 HD is coming in December, but is not confirmed for Virgin yet, and ITV HD will be launched in time for the Euro 2008 finals next summer. And let's not forget BBC HD, now almost certain to be promoted from its "trial" status to a fully fledged channel despite the cuts at the corporation to be announced today. Surely surely surely some of these timeshift channels could be handed over to an expanded HD service? With HD Ready TV sales again likely to leap in sales again in the run up to Christmas, Virgin should be considering what will drive new customers to cable. It ain't gonna be the timeshift +1 nonsense, especially in these days when Virgin are promoting the V+ as the new standard. But three or four linear HD channels, complimented by a fuller HD VOD offering, and people will notice. Anyone disagree?
Come on Virgin, you gotta admit it makes sense!

October 15, 2007

V+, HD and Delay TV

A word of warning for anyone using the Delay TV function (ie pause and rewind) when viewing the HD channel. I guess cos the amount of data for the HD transmissions are around four times as much as a regular standard definition one, the buffer used for Delay TV seems to fill up after around twenty minutes. I was using it for the Michael Palin broadcast last night and it came out of pause after about 20 minutes and I couldn't re-pause it. When I then started watching again, the box did a complete reboot after half an hour's viewing. I was recording an SD channel at the same time, but I would have thought the box could cope. It couldn't.
I've seen posts on the Sky HD forums that suggest a similar issue on Sky boxes, especially if recording two HD channels simultaneously (we should be so lucky!) - I think it would be fair to say that the current generation of HD PVRs are very much 'first generation' and there's a limit to their capabilities at the moment.

October 13, 2007

England v Estonia

Well, Virgin may have just the one HD channel, but they can still manage to bugger up the showcase broadcast of the week. What should have been a visual treat was badly marred by a problem throughout the entire match with awful red blocking and colour distortion. According to the posts on Digital Spy, the problem was widespread and put down as a 'network-wide' issue. No problems reported on Sky HD, so it looks like Virgin's fault not the BBC's. Bugger.

Lost Season One in HD

Yes, it is there...but not in the HD season for some reason.
Look in the A-Z listing in TV On Demand under "L". Free of charge are episode 1-12 of the first season except episode 4. No idea where 4 is...Virgin's loading of VOD content can often have these annoying oversights (Brothers & Sisters HD also has a missing episode from a consecutive run).
There may be other bits tucked away - let me know if you find anything yourself.

BBC HD highlights for the coming week

Er....more of the same I'm afraid. Aside from the England Estonia game this afternoon it's pretty much as last week: The Tudors, Heroes and the usual suspects. Big disappointment in that the new series of Spooks and the Titchmarsh series aren't being shown (yet) in HD - maybe they're saving them for the launch of the non-trial version of BBC HD coming "soon".
No sign on my box yet of the promised 4OD HD content apart from half a dozen episodes of Brothers & Sisters at 99p a pop. Hopefully not too long before it appears - there's normally a TV refresh on VOD early in the week, so keep 'em peeled.

October 11, 2007

HD on Virgin Media Broadband

Another HD announcement from Virgin Media, but this one's more intriguing rather than exciting as it's for the on-trial 50mb broadband trialists, rather than the TV or VOD service:

VOOM HD Networks has inked an agreement with UK quad-play operator Virgin Media, to trial the global VOOM HD channel starting in October 2007 as part Virgin Media's 50Mbs Broadband Pilot in the UK. The deal, brokered by international broadcaster and distributor of thematic channels Chello Zone (formerly Zonemedia), marks the initial delivery of a VOOM HD channel in the UK. Since initiating its global expansion effort at MIPCOM just two years ago, VOOM HD Networks has seen exponential growth in the international marketplace. More than 1,100 VOOM HD programming hours have been sold into more than 150 countries, and the global VOOM HD channel is now available in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Now, having had a quick look at www.voom.tv, I wouldn't get too excited about the content - these are channels that wouldn't even make Sky's EPG, but you have to wonder what VM's HD strategy is: TV, VOD or now IP? I'm not a fan of watching the programmes or films on my laptop, but I can see that VM are covering all options to a degree, albeit at a snail's pace.
There's more on the company and its offerings at this entry in Wikipedia

October 10, 2007

Wot, no Spooks?

The BBC's HD highlights announcement for the rest of Autumn had a few notable omissions, notably NO SPOOKS, which is disappointing to say the least. I'd hoped that the Beeb would follow the earlier HD broadcasts of Hotel Babylon and Hustle earlier this year with an HD presentation of its more popular dramas, but it doesn't look like it will be. Also missing is The Nature of Britain, surely crying out for HD (even if I do intend to watch it without the sound of Titchmarsh). Instead, the schedules reveal yet more repeats of Torchwood, Bryan Ferry and bits of Later. Hopefully when the service is properly launches, we'll get a bit more variety and some of the better shows.

Anyway, here's the BBC stuff announced so far for the rest of the Autumn:

* The new series of Strictly Come Dancing (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

* The new series of Robin Hood (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

* The Tudors (Simulcast with BBC TWO)

* Michael Palin’s New Europe (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

* The Antiques Roadshow (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

* Who Do You Think You Are? (Simulcast with BBC ONE)

* The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle (From BBC TWO)

* After You’ve Gone (From BBC ONE)

* The Story Of India (From BBC TWO)

* Ganges (From BBC TWO)

* Saira Khan's Pakistan Adventure (From BBC TWO)

* Cranford (Simulcast with BBC TWO)

* The Company (Simulcast with BBC TWO)

* Fairy Tales (From BBC TWO)

October 09, 2007

Confirmation of Channel 4 HD coming to Virgin

Kinda. Digital Spy are reporting that a deal's been done with Channel 4 that will give us Virgin customers free access to some HD content via VOD and most likely carriage of the new 4HD simulcast of C4 (though not 100% confirmed - capacity needing some management before full announcement, perhaps?).
Here's the DS story:
Virgin Media is to offer Channel 4 programmes in high definition via its on demand service.

Cable customers can see a selection of Channel 4 shows, which now includes some in HD, free of charge for up to seven days post-transmission via the 4oD service.

The deal also gives Virgin Media the option of carrying the new Channel 4 HD linear channel, which will launch in December.

Malcolm Wall, Virgin Media's chief executive of content, said: "We are delighted to be adding Channel 4 content to our growing line up of high definition programming. Virgin Media is at the forefront of technology advances in television and is not only offering its customers higher quality pictures in HD, but also the ability to watch what they want when they want it via the on demand service."

Virgin Media's on-demand library already includes HD assets from FilmFlex, the BBC and History Channel.

Channel 4's head of VOD and channel development Sarah Rose said: "Demand for HD is increasing, and befitting our ambition for viewers to be able to access our programming when they want it and in a format of their choice, it's important for us to be meeting this demand wherever we can. We are delighted that HD versions of some of our shows will be available to Virgin TV on demand users and look forward to increasing the amount of HD programming in our schedule over time."

(Actually, the bit about us having the History Channel in HD is wrong.) Personally, I would like to see them round up all the +1 channels and use that capacity to expand the HD offering. I also think it's time VM bit the bullet and axed the analogue service that has a huge overhead on the network for a minority of customers, and shifted the phone service to IP. That's how the American cable companies have such awesome HD capabilities. It would be great if they adopted the newer standards for broadcasting HD rather than the dated Telewest set up, but I can't see that happening just yet with a growing V+ population. Ho hum.

October 08, 2007

Can the V+ record two HD channels simulataneously?

This was odd...I was watching the Michael Palin thing on BBC HD Sunday night on Delay TV and was also recording it. Suddenly, after half an hour, the box just went phttttt and rebooted. When it was back, no recording at all and I'd lost the delay TV ten minutes too.
Bizarre. Was I pushing the box too far? With the other probs I've had recently, Mrs Nialli is now suggesting we ring VM up and get an engineer out, but as I can't repeat the problems that's gonna be a fruitless exercise. Doesn't bode well for working with more than the single HD channel in future if it can't handle recording two simulataneously. :o(

October 06, 2007

New on BBC HD this week

Robin Hood 19.30, Saturdays
Not a personal favourite as I'm not a teenager, but if the scripts improve from the first series then this may well be worth a watch. Not the blockbuster the BBC had hoped it would prove in the Doctor Who slot, but still nice to see it in HD again.

Ganges, 22.00, Monday
Glorious photography in both this and the preceding Story of India. Beautiful in HD

Heroes, Heroes Unmasked, 21.00 Wednesdays
Thank you, BBC...

The Life & Times of Vivien Vyle,
22.00, Thursday
Jennifer Saunders' latest attempt to recapture the magic of Absolutely Fabulous. Not the finest example of HD content, but better than yet another showing of Planet Earth!

Saxondale, 22.00, Friday
All six episodes of the Steve Coogan comedy's second season

Match of the Day, 14.30, Saturday 13th
England v Estonia. Will look glorious in HD whatever the performance from the Three Lions

October 01, 2007

Picture break up in New Europe?

Not sure if this was local to me or not, but I had intermittent picture and sound problems for about ten minutes during BBC HD's Michael Palin programme last night. Lasted for about ten minutes from 9.30, but was all resolved by the time he got to Bucharest!
I've had this a few times on BBC HD and the various forums suggest I'm not alone. It's an irritation and I'm not sure whether the problems with the BBC feed, Virgin Media or my V+ box. Anyone know?