November 30, 2007

More content being moved under the HD category

Virgin have now moved the first seasons of Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Day Break and Criminal Minds under the correct High Definition category in TV Choice On Demand (in my area at least). No new episodes, and for some reason each episode is listed twice, but the intent is there even if the execution is somewhat flawed this time around!

November 28, 2007

How should Virgin Media deliver High Definition programming?

This month’s blog poll asked “How should Virgin Media deliver High Definition programming?” We had a majority (52%) vote for “full” channels like BBC HD or C4 HD. Sadly, that’s not where it appears Virgin are going strategically at the moment, preferring to offer HD selectively via (the undervalued) Video On Demand. So, how many voted for Virgin’s preferred option? A measly 2%! Bloody hell, Berkett - listen to your customer base!
Interestingly, 44% felt that a combination of the two would be most appropriate. That’s not insignificant and is demonstrates that if VM can strike a suitable balance they’ll appease almost half of their customers’ HD needs.
My personal view is that VoD is a great way of delivering HD content, but a number of additional regular HD channels will be essential to remain competitive with the new FreeSat service when it launches in 2008. We have to be realistic that VM under its current management (and with some technical restrictions due to the adoption of Mpeg 2) will never offer as many HD channels as Sky HD. But then, what is Sky offering in HD that appeals to the masses? HD football has limited appeal, the movie channels have weak programming and Sky One HD is running out of new content thanks to the Writers’ strike in Hollywood. Which’ll mean even more Simpsons. In HD. Be still my beating heart…
Much as I like the idea of Nat Geo, History, Sky Arts and Discovery in HD, I never actually watch them in SD, preferring the BBC’s factual offerings. FX in HD? MTV in HD? Hardly compulsive stuff. Compared to VM’s 100+ hours of HD on demand, Sky’s offering isn’t that strong. And the Sky HD box struggles to record two concurrently btw – check the various forum threads on it on Digital Spy. Like the V+, erratic recording and limited disc capacity will be an issue with more linear channels - another plus point for VoD HD.
If VM secure at least C4 HD, ITV HD and maybe a future Five HD offering, that plus whatever the BBC serves us will just about do me if they keep adding to the On Demand library too. Maybe I’m easily satisfied, but that would mean the majority of my regular viewing would then be in HD. A guy can dream, can’t he?
(Incidentally, the poll respondents were 290 in total, two of which voted for the “HD is a dead duck” option. This blog, in its first full month, has attracted over 3,500 page views and has had over 1,700 unique visitors. Steadily growing over the month, we’re averaging now 200 hits a day. Wake up Virgin…your public's hunger for HD is growing!)

Virgin uncovering its hidden content?

May be old news to some areas, but SE London's TV on Demand menus seem to be being fiddled with. If you go to TV Choice on Demand, there's a new category 9, "More>", which then takes you to two options: "1. High Definition" and "2. A-Z". The only thing in the former is currently Lost season one (all 25 episodes). All the other stuff that's been hidden in the A-Z is still in the A-Z, but hopefully VM are in the process of moving it all under the single category now. And then there's the other HD listings; Free TV (BBC), Filmflex, Music (Gorillaz at the Apollo) and Pay TV (a few episodes of Brothers & Sisters).

November 27, 2007


Rumours over at Cable Forum that Virgin Media won't be carrying the forthcoming C4HD channel any time soon but we may get some HD content via VoD. Disappointing - surely carrying a second HD channel isn't going to choke that much bandwidth?

Having said that, it may not be too long a's an interesting post from Sirius on Digital Spy. What he's saying is that the new Scientific Atlanta equipment being purchased by VM for its headends will be able to take any HD feeds from FreeSat, regardless of whether they're MPeg2 or (more likely) MPeg4, and carry them on Virgin. He also points out that a single analogue channel from the legacy network being dropped will free up enough capacity for three HD channels, so bandwidth ain't a reason to hold back. (It's been suggested on Cable Forum by the engineers who post there that VM intend to close the analogue network down Q1 2008, though I've seen nothing definite on that from VM)

November 26, 2007

Lost Season Two in HD - update

Seventeen episodes in HD are now listed in TV Choice on Demand's A-Z, but ex-NTL currently has 1-18 minus episode 12 and with episode 3 right at the end of the list. Odd, but fairly typical of the way this stuff is appearing. Carol is reporting ex-Telewest areas also have 18 episodes (again minus 12 and with 3 'floating') so it looks like we'll have the whole of season two by the end of the week.
Of course, for Lost fans missing Sky One, season three is the one you're waiting for...

November 24, 2007

Why some HD content is "hidden"

Just picked this up from the newsgroup

We have now received an update from our Support Team and they wished to thank you for your feedback. Please read through the reply below:

All HD cannot be put into the same folder as some are transactional (Pay Per View), some content is free only to XL customers. Our current architecture cannot support mixed propositions in the same folder.

We are aware however that the current way we are managing HD in the user interface is not as intuitive as it should be and we are actively looking at how better to organise this. However we will always want to put HD programming next to its SD counterpart where possible, as this benefit customers looking for a film title( for example) and seeing there is also a HD version available.

HD on Demand surpasses 100 hours!

At some point in November Virgin Media quietly added more HD content to their On Demand service and tipped over the 100 hours mark. No fanfare, and almost half of it is completely unpromoted, appearing just in the A-Z listing rather than under the 'High Definition' classification. Here's the latest listing of all the HD content I've been able to find.
(n.b. this is a listing for ex-NTL customers: experience suggests ex-Telewest will have pretty much the same but maybe additional stuff)

Free TV

Ant Attack
Desert Lions
Diana - Last Days of a Princess
Hotel Babylon episodes 2 - 8
Planet Earth: episodes 1-5
The Blue Planet: Frozen Seas
The Blue Planet: Coasts
The Blue Planet: Coral Seas
The Blue Planet: Frozen Seas
The Blue Planet: Open Oceans
The Blue Planet: Seasonal Seas
The Blue Planet: The Deep
The Blue Planet: Tidal Seas
The Innocence Project 1-8
Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador
Superstorm 1-3

Filmflex HD
(all £4 unless mentioned)
Alpha Dog
Amazing Grace
Apocalypto (£4.50)
Arthur & the Invisibles
The Breed
Hannibal Rising
The Illusionist
The Messengers
The Painted Veil
Until Death
Wild Hogs

Pay TV (99p each)
Brothers & Sisters Season One 21 - 23

"Hidden" HD Programmes
Check under the TV Choice On Demand A-Z listings
Criminal Minds Season One 1 - 22 (exc. 7, 17)
Day Break 1-12
Dog Fight 2 episodes
Engineering an Empire 3 episodes
Grey's Anatomy Season One 1 -2
Lost Season One 1-25
Lost Season Two 1,2,4,5
Mega Movers 3 episodes

November 22, 2007

Two more episodes of LOST season two in HD

In VoD A-Z, we now have episodes 1,2...and 4, 5! Go figure...

Grey's Anatomy in HD

Browsing through the TV Choice on Demand A-Z last night I noticed a couple of High Definition additions: Criminal Minds Season One is now complete except episodes 7 and 17(!) and Grey's Anatomy Season One is now available, albeit just the first two episodes in HD.

November 20, 2007

The Company, Saturday 9.40 BBC HD

Auntie seems to be on a roll...only a few weeks ago I was bemoaning the lack of original programming on BBC HD and now, hot on the heels of the excellent Cranford and Earth:The Power of the Planet comes The Company, a cold war thriller with a cast iron cast. Chris O'Donnell, Michael Keaton and Alfred Molina star in an adaptation of Robert Littell's excellent novel about CIA activity in the fifties. It's a three-parter, and it's in HD. Excellent stuff!

November 19, 2007

BBC HD Confirmed

BBC Trust announcement details here

Those excellent Digital Spy guys are reporting the following (here):
The BBC Trust has approved the BBC's proposals for a dedicated HD service.

The BBC HD channel will essentially be a continuation of the test service that has been available on satellite and cable for the last 18 months, although both transmission hours and range of content offered are to significantly increase.

The Trust has also approved the launch of the service on Freeview "as soon as possible", but ruled out immediate proposals to launch a cut-down version of the channel by borrowing overnight capacity from the likes of BBC Four and BBC Parliament. "There was a feeling that the risk of consumer confusion was too great if the interim service was launched," explained the Trust, adding that BBC Parliament "must take precedence over the BBC HD channel if capacity cannot be found for both".

On satellite and cable, BBC HD is expected to transform into a channel broadcasting for nine hours a day - more in the event of sporting or other live coverage - by the end of next year. The Trust has approved a schedule comprising up to 20% of film and sports content and has insisted that showcasing HD content from across the BBC's portfolio should take precedence over aims to simulcast primetime BBC One.

"[BBC HD] will showcase a rich mix of the BBC's programmes from across its channel portfolio in true, native, high definition," said Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision. "HD is the next generation of television, offering the richest, most intense viewing experience imaginable. BBC HD will embody the range, variety and ambition of our public service broadcasting, which is what audiences value."

November 18, 2007

Day Break

The US series Day Break now has twelve episodes in HD, again hidden away in the A-Z listings of TV Choice on Demand (thanks to Carol Steele for spotting this).
Day Break was an ABC series from 2006 starring Taye Diggs that ran for half a season (thirteen in all) before the axe fell, which means we are one short! Haven't seen it myself but you can find more background on it here.
Carol also reports that in ex-Telewest areas a few episodes of Lost Season Two have appeared. They're now showing in ex-NTL too.

November 17, 2007

Lost Season One

Lost Season One is now all there in HD, but still tucked away in the TV On Demand, A-Z. It's not listed under Drama nor High Definition - that would be too easy! All 25 episodes are free to XL customers.
They've also added more HD episodes from the first season of Criminal Minds - up to 22 now, but still oddly missing 5, 6 and 7.

November 13, 2007

Virgin quietly adding more HD on demand content

Whisper it quietly, but the HD fairy has been adding more content to the TV Choice On Demand service.
And, as before, they've not added it where you would expect to find it (under "High Definitiion") but only under the "A-Z" listings. Bizarre. Or just incompetent?
Anyhow, let's be grateful that this additional stuff is free to XL customers.
Criminal Minds Season One HD now has episodes 1-4 and 8-15 (don't know what's happened to 5,6 and 7)
There's something called Day Break, episodes 1 & 2
And Season One of Lost is now almost all there: 1-22 are now in HD and free (there were 25 episodes in the first season in case you were wondering).
There may be more - please let me know if you find other stuff hidden away.

November 07, 2007

Virgin Media announce Q3 results

Details and comment from Digital Spy here. Essentially it's good news, but there's a sting in the tail: check out the comments to investors (slide 15 of the 7/11/07 presentation here) and you'll see no mention of expanding HD services whatsoever. In fact, quite the reverse; "Premium TV" is conceded as being a market dominated by Sky, low growth opportunity, heavy investment and poor content economics. Uh oh: "limited opportunity" to Virgin Media.
Bad news? Not necessarily. Here are my first thoughts...
Thinking about it, Acting CEO Berkett is probably right. If it was my business, I'd look for what differentiates my product from the opposition, and as he says, that's higher speed, reliabe broadband services and the excellent Video On Demand. The former they're promoting heavily but the latter remains a well-kept secret that knocks the socks off the opposition from Sky, Tiscali and BT. It's not perfect (the menu system's a nightmare and inconsistent) but it works great on the V+ and Samsung boxes, and those who don't see it as a viable delivery method of delivery HD content are living in the twentieth century. Especially when you consider how ill-suited the V+ is when recording HD broadcasts - limited disc space and rocky when handling more than a single HD channel. And don't think the Sky box is any better - there are Digital Spy threads reporting hardware failures when recording two HD channels simultaneously. VoD is the way in our new, when-I-want-it world.
I'm still hopeful that VM will add more 'linear' HD channels, but I expect they'll be the free ones from the BBC, C4 and ITV in the short/medium term, the same stuff that'll be on offer on FreeSat. But more VoD HD is essential and I've come round to the opinion that Virgin is right to prioritise that over, say, the linear Nat Geo or History Channel in HD. 99p for an episode of Brothers & Sisters in HD? Only if it's the latest episode. Virgin need to sort out their pricing as well as the all-over-the-place menus. Also, I won't pay £4 for a film in HD when it's going to be on DVD discounted for £5 in a few months and the difference ain't that great on my 32in LCD, so they need to price that more competitively.
But the good news is they're getting their priorities right at VM and the thinking's straight, even if it's not immediately attractive to those wanting more HD. Berkett's offering Sky an olive branch - expect the return of the Sky basics soon as both sides step down from the head-on confrontation earlier this year - and a stronger VM is good for everyone, and more HD will follow, albeit perhaps in a different form from that offered by Sky.

Petition for more HD content on Virgin Media

Some like-minded soul has opened a petition to send to Virgin Media regarding its lack of HD channels: you can add your signature here.

I don't necessarily agree that we don't need more HD via Video on Demand ... we need more HD, period! Channels would be good. Anything will be good

November 06, 2007

Exciting new stuff on BBC HD in the next seven days...

...if only...
It's the same old stuff. Torchwood. Old bits of Later and Coast. Robin Hood. Bleak House. Strictly Come Dancing. Antiques Roadshow. Bloody hell...and we're in the middle of the autumn season when Auntie has all the big stuff on its regular channels!
No Spooks. No Long Way Down. No Top Gear. Neither of the new Poliakoff dramas. Even the new series of Lead Balloon isn't listed as HD in The Radio Times (the last season was shown in HD several times).
I hope they're saving up all the new stuff for BBC HD proper when it launches. They have decent stuff in the archive in HD but for some reason it's the same old stuff broadcast week after week. Strewth...

New Poll

I've added a new poll (right); should Virgin be looking to add HD content as full channels, Video On Demand content, or a combination of the two?
Personally, I'd like the combination approach, albeit with much more stuff that we currently have. I'm really looking forward to the full BBC HD service when it launches, and hope Channel 4 and ITV HD services make it to Virgin Media as free services to XL customers soon after. Other stuff though I'd be happy with as Video On Demand, though they'd have to price it right (free would be good!). Much as I like HD and Brothers & Sisters, I balked at the 99p per episode price for the HD versions after the broadcasts on E4. Now if they were shown a week earlier than the regular broadcasts and in HD, I'd consider it.

November 05, 2007

The +1 vs. HD debate

Last month I ran a small poll on this site regarding the proliferation of "+1" channels on Virgin Media and whether that bandwidth would be better used delivering a handful of linear HD channels in addition to the BBC HD trial channel. (For those new to the Blog, my original post on the matter is here.) I also posted a thread on the topic on Digital Spy and Cable Forums.
As you'd probably expect for a blog on HD services on VM cable, the responses to the poll were heavily in favour of the notion of the +1 bandwidth being used for additional HD channels:
  • 85% agreed with the notion
  • 10% said that the +1s were not dispensible but were essential
  • And 4% said that HD was not going to take off in the UK
  • (There were 48 respondents in all)
The debates on the threads though was more surprising: a number of correspondents felt that the +1s were invaluable, and when I checked out the BARB viewing figures I was taken aback by some of them - some +1s get almost as many viewers as the real-time channels! For example, Challenge +1 is almost on a par with its parent. Bizarre
Whilst I'm not questioning the value of the +1s for the bigger channels (C4+1, E4+1, Virgin 1+1, Sky Movies Premier +1) some really are a 'luxury' which could be sacrificed for the more forward looking adoption of more linear HD channels, notably the imminent C4HD and ITVHD services. I was talking to a friend in the US and he tells me that he has over 30 HD channels now on his cable set up...and NO +1s. His cable supplier (I can't recall if it's ComCast or TW Cable) now ships its V+ equivalent as its standard box, so he couldn't see why they would have them, especially with VOD content available FoC. Having said that, once I explained to him what they were, he thought it would be good to have them for some channels, which I guess is true as long as "some" doesn't restrict the delivery of other services.
Anyway, for now I'm taking the poll offline. Thanks to everyone who responded. 10% of the blog's visitors in October took the time to voice their opinion, so sincere thanks to all.

November 04, 2007

MPEG4 on Virgin Media

There's a lot of discussion in a Digital Spy thread about the use of MPEG2 for HD transmission on Virgin Media rather than the more efficient compression technology of MPEG4 (thread here), but here's a thought: When the V+ launched earlier this year, it wasn't marketed as an HD box, nor did VM promote the (sparse) HD content available. And they're still not pushing it. Not surprising given that they have so little and they're doing their best to hide the VoD HD content they've got (see previous posts).
So, pure speculation this, could they be considering a fuller HD service launch using MPEG4 boxes sometime soon? Then they could 'upgrade' the boxes of those seeking HD content, maybe with one of the new generation Scientific Atlanta boxes charging similarly to Sky a £10 premium for the service, whilst the V+ becomes the middle tier box for customers on the XL package, lower tier getting the Samsung boxes. They could keep BBC HD on MPEG 2 so everyone gets a taster, but only those subscribing to the new box would get the additional MPEG 4 linear channels.
Just a thought...a man can hope, can't he?

New HD content in TV Choice on Demand

Bloody hell Virgin, you don't make it easy for us HD cable customers, do you? Not only do you charge a premium for HD Filmflex movies (why?) and keep an ancient analogue network running, restricting newer services, but you hide what little HD content you have in the hardest to find places! Strewth...
Anyway, in addition to the programming listed under 'High Definition' in TV Choice on Demand, if you go to the A-Z listings for TV CoD you'll find the following HD programming:

Criminal Minds Season one episodes 1-4
Dogfight (two episodes - I think it's a National Geographic programme)
Engineering an Empire (three episodes - Nat Geo again)
Lost Season one 1 - 15
Mega Movers (three episodes, not sure which channel but suspect another NG one)

I haven't spotted any 4OD content apart from the later episodes of Brothers & Sisters (at 99p a pop) but I'll have a root around. Let me know if anyone out there spots some I've missed.