December 27, 2008

Crooked House


Sure, Gavin & Stacey was fun, any films in high def were most welcome and Wallace and Gromit looked fabulous in high definition, but for me the highlight of the Christmas programming on BBC HD was a little trio of ghost stories on late at night; Crooked House.
Penned by League of Gentlemen and ocassional Doctor Who scribe Mark Gatiss, these were three interconnected tales that really did send a shiver up my spine (especially the third episode - I'll never wake at 3.43am and feel safe again).
The good news for those who missed them the first time around is that they're being repeated as a single 90 minute drama on Monday, December 29th at 9pm on BBC HD. Highly, highly recommended...but leave a light on, just in case.

December 23, 2008

Adult HD on demand

Hunting around the various On Demand categories in a desperate search for unheralded HD programmes I...ehem...stumbled upon no fewer than eight HD programmes in the Adult listings. Now I can't vouch for the standard of the content as even for you guys I'm not prepared to shell out good money for this kind of stuff (especially as it's six quid a pop) but there are eight movies there if you're intrigued by the prospect of high def soft core, with titles like Bitches in a Box (presumably not an RSPCA cruelty to animals doc) and Come Together (unlikely to feature Lennon and McCartney).

December 22, 2008

BBC HD Christmas highlights


In addition to a good selection of family movies there are a few specials on BBC HD this week that may be worth your time:
Crooked House (Mon-Weds, 11pm, 11.05 and 11.15pm) is a trio of ghost stories by Mark Gatiss that looks promising
The Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special is showing in high def on Christmas Eve at 10.15pm, fifteen minutes after it starts on BBC1 .
Christmas Day itself boast Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf & Death at 8.30pm, and the return of the Royle Family at 9.30pm. More Royals: for those who stand to attention at 3pm, The Queen's Speech is in HD, too.
Also on Christmas Day is a Strictly Come Dancing special at 7pm. Enjoy!
(Programming on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day all start around noon, 12 hours plus each day.)

December 20, 2008

Voom HD TV - RIP?

Over a year ago, there was a story doing the rounds that Virgin Media had signed up the Voom TV high definition channels and were testing them, possibly with an eye to an HD over IP future (original report here). Well, like much promised late last year, nothing appeared and now the channels themselves are apparently tied up in a US contractual dispute - reported this week by broadcasttvnews.com
Not that we're missing much ... a line up of repetitive showcase channels and minority sports from what I recall.

December 19, 2008

Sky Movies channels picture quality

Does anyone else think the picture quality of the Sky movies channels has deteriorated on Virgin Media recently? To my eyes the channels with HD equivalents look like they're suffering with either lower bit rates or some dodgy colour saturation. It used to be that the Sky Movies channels had a great picture, but these last few months they've looked pretty shoddy, almost on a par with Freeview Film4. I've just watched Stardust - the picture clarity was noticeably worse on Sky Premier than it was when I watched it on Filmflex earlier in the year.
The cynic in me would suggest that Sky has done something deliberate to reduce the quality of the SD movies to make the HD package more attractive to its customers, but there's not a similar drop in PQ on Sky Sports.
Is there something wrong somewhere? Is there a difference in the way VM are handling the feeds? Is it a bitrate drop? Or is it just my aged eyes getting worse?

BBC HD this weekend

Apart from the usuals and hours of repeats of repeats, we have bugger all on BBC HD this weekend. A Lindsey Lohan film at 9.45pm on Saturday night: Herbie: Fully Loaded , an hour of ballet on Sunday at 5.05pm The Royal Ballet World Premiere and at 7.45pm a new Christmas "special" episode of Lark Rise to Candleford
No BBC2 Heroes repeat in HD this weekend btw, but those who have somehow managed to miss season two of Gavin & Stacey can watch all seven episodes back to back on Sunday starting at 9pm.

December 17, 2008

How to calibrate your TV for high definition


The BBC's Andy Quested has excelled himself this month; check out this BBC Blog post to learn how to best calibrate your TV to make the most of the new HD test card on BBC HD. This is quite, quite brilliant. Thank you sir!

December 16, 2008

UPDATED: VM Broadband: an end to neutrality?

I'm not going to turn this blog into a Virgin Broadband one, but this post over on The Register caught my eye. It appears that Berkett has said that VM's new broadband services will implement some restrictions on BitTorrent traffic, rather than the rather draconian restrictions placed on all download traffic at the moment for high volume users.
Personally, I don't think this is a bad move, as long as it's not extended to legal media distribution such as iPlayer or similar. I've never been a fan of downloading films, music or TV illegally - it's just plain wrong.
Berkett has spoken out on this before, and I think it's a brave step for him to stick his neck out on this. I'm sure others disagree but he gets my support on this move.
UPDATE: A Virgin Media spokesman denies The Register's story, reported here on a Wired blog

More from Berkett on additonal HD channels

The guys over at Trusted Reviews have two pieces of interest today you may want to have a look at. The first is their report on the arrival of 50mb Virgin Media broadband, the second is some more words from Virgin CEO Neil Berkett on additional HD channels coming to Virgin Media next year.

December 15, 2008

Virgin Media 50Mb Broadband Announced

Details can be found at Virgin Media's site. Not sure how this will be costed for existing VIP customers (like me).
Interesting that they're promoting it as a way to view HD content. Also...no throttling or download caps!

December 14, 2008

Berkett confirms: four HD channels on their way. Sky Sports and Movies "available"

At last, something to get excited about on the HD front, albeit still lacking dates 'n' details. According to this post over on BroadbandTVnews.com, Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett said at the UBS 36th Annual Global Media and Communications conference this week:
“To date our HD content is limited, we only have a couple of HD channels today and we will be launching four channels over the next three months. For us the key to HD is sports and movies and to invest unduly until we get access to that is not the right thing to do.” Berkett said Virgin could catch-up quickly should the market change and would be able to gear up within three to six months. The switch-off of Virgin’s remaining analogue homes would enable delivery of between 30-40 HD channels should the cablenet choose to offer them.
Hang on..."we only have a couple of HD channels today"???? Is he talking prematurely about an imminent arrival or does he never watch the service himself? And what are the four definitely on their way?? I'd say C4 HD and ITV HD, plus maybe FX and Sky1 (as suggested over on cableforum.co.uk).

UPDATE: Over on
cableforum.co.uk the ever-reliable Horizon has posted the following information from Berkett at the conference:
Berkett confirmed he has now had access to Sky's HD channels for a few months, where as previously they were "locked up" by Sky. But not a price he considers reasonable, hence the ongoing review by Ofcom which he believes will find in VM's favour.

December 12, 2008

ITV HD over Christmas

If you thought BBC HD was a bit lightweight over the festive season, check out ITV HD's schedule (still only available on FreeSat of course)

Saturday 13th December 2008
True Lies (film) - 10.40pm

Sunday 14th December 2008
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (film) - 4.05pm

Britannia High (drama) - 7.00pm

Saturday 20th December 2008
Honey (film) - 2.40pm

Britannia High Finale (drama) - 5.30pm

Tuesday 23rd December 2008
Ali G Indahouse (film) - 10.40pm

Friday 26th December 2008
Caught in a Trap (drama) - 9.00pm

Saturday 27th December 2008
Bird on a Wire (film) - 11.05pm

Sunday 28th December 2008
Affinity (drama) - 9.00pm

December 11, 2008

Movies on BBC HD over Christmas

First the good news; there are almost a dozen movies filling the extended BBC HD schedule over Christmas week.
Now the less good news: it's primarily family fayre - the odd gem here and there, but nothing to get too excited about if you're over the age of twelve. Here's the full list for Christmas week:
Saturday 20th: 9.45pm Herbie Full Loaded
Monday: 8.30pm Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam's not-that-bad fantasy starring Heath Ledger and Matt Damon)
Christmas Eve: 11.50am High School Musical; 2.40pm The Santa Clause; 6.05pm Toy Story 2; 8.30pm Calendar Girls
Christmas Day: 11.25am The Santa Clause 2; 4.30pm Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; 10.30 Casanova
Boxing Day: 5.50pm The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe; 8.30pm Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

December 10, 2008

Discounted HD movies on FilmFlex

It may not be as enticing as the 'Penny Movies' offer a few weeks back but FilmFlex will again be discounting high definition movies as they approach the end of their 'premium price' life on Virgin Media.
Bee Movie Animated family adventure featuring the voice talent of Jerry Seinfeld. Available for £2.50 from 07/12/08 to 17/12/08
Be Kind Rewind Jack Black recreates the tapes he erases in a video store. Available for £2.25 from 18/12/08 to 27/12/08
No Country For Old Men Multi-Oscar winning crime thriller from the Coen Brothers, with Javier Bardem. Available for £2.75 from 20/12/08 to 31/12/08
The Kite Runner Acclaimed adaptation about a rift between childhood friends. Available for £2.25 from 20/12/08 to 31/12/08
Cloverfield Action thriller about a huge creature invading New York City. Available for £2.50 from 01/01/09 to 07/01/09
A reminder that it will only be a month or so before these turn up for nowt on Sky Premiere in standard definition.

December 09, 2008

Virgin launch 50mb broadband on Dec 15th

Just creeping in to 2008, Virgin Media launches its much-heralded 50mb broadband service next Monday (Dec 15th). Details of pricing and download limitations will be revealed then: confirmation here

December 08, 2008

V+ update 'features'

There was a V+ update last week that seems to have added a new default requiring you to input your PIN to view any recordedings. That might be good for some families, but this one finds it a pain in the rectum. So, if you want to turn this 'feature' off, go to Settings, select Parental Control and set View Recorded Content to Off.
That's better :o)
Another feature I've discovered is that if you want the full EPG to display just your Favourites, press Home then Favourites. Pretty neat, too.
Not sure if there are other changes: over on the Virgin TV newsgroup I found this:
Today we completed the download of our latest software release (v. 3.2.5.1) to our V+ customers. Key features of this sooftware are:
- easier set-up of HD
- the availability of standard resolution video over HDMI when in SCART mode
- a feature telling customers that they have an HDMI cable connected but are watching via SCART
- a key bug fix that can make boxes get stuck in a constant reboot cycle
- improved font for subtitles on channels that carry VBI subtitles
- ability to select the Favourites menu anywhere within the guide by pressing the FAV button
- numerous other bits to bring into line with standard boxes which were upgraded earlier in the year
Stephen Featham,
Head of TV Product Engineering, Virgin Media.

December 07, 2008

Lost season 4 catch up

Lost season 4 catch up starts at 2pm on Tuesday 6th January on Sky1. It's also showing on Sky1 HD - wouldn't it be nice if Virgin Media had that by then?
Season 5 starts on Sunday January 25th.
For those who ran out of patience with season 3, I can promise that season 4 is bang on the money - a strong return to form, greatly helped by having tighter scripts and fewer episodes.

December 06, 2008

Little Dorrit scheduling madness

If you set your V+ to record Little Dorrit on Thursday on BBC HD, prepare yourself for disappointment; the episode was replaced at the last minute by an episode of Green Green Grass.
Why? Well over on BBC1 they made a late scheduling change and aired a Panorama special instead. Rather than have the HD channel exclusively showcase the latest episode of the landmark drama, they yanked it off.
So when can we see episode 12? Amazingly, the only showing it's getting is in the omnibus edition on Sunday evening (Dec 7) at 6.15 on both BBC HD and BBC1.
What I find frankly astonishing is that the audience that has steadfastly sat through six hours of quality (albeit slow developing) drama is expected to hunt around the schedules to find an episode as the story reaches its climax.
The series ends this week with the penultimate episode on Wednesday at 8pm then an hour-long conclusion on Thursday at 8pm. Assuming there are no other Panorama specials in the offing...

No BBC content in iPlayer?

Anyone else got this? I'm seeing no BBC programmes in iPlayer or Catch Up from Thursday afternoon onwards. Other channels stuff's there, but no BBC. SE London.

December 02, 2008

ITV HD testing? Channel reshuffle to accommodate more HD?

Interesting post over on a Digital Spy Forum thread this morning suggesting that ITV HD tests may be going on.
There has been an update overnight in many areas and there's been quite a bit of shuffling in the EPG. Over on Cable Forum, regular newshound MediaBoy has suggested a new revision of the EPG that will include the following HD channels. (n.b. I cannot at this stage verify or confirm this story)
191. BBC HD
193. For ITV HD
194. For Channel 4 HD
196. For Sky1 HD
197. For FX HD
198 - 200 For new HD Channels
Interesting - that would make some sense (us getting Sky1 HD rather than the full Sports/Movies package) and a handful of others. Why FX HD I wonder? And what timescales? Having the channel allocated isn't of course the same as broadcasting it.

December 01, 2008

Iron Man and Indiana Jones in HD - UPDATED


Good news for those of us who enjoy the odd extravagance of a Filmflex HD film every now and again - both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Iron Man are listed as "coming soon" in high def on the Filmflex website. (Please note that Filmflex's definition of "coming soon" normally means in the next week or two, as opposed to the Virgin Media definition of the next year or two...)
Less exciting is that two other summer blockbusters on their way, Wanted and Incredible Hulk, are not listed as HD.
I expect Dark Knight, being a Warner Bros title, will be in HD...fingers crossed.

UPDATE: Iron Man is showing from Dec 11, Indiana Jones from Dec 25. Both are £3.99 in SD and £4.99 in HD.

BBC HD a disappointment?

From the poll run on this blog last month the majority of you feel that there's been little improvement in BBC HD over the past year. In fact the highest vote (38%) actually described the service as 'a disappiontment' - just 7% see it as "a triumph". Food for thought.
Personally, I wouldn't be so dismissive - it is still for me the best single HD channel currently available on any platform, even if it is still showing far too many repeats. What other channel offers such a broad range of original HD programming? In the next seven days we'll see new episodes of Wallander, Heroes, Strictly Come Dancing, Oceans, Apparitions, Lead Balloon, Little Dorrit and Survivors? It won't all be to everyone's taste, but there's pretty much something for everyone each week buried in there somewhere.
I don't disagree though that it could be a lot better, and here's hoping that the new promotion reel now being shown on BBC1 most nights heralds a new dawn for the service. Thanks for voting.
(Incidentally, Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler has posted another BBC HD update on her blog here.)

November 30, 2008

The Devil's Whore

Okay, so us poor VM customers can't get to see the highlight of Channel 4's autumn season, The Devil's Whore, in glorious HD - that's only for Sky customers, but it's still great looking TV even in standard definition. Being shot with HD cameras benefits everyone...or does it? Over on the site broadcastnow.co.uk director Marc Munden reveals that HD cameras aren't universally loved by the technicians:
"Munden shot in HD, albeit grudgingly. "I hate it. It can look great but it's just a pain. You're always linked to a monitor and the cameras are huge. I use a lot of zoom lenses and if you've got a zoom on an HD camera it's like a tank. I like to be free to pick up the camera and run with it," he says.
"Apart from the low budget BBC2 drama Shiny Shiny Bright New Hole In My Heart, it's the first time he has shot on HD. "It's a cost thing, 16mm film is much more expensive. I can be a bit out of control shooting stock and, if that does happen, it gets very expensive. On HD you're just using tape and it doesn't cost any money."
So HD is actually cheaper to shoot than film? Interesting. If it makes financial sense for productions then it definitely will be the media of the future, regardless of any qualms the creative folk may have.

November 26, 2008

Remember this?

Virgin Media lines up further HD entertainment

Virgin Media has struck a deal with Channel 4 that enables them to offer a selection of Channel 4 programming in HD via their TV on demand service.

Virgin customers can already catch up on Channel 4 shows free of charge for up to seven days post transmission, plus access a library of hundreds of hours of their best library programmes and watch the latest US dramas and comedies on a pay per view basis, via the 4oD service. Now a selection of these shows will also be available in HD format.

The deal also gives Virgin Media the option of carrying the soon-to-be-launched C4HD linear channel.

The company's on-demand library already includes HD assets from content partners including FilmFlex, the BBC and History Channel.

Malcolm Wall, Virgin Media's CEO for 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."

“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” added Sarah Rose, Head of Video on Demand and Channel Development, Channel 4.

Source: Virgin Press Release, October 2007

Of course, the C4 HD channel has still yet to appear, and C4 HD content in TV Choice On Demand has been noticeable by its absence too - a smattering of US import content at 99p per programmes for a few weeks last Autumn then nothing whatsoever.

To date the C4 high definition offering has been so weak it has been difficult to get enthusiastic about it. But over the last couple of months it has improved and will be even more desirable when C4 does its seasonal film bonanza over the Christmas season. So come on Virgin; you announced the commercial deal was completed ages ago, now give us what you promised in 2007 and let your high paying, HD-starved customers have something early this Christmas!


November 25, 2008

Christmas line up on BBC HD

More details to follow, but here's what is scheduled for BBC HD this Christmas:
  • Wallace And Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit
  • Toy Story 2
  • The Chronicles Of Narnia – The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean – Dead Man's Chest
  • Starter For Ten
  • Casanova
  • Brothers Grimm
  • Shrek The Halls
  • Wallace and Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death
  • Doctor Who Prom
  • The 39 Steps
  • Lark Rise To Candleford
  • Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special
  • Gavin and Stacey Christmas special
  • Lead Balloon
  • The Royle Family Christmas special
  • After You've Gone Christmas special
  • Michael Palin's Around the World in 20 Years
  • Hootenanny
source

November 24, 2008

Survivors episode 2 and Wallander

The second episode of Survivors is showing Tuesday night at 9pm on BBC HD, and subsequent episodes of the series will also debut on Tuesday nights from hereon.
Next Sunday at 9pm on BBC HD sees the first of three episodes of the new detective drama Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh. That's more like it...

November 22, 2008

The rest of the weekend on BBC HD

Not a great weekend for new programmes on BBC HD. Here are the highlights:
Saturday 17:20–18:20 Oceans
18:20–19:25 Strictly Come Dancing
And that's it. The rest of the evening is repeats of Torchwood, the recent Ian Fleming documentary, the Barbara Cartland drama and some Electric Proms. And Sunday's not much better, with the only new stuff being:
19:15
–20:15 Antiques Roadshow and
21:00–22:30 Survivors (see previous post)

November 21, 2008

Survivors on BBC HD this weekend

There appears to be distinct lack of imagination in the casting of BBC dramas these days, and the weekend's big debut Survivors (BBC HD Sunday, 9pm) is no exception. As anyone who saw Bonekickers earlier this year will testify, Julie Graham hasn't got what it takes to lead a top drama, but here she is again, filling in for the two Amandas (Redman and Burton - presumably now a wee bit too old for the 'action' roles) in a drama that promises much but will probably deliver little. Support this time comes from Max Beasley (from the dire Hotel Babylon) and the perpetually miserable Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who and the worst thing in Little Dorritt). Hardly inspiring.
Based on Terry Nation's seventies drama series of the same name, this looks like standard sub-Spooks BBC fayre. I could be wrong of course. More details, and the trailer, can be found here.

November 19, 2008

BBC HD one year old

Was it really just a year ago that the BBC Trust confirmed BBC HD's trial status was at an end and the channel was now a fully-fleged member of the Beeb's digital offering? How time flies.
So has it been a disappointment? Some times I look at the weekly schedules for the channel and feel like things have gone backwards - there seem to be even more repeats of music programmes than ever, now coupled with snippets of old gardening footage or aerial shots from Coast to fill the schedules. But, looking deeper, there've been many great series on BBC HD in its first full year, and it would be wrong to say it has not improved. For classical drama fans we've had Cranford, Tess of the D'urbervilles, Little Dorritt and others, whilst more modern dramas have included Damages, The Company, Torchwood, Mad Men, Silent Witness and of course Heroes. Most new comedy from the Beeb these days is in HD (Gavin & Stacey, Lead Balloon and other lesser lights) whilst we've been spoiled for documentaries, including Wild China, Michael Palin's New Europe, Building Britain, Britain from Above and Around the World in 80 Gardens. And although live sport has been weaker with the loss of the England internationals and some curious quality issues with the FA Cup matches, the Olympics were stunning and Wimbledon looked better than ever.
So it hasn't been a bad first year, not by a long chalk, but it has still been something of a disappointment - the repeats are still so prevalent most evenings you almost miss the new stuff. Let's hope the second year is when things really take off. Let me know how you feel with a comment or two guys, or vote in the poll.

November 14, 2008

BBC HD highlights this weekend

Friday
20:30 -21:00 Gardeners' World
21:00 -22:00 The Barristers
1/4. Series following the work of barristers. (R)
22:30 -23:30 BBC Four Sessions: Paul Weller

Saturday
17:00 -18:00 Recommended: Oceans
Sea of Cortez. 1/8. The marine experts carry out pioneering science on the 20-metre-long sperm whale.
18:05 -19:20 Strictly Come Dancing
Series 6, Round 9
22:30 -00:00 Kiss of Death
Drama which uncovers a serious crime from three different points of view.

Sunday
18:15 -19:15 Little Dorrit Episodes 5 and 6
Okay, so a repeat...but it's soooooo good!
19:15 -20:15 Antiques Roadshow
22:00 -23:30 Film: Code 46
Drama set in the near future about an investigator who risks his professional career and his marriage when he finds himself irresistibly drawn to a crime's prime suspect.
Starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton

November 13, 2008

More catch up service on Sky1

Sky1 welcomes back Virgin Media customers with extended repeats of shows we missed whilst we were away. Here are some of the repeats they've kindly filled the schedules with so that we can enjoy those we have missed:
Tonight
The Simpsons (5 back-to-back episodes, starting at 6.30)
Tomorrow
The Simpsons (5 more, again at 6.30)
Sunday
The Simpsons (3 episodes including ONE NEW ONE!!)
Monday
The Simpsons (4 episodes)
Tuesday
The Simpsons (3 episodes)
Wednesday
The Simpsons (5 episodes)
repeat ad nauseum
oh, hang on ... that's the regular line up ...

Apparitions on BBC HD

New for Thursdays on BBC HD at 9pm: Apparitions. Martin Shaw stars in this new six-part drama. As they say in all good movie trailers; "in a world of possession and satanic conspiracy..." Sounds interesting.

November 12, 2008

Key slide in the presentation

New Filmflex and search interface



Previewed in the presentation to investors on Nov 11th.

Oceans in HD

BBC2's new documentary series Oceans kicks off tonight, but if you're happy to wait a few days it's showing on BBC HD on Saturdays at 5pm - looks like it will be well worth the wait. See the trailer here.

November 09, 2008

Sky1 catch up programming begins

Those Virgin Media customers looking to catch up with the series they've missed whilst Sky1 has been away will be pleased to hear that Sky 2 will be screening extensive repeats of a number of series, starting November 16th.
Prison Break: from Sunday 23rd November and every day that week at 23:00 on Sky2.
24: Day 6: With the premiere of "24: Redemption" on Sky1 on Monday 24th November at 22:00, Sky2 are offering 24: Day 6 the entire series on Saturday 23rd November.
Stargate Atlantis: The first 15 episodes of series 5
They also repeating episodes of JJ Abrams new series Fringe, which I've seen and can recommend. Starting Sunday 16th November, and continuing the rest of that week, at 23:00 on Sky2.
No word yet on seasons 4 of Lost or Battlestar, but they're not due back with new series until the new year so they hopefully will follow.

November 08, 2008

More behind the scenes info from BBC HD

Those who want to know more about the technical aspects of high definition will be delighted to see that our favourite BBC HD blogger, Andy Quested, has another informative post up over on the BBC HD Blog here. Always candid in his comments and very open about the challenges the BBC HD team are facing, it's a highly recommended read.

Remembrance programming on BBC HD

There are a number of special broadcasts on BBC HD this weekend:
Saturday, 9.05pm

November 07, 2008

Virgin comment on the lack of HD with the return of Sky channels UPDATED

Over on the always-interesting TechRadar site, there's short piece on the lack of HD services in the Sky deal. Full post here. Here's what a Virgin spokesperson has said on the matter:

"We are in on-going discussion with a number of broadcasters with regards to new SD and HD channels."

"With increasing consumer interest in High Definition content, we are actively pursuing rights to HD programmes for our leading video on demand service and have already made a wide range of programmes available."

"We will continue to look for opportunities to add more great HD programmes as they become available, as well as working with content providers, such as the BBC, to provide HD programmes within the popular iPlayer service."

Some recognition there that there's a growing demand for HD but the same old story regarding a focus on VoD content rather than HD channels. Ho hum

UPDATE (for those who don't read the Comments):
Over on Cable Forums, Media Boy (often the first with news and he has several contacts at VM) has posted:
BSkyB and Virgin Media in talks over HD Channels
I have been told that Virgin Media and Sky are still in talks over Sky's HD Channels.
Virgin hope to have the deal signed by Christmas 2008 and Virgin Media may get the rights to carry up to 15 HD Channels.

Berkett speaks...

...but nothing about HD services. The Guardian gives Mr Berkett a pretty easy ride in a full interview here.

November 06, 2008

Virgin Media's results Q308

Nothing really worthy of much excitement in the latest quarter's results from VM, announced today. Numbers are up on TV but nothing sensational (up 38k on the previous quarter), ditto on the V+ (see graph) and the usual investor-friendly numbers and spin. Full presentation here for those interested.
But again, no mention whatsoever of High Definition services. Yes, Video On Demand. Yes, the return of the Sky Basics is proudly plugged. But again, the somewhat slow penetration of the V+ is seen as "an opportunity for further growth" without any real analysis as to why it's not setting the world on fire. Lack of HD perhaps? Surely not...

November 03, 2008

Sky HD take up accelerates

The third quarter's results announced by Sky last week include some impressive growth on the HD front; up by 93,000 (almost 20%) to a total of 591,000. This may be put down to Sky dropping the one-off price of the box itself and partly explained by the attraction of the expanded HD channel line up, but either way it's a hugely impressive performance after the previous quarter's more modest gains.
If Sky HD sustains this growth through the final 2008 quarter (normally the best results of the year for both Sky and Virgin Media) then I think we'll have seen proof that a proper HD line up is no longer a niche specialist interest for the first adopter crowd but an essential pay TV service offering for the larger market.
Virgin Media's latest figures are published on Thursday. It'll be interesting to compare them with Sky's fine quarter.

October 30, 2008

Little Dorrit episode two this evening

Nobody does it better: a touch more of Andrew Davies's Dickens adaptation to warm the heart as the evenings get colder: 8.30, BBC HD.

October 28, 2008

Queen Vic in HD

No, not the Eastenders local; there's a Timewatch special on Queen Victoria this evening on BBC HD (9pm): details here. Along with Simon Schama's American Future and Bruce Parry's Amazon programme we're having some class documentaries from Auntie in high def this autumn.

October 27, 2008

New series of Spooks...no HD

There's a new series of one of the Beeb's best thriller series, Spooks, kicking off on BBC1 tonight, but yet again it has been shot in standard definition and won't be on BBC HD. Sure, they filmed Spooks-lite, BBC3's Spooks: Code 9, in HD earlier this year, but still the adult fare is not given the high quality treatment. It's not even a schedule clash; BBC HD is showing the Joanna Lumley Northern Lights documentary at 9pm :o(

October 24, 2008

BBC HD this weekend

Not much of note at all on BBC HD this weekend; all the usual suspects and what feels like even more repeats of music shows that normal...is this really what we foresaw when the channel was given the thumbs up last year?
Oh well, at least we have Little Dorrit to marvel at (8pm Sunday), followed by the more questionable pleasure of In Love With Barbara, a dramatisation of the life and loves of the lady who lived her life in a cloud of foundation, Barbara Cartland.
Incidentally, if you ever see anything in the BBC HD schedules and want to know more about it, I found this useful link that lists everything currently scheduled for the next few weeks.

October 23, 2008

Yours for a single penny...

Fans of the finer things in life will welcome this week's penny HD movie - from tomorrow (24th) for a week Filmflex has There Will Be Blood in exchange for the smallest copper coin of the Realm. Click here to see the trailer for one of 2008's better movies.

October 22, 2008

Freeview HD may appear earlier

According to several sources, the BBC has asked OFCOM for permission to roll out BBC HD on Freeview earlier that the current "by London 2012" timetable. The main focus is London and the South East which could be available as early as next year if OFCOM approves, with other regions similarly taking advantage of some jiggery-pokery with the frequencies. Although existing Freeview equipment won't be capable of handling the HD service, I can't help but feel that Freeview HD will prove to be the tipping point for HD in the UK. Full story here.

October 21, 2008

BBC HD DOG to disappear...almost

In her latest post on the BBC Blog, Danielle Nagler announces that the BBC HD logo is no longer to appear on most drama and films, and will be fainter on other programming. Hurrah! If only others would take similar steps.
I don't know anyone who's a fan of these "DOGs". The worst for this unnecessary onscreen grafitti, especially the intrusive animated nonsense, are the Sky and Virgin Media TV channels (the former's got even worse since it disappeared from cable and is now reaching US excesses). But you have to go a long way to beat the screen-filling logos on the Disney channels which obsure a ridiculous amount of the screen.
Danielle also admits that the scheduling mess over Heroes/Silent Witness didn't please anyone and pledges to do better in future. It's really refreshing to hear such honesty - whilst it's true that you can't please all the people all the time, at least by listening to her audience she's going to please us more than most.
Now, about all those repeats...

October 18, 2008

Freeview picture quality better than Freesat?

Interesting article here from the always-interesting Crave UK site. Ok, so it's not about HD nor Virgin Media, but for those considering Freesat as an option to get ITV HD, some food for thought.

October 17, 2008

The weekend in HD on Virgin Media

BBC HD (just four years until it arrives on Freeview in London folks) has a vast array of repeats for your delectation and delight this weekend. Tucked away in there though are a handful of first showings;
Friday night features the familiar trio of Gardeners' World, Little Britain USA and the dubious pleasure of Jonathan Ross interviewing Ricky Gervais (why don't they just get a room??).
Saturday night is repeats night central, with just Strictly Come Dancing as the new boy on the block. On Sunday there's an interesting Ian Fleming: When Bond Began as a preview to the forthcoming release of Quantum of Solace (just in case you thought the Gemma Arterton pic was misplaced!), followed by Antiques Roadshow. The late night Heroes repeat is still following the BBC2 pace, with episode 3.
New in the HD section of TV Choice on Demand is History Channel's Digging for the Truth (2 Egyptian themed episodes), whilst Big Love episodes are now numbering eight in my region.
Oh, and the HD movie for a penny for the next seven days is the Jack Black Be Kind Rewind.

October 16, 2008

Little Dorrit in high definition UPDATED

There can be little doubt that one of the BBC's drama highlights of year is Andrew Davies' forthcoming adaptation of Dickens' Little Dorrit. For those who enjoyed Bleak House a few years back and felt somewhat short changed by the Beeb's tired Oliver Twist serial from last winter, this is the real deal, with a cast to die for and the same serial format as its previous award-winning triumph.
And it has been shot in glorious high definition, too.
UPDATE:
Radio Times schedules have just been updated and this is now showing on BBC HD at the same time it's being broadcast on BBC1 - hurrah!

October 15, 2008

BBC HD 5.1 and PQ updates

Another fine post over on the BBC Blog about HD services. First off, they've resolved the 5.1 audio problem:
The big issue of 5.1 / 2.0 switching. Thanks to everyone commenting on this blog and elsewhere to give feedback while we were trying switching options. It's now working, but not as well as we would like - for example, we still have more work to do before we can move between stereo and surround programmes without having to put silence between them.
And they've also addressed the sometimes ropey studio HD picture on Jonathan Ross:
We have looked at the whole studio, post-production and transmission chain to see what was causing the problems. There were a couple of processes that made some of the cameras quite noisy: these have now been addressed and last Friday's show (October 3rd) looked a lot better, but we are still trying to find ways to improve the quality across all programmes.
Read the full post from Andy Quested here.

October 14, 2008

When the Levees Broke returns

Back in June the award-winning Spike Lee HBO documentary When the Levees Broke appeared in in HD in the TV Choice on Demand selection for a very, very brief period. (Details of its premature departure here.) Anyway - it's back, albeit just in standard definition for now. Check in "What's New" in TV Choice on Demand

October 13, 2008

Two HD movies for a penny each this week

Virgin's October penny movies deal continues this week, with the ridiculous but enjoyable National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets starring Nicholas Cage and British horror The Cottage both available in high def for £0.01 each. Click the titles to see the trailers.

October 10, 2008

Schama in HD

If you know the difference between a Hockey Mom and a pit bull, you may want to forgo tonight's The American Future: A History, by Simon Schama on BBC2 at 9pm and wait until its premier on BBC HD on Monday evening at 8pm. I'm not sure why it's not being simulcast this evening (I guess Little Britain USA is a bigger draw - a sad indictment of the general public's taste if ever there was one) but better late than never.

Nestling in amongst the repeats on BBC HD

No real surprises with the BBC HD line up this weekend. Friday evening features Little Britain USA at 9.30pm and the luv-it-or-loath-it Friday Night with Jonathan Ross guesting Colin Farrell and Sir Roger Moore. Will Sir Rog's hair colour look convincing in HD? I have my doubts but check for yourself at 10.35.
Saturday night is all repeats with the exception of Strictly Come Dancing at 5.50pm. Like the world's slowest advent calendar, ticking away the Saturday nights to Christmas - it's Round 4
On Sunday there's a repeat of one of the Beeb's best HD series to date: an episode of Galapagos at 6.25pm. Following at 7.15pm is Fiona Bruce with Antiques Roadshow. Those eagerly anticipating the Stephen Fry in America will be disappointed to see it wasn't shot in HD and is only showing on BBC1.
According to the BBC, Sunday's 11.45 episode of Heroes is the second one, "The Butterfly Effect"; it looks like this repeat slot will echo the Wednesday BBC 2 timeline this season. For those who bailed out during the duller moments of season two, I'm pleased to report that the third season has been something of a roller coaster to date and a fine return to form.

October 07, 2008

Sunshine on BBC HD tonight

Replacing the entertaining Mutual Friends at 9pm on the schedules tonight is Sunshine. More details here.

October 06, 2008

Tonight on BBC HD

Worth catching this evening is Timewatch: Stonehenge on BBC HD at 8pm. More details and the iPlayer link here.
Series Editor John Farron says "Sometimes we get a chance to make a film that changes the way we view history. Nearly two years ago we set out to look at a theory suggesting Stonehenge may have been a healing centre. It led to the first modern dig at the site, viewed by millions live online. And now - the results of the dig. Do watch. The Stonehenge story may have changed forever."
Should look impressive...as long as they filmed on a nice sparkly day and not over the weekend :o(

October 05, 2008

On Demand update

Filmflex's Penny Movies return this month with PS I Love You yours in HD for a solitary bronze coin of the realm. (From Friday 10th it's National Treasure 2 in high def for a penny, btw.)
New movies this week in Filmflex's HD offering are Awake, Drillbit Taylor and Never Back Down.
HBO's excellent Big Love debuts in the free HD section this week. This was shown on Five a few years back and won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you like Six Feet Under or the odder aspects of Desperate Housewives, this may rock your boat. Hopefully season two, unshown in the UK, will follow.
The final season of The Sopranos is appearing in HD now, and worth tolerating in SD is the debut season of The Best Cop Show On TV EVER - The Wire. All 13 episodes available for nowt to VIP customers.
Finally, someone's emailed me and pointed out that there are 8 adult movies on Virgin now available in HD. Go to "More On Demand", "Adult" and there's a whole HD category there. HD soft porn...hmmm...

October 03, 2008

Weekend highlights and On Demand update








Sorry, but it's the last picture of Gemma guys...Tess of the D'Urbervilles concludes on Sunday. It's been a fine adaptation that's looked great in HD. For those who don't know the book, the final episode won't be a barrel of laughs I can assure you.
Before that, The Tudors wraps up Friday with Anne Boleyn for the chop and Jonathan Ross offers the dubious pleasure of Alan Carr in HD. Urgghh.
Saturday evening is all repeats (including a second showing for this week's Silent Witness) except this week's Strictly Come Dancing, whereas Sunday's 11.55 presentation of Heroes should be the season premiere 'The Second Coming', although radiotimes.com is still listing the second episode 'The Butterfly Effect'.
Meanwhile, those looking to On Demand for their HD kick: Series 6 of The Sopranos has started appearing and should be around for a few weeks. Even better in my book (although not in HD) is HBO's The Wire Season One, now dribbling out episodes in the SD listings.

Sky HD - an alternative view

A few weeks back I published a post from Carol S, who was very happy with her decision to move from Virgin Media to Sky in order to get a full range of HD services. I haven't heard any more from Carol, so I happily assume that she's still in high def nirvana down there in the West Country.
The recent poll run on this blog suggested many (including me) are also considering the same move; 73% of respondents said they were considering Sky HD plus another 11% suggesting they would be making the move before the year ends and 7% who had already jumped. Admittedly, the poll's options were limited for respondents (sorry again!) but it pulled in just under 400 votes, the highest to date for a poll on this blog.
That's pretty damning for Virgin's HD offering. But not everyone who makes the move to Sky HD has as good an experience as Carol as this thread I recently stumbled upon illustrates.
Of course, experiences of both suppliers vary hugely. I know people who would never entertain cable again after some horrific NTL experiences. I also know folk who have had a torrid time with Sky. The reality is that there isn't a perfect TV service out that will suit everyone, and there's a level of compromise whichever supplier you opt for (Sky has the best HD offering, whereas Virgin's On Demand is superior). You pay your money and take your choice depending on your personal experience and priorities. The upheaval and expense of changing probably keeps all but the most disillusioned where they are currently. Me? I'm sticking with Virgin for now, despite the scarcity of Virgin Media HD on offer today...

September 28, 2008

Heroes Season 3 episode 1 - update

Pleased to report that the HD listing for the Sunday evening repeat of Heroes next weekend is now listed by the BBC as being the first episode ('The Second Coming') rather than ... er ... the second.
So just so everyone's clear...on BBC HD they're showing the second episode on Weds. at 10pm, but if you want to watch the first episode in glorious HD too you have to wait until the 11.55pm showing on Sunday. Confirmation here.
Why they don't just show episode 1 at 10pm on Wednesday and episode 2 at 10.45pm (instead of a Mitchell & Webb repeat and the ubiquitous Later...) is beyond me...

September 26, 2008

The evenings are drawing in...

Ah, the weekend beckons, and for those fancying a snuggle in front of their new high def telly on Saturday night it's a predictable line up on Virgin Media HD (aka BBC HD) I'm afraid.
Brucie and Strictly Come Dancing at 6.45pm, followed by a repeat from the second season of Torchwood and six episodes from Gavin & Stacey's second season. Much as I love G&S, yet another repeat (and missing the final episode, too) seems excessive even by BBC HD's standards.
Sunday isn't much better, although Tess of the D'Urbervilles continues at 9pm and Antique Roadshow breaks up an otherwise repeat-ful day's viewing.
Nothing new from Filmflex on the HD front either, and I haven't seen anything of note in the TV Choice On Demand selection for months. Please don't shoot the messenger...

September 25, 2008

BBC HD scheduling

Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler has posted another entry on her informative blog, this time about how some scheduling decisions are made. Read it in full here.

September 24, 2008

2008 Prediction Update

Back in January I stuck my neck out and made ten predictions about Virgin Media and high definition services. Nine months on and some of those predictions have come true, some are wide of the mark, and one or two look even less likely today than they did when I made them. Over to George Dawes for the scores on the doors...
1 Channel 4 HD finally makes an appearance on cable
Hmmmm. I thought it may be the Spring, but we'll be lucky to get anything this side of Christmas now. Once the C4 play out services move from Sky to RedBee Media there may be a change, but I'm not holding my breath and I don't suggest you hold yours. What's also disappointing is that C4 has little more HD content than it did at launch last year.
2 ITV HD not on Virgin Media at launch
Bingo! But I was surprised as anyone that it didn't appear on Sky. Still a Freesat exclusive, although not really a "channel" as yet.
3 VOD HD grows in fits and spurts
Filmflex has grown, but TV Choice On Demand has actually reduced, now just a handful of HBO documentaries, some stuff from the History Channel and seasons of The Sopranos that are removed before you're half way through them. No word on Lost season 4 nor any of the promised Sky series in either High Def or SD.
4 BBC HD expands, but "events" take precedent over regular programming
Still too many repeats, but the coverage of the Olympics, Euro 2008 and Wimbledon was memorable.
5 HD remains a niche product
I don't think anyone would see it otherwise. Sky's HD growth has slowed and they've cut prices to attract more, but it's still around just 5% of their subscriber base. Heavily marketed and now with over 20 channels it's pretty good value at £10 a month, but it's still struggling to become mass market. Only a matter of time, but it's not quite the TV revolution perhaps anticipated by the home cinema press.
6 Sky HD will be impacted by FreeSat
Too early to tell. Once the Freesat+ boxes ship it'll be interesting.
7 Sky One and the basics return
Wrongggggggg....
8 OFCOM report hits Sky...and Virgin
No report as yet. Relations between Sky and OFCOM took a turn for the worse though with the Picnic sniping.
9 Tiscali TV and BT Vision struggle IP TV fails to make the grade
Neither has set the world alight and the former's rumoured to be struggling to find a buyer. BT Vision has made some inroads. Mind you, BBC iPlayer proves that web TV access can be successful, especially the streaming version.
10 Blu-Ray will become the new DVD HD standard
Well, I called that one right at least!

September 22, 2008

Berkett on...

Virgin Media Chief Executive Neil Berkett's webcast at Goldman Sachs on Wednesday proved consistent with previous statements on Virgin's strategy with TV, but was a tad more enlightening as it specifically mentioned HD, albeit briefly. (My thanks to Cable Forum poster Horizon for the following summary of the salient points from the presentation.)
Berkett said he did want to make HD a priority went its right to do so, but that would still mainly appear in the form of VOD rather than linear channels. He did admit HD is better. Other headlines from the webcast:
VM will launch mobile broadband by the end of the year. Expect to see fixed line/mobile bundles soon both for voice and broadband packages.
Lots of hints that all broadband speeds could be upgraded in the future. Berkett wants VM to have "clear water" between VM and DSL competitors in this market. Which is why he has given priority to broadband and VOD, rather than HD.
50mb on course to launch by the end of the year and hints of upgrades to upload speeds in the future, once DOCSIS 3 and its bonding of channels is rolled out. But this product will never be anything near 50/50 speeds both ways.
VM has no intention of going after illegal downloaders for the reason there is no law to say they should. VM prefers to work with people like the music industry, but he made it clear that it's the owners of intellectual property (ie music companies) who should protect their property, not VM. Berkett said that VM would like to offer its own music service, but no details were given.
No agreement with Sky on getting the basic channels back. Berkett made it clear he would prefer to avoid litigation, but for the court case to be dropped there needs to be a deal done first on good economic terms for VM. Berkett made clear that this issue is tied into the wider issues with Sky that Ofcom are investigating and the issues surrounding pricing of premium channels too. Berkett made clear he could have the Sky channels back now if he wished, but the price isn't right.

September 21, 2008

Heroes' Return...October 1 (updated)

The third season of Heroes kicks off on BBC2 on Wednesday, October 1st at 9pm. At the time of writing the Radio Times website is listing only the second episode of season three being on BBC HD (simulcast at 10pm with BBC3) - the 9pm slot is the new series of Silent Witness.
A somewhat corny trailer for Sylar's return can be found here

September 19, 2008

BBC HD this weekend

Although I'm not a fan myself there's no doubt that Strictly Come Dancing is one of those programmes that looks great in high definition, if only because it can look so poor in standard definition. BBC1 in standard def really struggles with the flashing lights and fast images, whereas in HD they look great. Throw in the sequins n wrinkles and the intrigue of Bruce's "hair" and you have something of a visual feast! 6.10pm on Saturday night.
Disappointing but not surprising is the absence of the evening's new BBC centrepiece Merlin from the HD schedules. Apparently the Beeb isn't geared up for HD special effects (Doctor Who similarly suffers) so it's just available on BBC1. I was intererested until I saw the talking dragon...
On Sunday we have two episodes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles; a repeat of the opening episode at 5.30pm then the second episode at 9pm. Last week's looked great in HD and hopefully things will move a little faster plot-wise this time around. And, yes, Gemma looks gorgeous in HD.
Unfortunately next week on the channel has little worth commenting upon; repeats aplenty and just a handful of new programming; the intriguing Amazon, entertaining Mutual Friends and unintentionally hilarious Tudors.

September 17, 2008

Could this be the Samsung V+?


Pure speculation, granted, but I've found this on the Samsung site whilst looking for a cable PVR picture. You may recall that Virgin earlier this year mentioned a new V+ box being available in the second half of 2008, initially thought to be another Scientific Atlanta box (like the current V+) but later confirmed as a new Samsung machine.
This is the cable PVR on Samsung's international site; 160gb drive and just two tuners, but with both Mpeg2 and Mpeg4. More details here. If this was the release spec (which I doubt) that's a more HD capable box that would probably benefit from a bigger disc. It's a nicer looking box to my eye, looking more like a regular domestic piece of kit than the somewhat space age and plasticky design of the current V+.
Then again, it could be a completely different Samsung box or it could even be that the Samsung V+ never makes it to Virgin customers as it's still in the labs at VM and there've been no official announcements.

September 16, 2008

A selection of HD movies for a penny next month


FilmFlex are expanding their "1p movie" deal this autumn with a number of HD offerings. P.S. I Love You is available for a week from October 3rd for a penny; National Treasure: Book Of Secrets follows from October 10th along with The Cottage and then Be Kind Rewind is a £0.01 during the week commencing October 17th. Finally, a real treat with There Will Be Blood costing one of her majesty's finest pennies from the 24th. More details and trailers can be found here.

September 15, 2008

New this week on BBC HD

BBC HD's Paralympics 2008 coverage has been kicking off earlier than originally scheduled and is pretty much through the day most days. Check the daily BBC HD updates for details.
Amazon with Bruce Parry
starts on Monday 15th September at 9pm. The Radio Times billing says:
Bruce Parry begins an epic adventure in the Amazon following the river from source to sea. The first part of his journey takes him from the source in the High Andes through Peru's dangerous cocaine producing valleys to visit the Ashaninka tribe.
And on Thursday 18th September at 10pm Horizon goes HD, with a programme asking some of the biggest names in science to have a quiet word with the new President, be it Obama or McCain.


September 14, 2008

Additional TV bandwidth speculation

Virgin are possibly* testing additional bandwidth for 30 possible new channels according to this thread on Cable Forum (also referred to in other threads on the site). More +1 channels? Or could it be an HD addition or two??

*Let's not get carried away just yet...

September 13, 2008

Petition for more HD content update

I sent an updated version of the petition to Virgin Media as it has now passed 1300 signatures (thanks everyone). Within a few hours, I got the following response:

First of all, thank you for your considerable efforts in collecting and passing on this feedback. It is very clear.
We do understand that we need to improve our HD offer, both on VOD and HD channels, and are working to achieve this. I also take your point that the grouping can be improved, and again we are working towards this. As soon as we are able to make an announcement on specifics, I will make sure that we contact you personally on this e-mail, and seek your feedback.
In the meantime, as a valued premium customer, I hope you have noticed that this year we have invested heavily in upgrading our broadband access speeds, shortly to 50Mb, and made significant additions to our SD VOD offer, such as BBC iPlayer, which are proving very popular. I hope you also enjoyed the England football qualifiers on Setanta within XL. In short, we are continually looking for ways to improve the offer, and I can only apologise if we have fallen short on HD to date. We will review all 1300 comments carefully over the weekend.
Best regards
Andrew Barron

Much better response from Virgin this time (thanks, Mr Barron, for taking the petition seriously) - what do you guys think?

September 12, 2008

No Strictly Come Dancing in HD this weekend ...

...but it will be on as a live simulcast next weekend.
I guess the schedule overlap with the final of Maestro and the Last Night of the Proms was too much for BBC HD 's schedule.

Tess in high def



The Beeb's new adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic kicks off on Sunday, September 14th at 9pm. Starring Gemma Arterton (who's also in Lost in Austen), this should make those dark September Sunday evenings a little more palatable. The picture btw is of Ms Arterton with Daniel Craig in the new Bond film - not in Tess!

September 10, 2008

Interesting site on Freeview and Freesat


Freeview and Freesat stories aplenty on this site. My eye was caught by the rumour around Sky trying to quash Freesat at birth by nobbling satellite installers - I have no idea if it's true, but the conspiracy theorist in me loves stuff like this! I've added the site to the Links at the foot of the blog's homepage for future reference.

Those awaiting a Freesat PVR may want to check out the Trusted Reviews piece here, which includes headline specs for the Humax Freesat+ box.

September 09, 2008

Pushing Daisies in HD please!


I missed it when it was shown on ITV1 earlier this year, but I stumbled upon the utterly, utterly charming Pushing Daisies in TV Choice on Demand at the weekend. There are only four episodes (of nine) available so far, but they're an absolute treat.
If ever a series was to benefit from being shown in high definition, this is it. They were shot in HD, but Virgin only has them in SD and the rendering often struggles with the detail of the sumptuous Barry Sonnenfield cinematography (the opening field of yellow flowers being a good example of SD just not being up to it - artefacts everywhere).
So come on Virgin - give it to us in HD. Pretty please?

September 08, 2008

New to Filmflex HD

Four new quality additions to Filmflex HD from Friday, Sept 12:
I'm Not There Well-received Bob Dylan biopic - the other film starring Heath Ledger and Christian Bale but it's Cate Blanchett's Dylan that impresses most
Margot at the Wedding Nicole Kidman and Jack Black no less
The Spiderwick Chronicles Based on the children's bestseller
Things We Lost in the Fire Halle Berry, Benicio del Torro and David Duchovny
Click on the film titles for the IMDB details.

It looks like almost all of the bigger releases on Filmflex are being made available in HD these days, which is very good news. On the ones I've watched the quality has been excellent. It's only the pricing they need to do something about now.

September 05, 2008

BBC HD this weekend

Highlights on BBC HD this weekend:

2008 Paralympics Opening Ceremony
, Saturday, 12.30pm
Live coverage from the Bird's Nest Stadium of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

Sylvia
, Saturday, 10pm
Film - IMDB details here

Northern Lights
, Sunday 9pm
Not the Philip Pullman fantasy epic, but a documentary in which Joanna Lumley travels to Norway's Far North to pursue a lifelong dream of seeing the Northern Lights.

Blog redesign

Had a few complaints about the white on black template I've been using on the site. Let me know what you think of the new one. Oh, and enjoy the weekend!

September 04, 2008

Meanwhile, on BT Vision...

Okay, so it's hardly Sky HD or even Virgin Media HD, but IPTV service BT Vision (basically Freeview plus some On Demand content) has shown its HD intent with the introduction of an HD service of its own.
After a test earlier in the summer, BT Vision now has a few HD films available on demand. Hulk, Babe and The Other Boleyn Girl are available for £2.99, with more promised soon.
Hardly earth-shattering news I'll admit, but the price is less than the £4+ Filmflex charge and it shows some intent.
Not sure if the other major IP TV service from Tiscali offers any HD content - does anyone know? For my money IPTV is a non-starter over ADSL connections today, but in the medium term who knows? Virgin Media itself is conducting its own trials in Kent and Sky's On Demand service on the TV depends on it too.

September 02, 2008

Why I'm sticking with Virgin Media ... for now, anyway

Carol's switch to Sky HD has made me think seriously about unbundling TV from my Virgin VIP package and signing up with Sky, and this blog's poll shows that I'm not alone. She's managed to make it pay for itself and is hugely impressed with her new service, which is great news for her and will possibly encourage others to follow suit.
And Virgin Media only has itself to blame if there's a customer exodus. Personally, I don't think there will be just yet as the demand for HD isn't that great with the great British Public and I think we're still a few years from a tipping point beyond the early adopters. At the moment, HD is niche, and Sky's the place to find it if that's what floats your boat.
As anyone who's followed this blog will know I've been growing increasingly frustrated with Virgin's attitude to HD. Despite the promises, we actually have LESS On Demand high definition programming now than we did a year ago, and the improvements we have seen with HD - a better BBC HD and wider selection from FilmFlex - have been a result of other companies' recognition of the HD future of TV, not Virgin's.
But after much consideration I'm sticking with Virgin. For now, at least. If it was just my decision my family would have adopted Sky for TV years ago around the time the Sky+ first appeared. But it's a family thing and it's not an easy switch to make if I'm trying to keep everyone happy. So here are the crumbs of comfort that help me live with that decison:
1. HD is great, but it's not our TV's raison d'etre. Video On Demand, especially iPlayer, is used almost everyday by my family and we're a democratic household. My wife likes Virgin Media (she'd also be happy with Freeview, but let's not go there). My daughter likes the music On Demand. We all find new stuff in TV Choice on Demand we enjoy and iPlayer and the C4 catch up services have proven invaluable. It would for us all be a big loss to move to Sky Anytime's second rate service.
2. The programmes/channels we actually watch aren't available in HD. We watch the BBC and Channel 4 channels mostly (including Film4, our favourite movie channel). We sometimes watch ITV channels, TCM and Dave, and sometimes Virgin1 or Living. None of these are in HD (except C4, more on that in a mo) yet. Showcase HD channels are impressive but not what we want. We get our documentary fix from the BBC, which I personally much prefer to Nat Geo, Discovery or History. Sky1? Got over that last year - we watch Battlestar and Lost on DVD now. So even with Sky HD we wouldn't actually watch much HD. Not yet, anyhow.
3. Film4 HD, where art thou? We do watch Sky Movie channels at weekends, but if it's a film we're really into we will have seen it at the cinema, will have it on DVD or may watch it on FilmFlex - by the time it hits Sky Movies it'll be a second or even third viewing for us. The one film channel we would possibly switch for is Film4 HD, but no sign of that on any platform yet.
4. The V+ upscaling is "good enough". It's not HD, but for our viewing it's more than adequate. We have two LCD HD-ready TV's in the house; a 32in Tosh and a 20in Sony. Neither are really big enough to make the most of HD. I doubt we'll look to replace either before 2012. The V+ upscaling is very good, especially on BBC4 (which is my fave channel most weeks), More 4, C4 and ITV1 (the latter being notoriously poor on Sky). I've been less impressed with the Sky HD box's upscaling and find the V+ better.
5. The Temptation of Footie in HD. Yes, I know I'm clutching at straws here but the picture on Sky Sports has improved considerably since they're been shooting in HD, even on the SD channels. I'm not a sports junkie though and the Sky Sports package is a luxury I would drop if money became an issue. (Having said that, am I alone in finding the Sky Movies' picture worse of late? It used to be great but now looks over saturated to my eyes.)
Anyway, for the forseeable future we'll stick with Virgin. Which I guess will please fans of this blog as I desperately continue to hunt down information on Virgin's HD scraps. And maybe even those with Sky HD will visit here still to see how sad a search that can be. I guess there are many who want more HD on Virgin but not to the point where they can or will switch to Sky. So, as they used to say, stay tuned.
And, who knows? Maybe one day we'll have a high definition service after all, even if it is after the Freesat and even Freeview services have their HD offerings available to tempt us...

August 30, 2008

Comparison of Virgin and Sky+ HD

Carol S has been a regular both here and on the cable forums for some time. Frustrated with Virgin Media's lack of high definition channels she's recently made the switch to Sky. I asked her to write something on this blog about her first impressions and I'm delighted to say she's been quick to respond. With so many considering turning to the 'dark' side over HD, I hope you find it informative. Over to you, Carol...

I left Virgin a couple of days ago and Nialli asked me to post a guest message on his blog about how I felt about the change.
First of all, I managed to get one of the Sky offers, so I got the Sky HD box for £75 and the installation was £30. The installer rang me around 9 am to say that he would be there around 11:30 to noon - and he arrived at noon. A very pleasant guy who had the whole thing installed in around 1½ hours and then spent the next 30 mins updating the software and showing me all the ropes.
The quality and choice of the Sky HD is absolutely top rate - especially for their two premium mixes (Sports and Movies). Just by chance one of my favourite movies was on one of the HD movie channels last night (The River - starring Meryl Streep) and it just brought the whole thing to life with the vividness, sharpness and 5.1 surround sound. Absolutely stunning scenery in HD. The same with the sport - watching some football in HD was simply awesome - and it appears better than the footie on BBC HD (and I thought that was good).
One of the downsides is that I don't think that the Sky EPG is quite as good as Virgin's - but this is due to be updated September/October time. One of the things I don't like is that if you bring up Sky menu, you lose the program you are watching until you switch back to the program (but apparently this is one of the things being fixed in the forthcoming update).
Another downside is that ITV is not as sharp as with Virgin's rendition of it - so I will miss that with Corrie and The Bill. Other channels (eg Channel 5) appear sharper. However, many of programs that I would have watched in SD on Virgin (Discovery, National Geographic, History) are now available in HD plus there is Sky 1 HD. Come October, most of the rest of the movie channels will be switching to HD too (Action, SciFi etc) so I guess I'll just become an HD junkie.
The final downside is the size of the hard drive inside the Sky+HD box, which is only 160MB - and part of this is reserved for Sky Anytime. As it is my box, I might go down the route of installing one of Samsung's SpinPoint 1TB drives - but there are also rumours of Sky opening up the e-SATA port on their box - which would make attaching an external e-SATA caddy + drive a piece of cake.
By switching my TV to Sky (I decided in the end to stick with Virgin for telephone and BB), it also had the effect of reducing what I was paying for my VIP package (£86 per month). I am now paying £42 per month for the Variety Mix (gives me all the entertainment channels such as Bravo, Living, Virgin 1, etc), Knowledge (for all the SD documentaries) and the 2 Premium mixes (Full Sports Mix and the Premium Movie mixes). Of course I have to add in the £10 per month for the HD mix (all 17 channels at the moment, increasing to around 27 or 28 channels in October) making a total payment of £54 per month (increasing to £56 per month in September).
I reduced my Virgin package to 10meg BB and phone (free weekend calls) and with e-billing this comes down to £22.50 per month making a total outlay of £78.50 (from September) and thus saving me £7.50 per month.
In conclusion, the switch has worked out well for me as I am not only saving money, I am getting a massive increase in the amount of HD programming that I will be able to watch. I guess it depends on the type of programming that you watch if you would benefit from a switch to Sky - if you mainly watch the ITV channels, the BBC channels and are happy with the movies on these channels, then you might not benefit so much - but anybody who is into films, documetaries and sport would be in 7th Heaven by switching.

August 29, 2008

New V+ box still in testing

Word from a Virgin Media insider suggests that the new Samsung V+ box reported earlier this year is still in testing at the company and doesn't look like to be available to customers just yet. As always with VM, the holding of breath is not advised...
(Personally, I find the existing Scientific Atlanta box as stable as any other PVR these days, so I'll happily wait until the inevitable bugs are sorted out before asking for a newer one.)

August 28, 2008

Christina: A Medieval Life

New on BBC HD at 8pm Thursday 28th: Christina, A Medieval Life.
"Historian Michael Wood presents a portrait of ordinary people living through extraordinary times, tracing the story of Christina Cok, a peasant of 14th century Hertfordshire." That's all I know I'm afraid - may be worth an hour of your time, or it may just remind you of the opening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail :o)

Two more series coming to BBC HD

News on two more interesting series appearing on BBC HD this autumn.
First off, the Jonathon Ross show makes its debut in HD on Friday, September 5th. To my knowledge this is the first regular studio-based series from the BBC to appear in high definition; hopefully, more will follow.
Then there's Amazon, a series following The Tribe's Bruce Parry on an "epic voyage" up the Amazon from source to ocean. The current vogue for personality-driven documentaries (eg Lost Land of the Jaguar) can prove a little tiring after a bit but the scenery in HD should more than make up for irritations in the commentaries.
Auntie's on a bit of a roll at the moment, as I'm sure anyone who saw Britain From Above will agree; stunning TV.

August 27, 2008

BBC HD coverage of 2008 Paralympics

Those suffering from Olympic withdrawal symptoms will be delighted to know that from September 6th to 17th BBC HD will be showing extensive coverage of the 2008 Paralympics from Beijing. More detail here. It won't be the full "through-the-night" coverage we saw with the Olympics, but there will be afternoon HD simulcasts over the first weekend and a nightly highlights hour at 7pm through the tournament.

August 26, 2008

Virgin1's blog goes offline

Fellow blogger Virgin1's blog, Not NTL, not Telewest... Just Virgin Media, appears to have gone off-line. I've removed the feed from the blog - hopefully it's just a temporary disappearance as it was a valuable and informative read.