March 20, 2008

Off Topic: VM Broadband support

Anyone who has trouble with their Virgin Media Broadband service will be pleased to hear that the ridiculous premium charge for Broadband support is to be dropped. Here's the story from The Register in full:

Virgin Media will drop premium rate charges to its technical support line in June, less than a year after they were introduced, the firm has confirmed.

An email doing the rounds inside VM says the move last summer to discourage irrelevant calls to the broadband support line has not gone down well. It confirms that the 25p per minute line will revert to a standard local rate 0845 number, or free by dialling 151 from a cable phone.

"This year, one of our key aims is to delight our customers by improving customer service - and boy are we serious about it," the author gushes.

Customers will be emailed about the changes in April and May.

A Virgin Media spokesman said today: "Whilst calls to the premium rate broadband support line are already refunded when there has been a fault with our network, perhaps that wasn't clear.

"We have been working hard to improve customer service and listening to what our customers say, so will now be removing this charge from the outset."

As someone who has a problem every evening when my 20Mb BB falls below 6Mb, I'll be hot on the blower as soon as it's free. Enjoy a happy Hi Def easter everyone!

March 18, 2008

HD Woody and Buzz this Easter

Whilst the weekly BBC HD offering is something of a mixed bag, the Easter weekend gives us a few treats in high definition to lift the spirits regardless of the weather.
First off is Saturday’s premier of the Pixar classic (and that ain’t too strong a description in my book); Toy Story 2. Fabulous. Starts at 5.40pm and a real treat no matter how many times you’ve seen it before.
Later that evening for those who like a documentary with a spiritual touch, there’s Shroud of Turin: Material Evidence (8.30pm). It’s twenty years since carbon dating proved the Shroud do be fake, and this documentary updates that discovery; who was the forger, why does the image still compel and, perhaps most interestingly, what is the new evidence that has cast doubt on the carbon dating? Interesting stuff.
On Sunday at 1pm the finals of the World Figure Skating Championships are on BBC HD. Hmmm.
In the evening, the two hour adaptation of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency finally arrives. Adapted by Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis, this is a taster for an ongoing series adapting the somewhat pedestrian bestsellers. A costume drama of a different, brighter flavour I’m not sure how it will play to Sunday audiences but the African setting should be stunning in HD.
On Monday at 10pm BBC HD has The Curse of Steptoe and Son, repeating from BBC4 last week. It’s an hour of what the Beeb does best, and should look great in HD. Did anyone catch the excellent Stan last year? This is along similar lines; the sadness 'n' tears behind the laughter of some of our best-loved comedians. Should be one to savour, with further one-hour dramas on Hancock and Howerd in the coming weeks too.
Finally, as we head into spring there's more high definition sport promised: one of the FA Cup Semi Finals and the Final will be shown in HD, as will the US Masters Golf. Finally, Heroes season two is also due before April is out, presumably filling the slot that Torchwood will leave behind when it finishes early in the month.

March 17, 2008

Death Proof in HD

In my area FilmFlex has added two further films in HD today, bringing the total available to 14. The Walker stars Woody Harrelson and had fairly mixed reviews, but perhaps more interesting is the arrival of Tarantino's Death Proof, available for an inexplicably steep £4.50. I've seen neither, but it's good to see the FilmFlex HD selection expanding at last after several months of in action

March 15, 2008

BBC HD running up to Easter

'At last!' the V+ club shout; BBC HD is picking up a bit of pace again in the run up to Easter. In addition to Saturday's Six Nations marathon and a double dose of Torchwood this week, and the return of Damages for its final episodes, Auntie has raided the coffers and lined up some more tasty High Def treats for the next seven days.
First off, we've got a 'drama documentary' this evening on another of those historical figures surrounded by Myth; Cortes. According to popular legend, Hernan Cortes took on the might of the Montezuma and the Aztec empire with barely a starting eleven of men and horses at his disposal. But is that the truth? Find out at 9.30pm on Saturday.
Following that at 10.30 is a movie in HD, but before you get excited and rush to the V+ I should point out that it's one I've not heard of and is hardly a box office smash. Opal Dream is an Australian tale of ... er ... the disappearance of a nine year old's invisible friends. Curious.
Wrinkle alert: Delia is in HD on Monday at 8.30, with her "How to Cheat" series. I don't know why she doesn't just go the whole hog and turn it into a 3o minute ad for M&S ready meals - far more reliable and even quicker Delia, honest...
The new series of Gavin and Stacey arrives in HD - good to see almost all of the BBC's comedy output these days is shot in HD, even if it hardly shows the format off at its finest. Come Good Friday and we have no fewer than three films in HD thanks to extended broadcasting hours for the long weekend: The Magic Roundabout, Freaky Friday and High School Musical 2 will keep the kids happy and have the V+ stuck on channel 108 all afternoon.
I'll post in the next few days on the line up for the following week. Good news folks...Toy Story 2 is coming to your sole HD channel next weekend!

March 13, 2008

FilmFlex HD movies return

Good news for folk who lost their FilmFlex HD movie selection (meager though it may be); they're back, and with some new titles, too.
In SE London I'm now seeing:
2 Days in Paris
Apolcalypto (£4.50)
Black Christmas
Gone in Sixty Seconds
The Hoax (£4.25)
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Moliere (£3.50)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At the End of the World (£4.50)
The Queen (£3.50)
Riser of the Footsoldier (£4.25)
The Village
At £4 except where it me, or do those prices reflect the film length? Over two hours, you pay 25p or 50p more? That's pretty pathetic...they don't do it with the SD films, so why do it for HD?
Incidentally, I've noticed that the A-Z listing in TV Choice on Demand is now listed in a different format, making it quicker to go through. Could this be a sign that they're looking to add more content shortly?

March 11, 2008

New V+ box will be a Samsung rather than SA/Cisco

News from this Digital Spy thread is that the new V+ box announced last week by Berkett will be manufactured by Samsung rather than Scientific Atlanta / Cisco. I don't know any more details and, as Samsung don't currently list a PVR in their product range at the moment, can't offer more details. My regular Samsung box from Virgin has been extremely reliable and I know their TVs are very popular - will the new V+ be a star performer? Will it have HD capabilities? If so, will they be Mpeg4? What size hard disc will they have? Will the SD upscaling be as good as the current V+?
If you didn't know me better, you'd think I was getting excited...
(Incidentally, my previous post on the new V+ possibly being a Cisco box has been removed as that now proves to be inaccurate speculation.)

March 09, 2008

HD On Demand content slashed

Is it really just a few months ago that I excitedly announced that the amount of high definition programming on Virgin Media's On Demand service surpassed 100 hours? Turning on my V+ this weekend suggests those heady days are not to be repeated, as the HD content I've currently got available to me has been slashed. The BBC's programming has been stuck on the same tired list for months whilst seasons of Lost, Criminal Minds, Night Stalker and Day Break have all disappeared, not to be replaced. Even worse, there are currently NO Filmflex HD films available in my region now. What's going on???
Here's the updated list for SE London this morning:

BBC (Home - 6 - 2 - 1)
Ant Attack
The Blue Planet: Introduction
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
Desert Lions
Diana - Last Days of a Princess
Great Natural Wonders of the World
Hotel Babylon Season Two episodes 2 - 8
The Innocence Project 1-8 except episode 4
Planet Earth: episodes 1-5
The Quatermass Experiment
Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador
Superstorm 1-3
Supervolcano 1-2

Filmflex HD (all £4 unless mentioned)

TV Choice On Demand (Home - 5 - 9 - 1)
Dog Fight 2 episodes
Engineering An Empire 3 episodes
Ghost Whisperer Season One 1 - 22
Mega Movers 2 episodes
Lost Season Two 1 - 23
Lost Season Three 1 - 23

March 07, 2008

Berkett confirmed as Virgin Media Chief Exec

After six months of "acting up", Neil Berkett has been confirmed this week as the honest-to-goodness-real-deal CEO of everyone's favourite UK cable company; press release here

What does this mean for the future of HD services on VM? To date, his strategic statements on the company's direction have made sound business sense but haven't been so encouraging with regards to HD and particularly more HD channels. His contention that Virgin's strengths are its broadband and On Demand TV provision cannot be argued with, but his view that high definition services are best delivered via On Demand rather than actual channels is more contentious, especially if this is to be a pay-per-view model.

We'll just have to see how this pans out. Regardless of what Virgin Media services you value most, everyone must agree that a strong Virgin Media requires strong strategic leadership and a period of sustained commercial growth. I for one am willing to give Berkett a fair crack of the whip before passing judgement. It's not as if the previous occupants of the big chair have been impressive - he's hardly got a tough act to follow!

March 06, 2008

HD in Europe "faltering"

Interesting site this and some very interesting views on HD services in Europe:
HD falters in Europe

The recent closure of two of Germany's HDTV channels has cast a shadow over European hopes for a rapid transition to high definition, according to Strategy Analytics. The report concludes that Europe's television providers should concentrate their resources initially on building pay television rather than advertising-based business models in order to reach the critical mass of HD content and receivers necessary to make HDTV a self-sustaining business.

"It was always highly ambitious to expect advertising revenues alone to support HD channels in the early years," comments David Mercer, Principal Analyst. "Significant audiences cannot be built until the market has been seeded with millions of HD receivers - and this was always going to take a number of years."

The report finds that only five per cent of Europeans who currently own an HD-Ready TV are, in fact, watching HDTV channels. In spite of these early difficulties, the report concludes that the number of European HDTV subscribers will grow steadily towards 3.5 million by the end of 2008. By 2012, Strategy Analytics predicts that 20 per cent of all European households will be watching HD channels.

March 01, 2008

BBC HD showing Mad Men

Gee whiz (yes, I'm going all sixties in preparation!) - the BBC4 drama Mad Men is being shown in High Definition on the HD channel after all, but not as a simulcast on Sunday. Here's the listing from Radio Times:

Mad Men

Tuesday 04 March
11:20pm -

Drama series which takes an unflinching look at the world of advertising in 1960s New York. Top executive Don Draper's position is under threat from his competitors. An assignment to sell cigarettes after a medical report about their dangers has just been published doesn't help.

HD On Demand goes missing

I've lost the majority of my HD On Demand programming this morning. Missing are:
Criminal Minds Season One 1 - 22
Day Break 1-13
Lost Season One 1-25
Night Stalker Season One 1-10
And all the FilmFlex HD movies. I think it's a mistake (Night Stalker only turned up a week ago) and they're probably doing something to refresh things for March, but it's pretty typical of the appalling way VM manage their On Demand HD series.

New V+ box in development

n.b. this post has been superceded: see entry for March 11 2008