May 31, 2008

BBC HD On Demand Disappears

As predicted a few posts ago, the BBC HD On Demand programmes have now gone. No more Blue Planet (upscaled), Superstorm or Planet Earth - just a lone episode of Hotel Babylon remains.
[UPDATE: It's only temporary I've been told - see Comments]
BBC iPlayer though is now fully integrated into the Catch Up menus (look under Channels) and there's an impressive selection of BBC stuff available there, albeit none yet in HD.
BBC HD varies from the norm this weekend btw, with a film tonight and the Florence Nightingale drama tomorrow. And I know I keep going on about it, but Wild China on Monday night really is what HD was invented for!

May 30, 2008

Virgin channels go widescreen on June 3rd

Virgin1, +1, Living, +1, Living 2, Trouble, Bravo and Challenge all go widescreen on Tuesday. Not all content will immediately be 16:9 as some is only available in 4:3.

May 29, 2008

New BBC HD On Demand content?

It's been static for many, many months, but hopefully we'll see new content added to the BBC's On Demand HD selection (Home - 6 - 2 - 1) in the next few days. Why the optimism? Well, the "Days Left" counter on all the programmes I've checked is now down to a single day and, unlike the counters on the TV Choice On Demand HD selection which appear somewhat random, these have been pretty accurate in the past.
Now for my natural pessimism. My money would be on it all disappearing completely for a while - that would be fairly typical VM content management and is even more likely with the likely focus on the appearance of the BBC iPlayer to the Virgin On Demand listings next week. (And although they've said HD content will appear 'in the future' in iPlayer I'm not anticipating it being imminent, and when it does appear it will only probably be content from the previous seven days.)
Hopefully older "showcase" content will eventually appear, replacing the tired Blue Planet/Innocence Project/Supervolcano programming that most of us have already seen a zillion times. It would be nice if they added a broader selection of content, and my pick of the more recent programming would be Glastonbury 2007, Galapagos, Torchwood, Earth: the Power of the Planet, Robin Hood, BBC4 Sessions, Electric Proms, Around the World in 80 Gardens and Wild China. Given that US series are presumably not available, there's actually not as big a selection to choose from. Am I missing anything?

May 26, 2008

BBC makes a hash of Eurovision in HD

I didn't watch it myself (preferring to spend my Saturday evening watching Indiana Jones) but there are reports on various forums, both cable and satellite, that the BBC made a right mess of broadcasting the Eurovision song contest in high definition. Digital Spy thread here. 5.1 sound was the initial problem, but there's speculation that the whole HD feed was knackered and ended up with standard definition being upscaled on BBC HD.
Given that this was the first big BBC HD broadcast for the fledgling Freesat service, there's probably plenty of red faces and head-rolling sounds over White City way. Whether the problem was with the BBC or with the services provided by the Serbian hosts, this was embarrassing.
Hopefully, they'll sort it out for the England game on Wednesday. Oh, hang on...they're not broadcasting that in HD...(cue gnashing of teeth)

FilmFlex improving HD services

Slowly but surely it appears that FilmFlex are beefing their high definition movies listings. This week sees three of the service's new releases available in HD (Enchanted, Primeval Kill and 30 Days of Night) and with now around 20 movies available it looks like a creditable service at last. I watched Michael Clayton in HD at the weekend - it may not be the most dramatic visuals you'll ever see in high definition, but a stunning picture nevertheless (and a pretty stunning movie, too).
Thank you, FilmFlex - let's hope these improvements continue.

May 24, 2008

BBC HD site updated

It's taken a while, but the website for BBC HD has had a facelift.
Interesting to note they state that BBC HD programming will be available on iPlayer in "the future"

May 22, 2008

Band of Bother

The sheer incompetence of Virgin Media's management of its On Demand content has reached a new level with its posting of the High Definition episodes of Band of Brothers in many regions over the last few months.
This brilliant landmark series is often repeated, but that does not excuse the way it's been handled by Virgin.
In HD, I have episodes 1 -10 ... except 6. I've never had 6. I had two episodes of 5 at one point, but still no 6. In the end, with the clock ticking ("9 days left" it cheerily pointed out yesterday) I'm going to have to watch 6 in SD and gorge myself on the last four episodes in a flurry of Bank Holiday weekend viewing - I've only had the last three episodes a few days and already they're going.
Video On Demand is a fabulous, fabulous opportunity for Virgin to offer a genuine alternative to Sky and Freeview/sat, but it has to sort out its content loading processes for the service to be trusted by its viewers. No-one likes getting into a TV series and then finding it unceremoniously dropped prematurely by the provider. It's happened before (Lost, Ghost Whisperer, Night Stalker...pretty much everything in HD come to think of it) and it will no doubt happen again.
It's incompetent, pathetic, and cheating the paying customer.

May 19, 2008

New HD documentaries and other stuff

As you may have noticed, there are several new documentaries now available in HD via TV choice on demand - all free to TV XL customers. Listing in the usual panel to my right.
Also available - though you have to dig a bit deeper in the darker areas (Late Night 24/7!) - is Bikini Destinations in HD. I should point out that I didn't stumble over this myself but someone mailed me about it ... honest!
Darren Clift kindly mailed me a response he's had from VM on the provision of HD channels. Same sad old story I'm afraid - here it is in full:
In regards to ITV and C4 HD channels Virgin Media is not planning to launch these channels in the immediate future but will continue to deliver HD programming via our market leading Video-on-Demand (VOD) service.
One of the reasons we're focusing on using VOD is that the few existing HD broadcast channels operating, currently only show a rather limited selection of their programmes in True HD format. We will however continue to monitor developments on both ITV HD and Channel 4 HD channel and their popularity with viewers.
As you know, we've already made a wide range of HD programmes available in HD via our VOD service, including Planet Earth, Lost, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty, and currently Lost series 3, Band of Brothers, and The Sopranos are all available in HD on our on demand service.
We have an agreement with Channel 4 to continue showing more of their HD programming via the 4 On Demand area of the Virgin VOD service, and we will also continue broadcasting the BBC's HD channel, which will be improving its programming line up in 2008. In addition we will be working with the BBC to provide HD programmes within the recently launched iPlayer service later in the year.
Finally, on a more positive note: Radio Times is publishing full BBC HD listings in its latest issue. Hurrah - the Beeb is taking it seriously at last! Of course TV & Satellite Week has been publishing them for months, but hopefully with this and Freesat promoting BBC HD things will improve now schedule-wise with our sole HD channel.

May 17, 2008

Channel 4 HD - where's the HD?

Like all V+ customers, I'm getting increasingly frustrated with the wait for C4 HD content. Late last year, when the channel was launched on Sky, we were told that Virgin had secured the rights to the C4 HD as both a linear channel and for video on demand. Almost six months later and we're still waiting.
It may be a delay because of bandwidth restrictions. It may be because C4 itself isn't truly free-to-air quite just yet. It may be a technology restraint. It's most likely just not a priority in the days of marketing "super fast" broadband and "Mix It Up TV". Whatever. I feel like I'm still waiting for my last 2007 Christmas present...
But before we take to the streets burning effigies of Neil Berkett, have you seen what's actually showing in HD over on Channel 4? Pardon my french, but absolutely bugger all - six months after launch and there's still only a couple of films and a handful of US imports in HD. No homegrown HD programming whatsoever next week and, given that C4 has recently announced they're cutting back on the US stuff and focusing on UK programmes, that's pretty worrying.
In fact, Skins apart, I cannot recall any HD from these shores on C4 in 2008. Shameless? No. Peep Show? No. Even the weekly overstuffing of Ramsay and Oliver cookery entertaining, which uses very few cameras and can look sumptuous in HD, is still being shot in standard definition. Even I can pop down to John Lewis, buy myself an HD camcorder and make a better hash of it.
And because the HD channel's a C4 simulcast, HD shot shows on E4, More 4 and Film Four have no HD outlet whatsoever. Think how great an HD showcase taking the best of all four Four channels could be. But even on C4 new series of US imports like Smallville and ER , shot in HD but still being shown over here in SD, it's pathetically weak when compared to Sky One HD or even the often-maligned BBC HD.
Virgin Media should broadcast C4 HD as a priority to make a statement of intent with high definition services for its customers, but Channel 4 needs to make a similar statement by making an effort and delivering what it says on the tin: high definition programming.
Come on, chaps...before Christmas 2008 is upon us...

May 13, 2008

Wild China on BBC HD

Every so often, something sneaks on to the BBC HD channel that, quite literally, takes your breath away. I'll never forget the beauty of seeing Galapagos in HD for the first time - a beautiful series that really showed high definition filming at its finest. Similarly, Earth: The Power of the Planet was pretty awesome, stunning photography and fascinating subject matter.
Well, they've gone and done it again. Wild China is shown on BBC2 on Sunday evenings, but at 9pm on Mondays it is repeated in all its glory on BBC HD. If the first episode is typical, then this is to be a real treat. Image after image of mind-numbing beauty, a heartstopping insight into a lost world few have seen before. Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic - I cannot recommend it highly enough.

May 12, 2008

Virgin making room for faster broadband...and more HD?

Confirmation that Virgin Media is (finally) turning off the legacy analogue cable network is probably the best news VM has announced in many a moon. Full story here and further details here, both reports from Digital Spy.
Virgin Chief Executive Neil Berkett talked at some length to investors last week about the upgrade plans for the network and the imminent demise of the analogue network:
"Relatively modest investment in customer equipment and [headend] ports for channel bonding is required to do this and is included in our current capital expenditure guidance.
"Next year our 20Mbps and 50Mbps customers will move to the DOCSIS 3.0 platform. This will significantly improve the quality of service provided to all our customers, as the 2Mbps and 10Mbps customers will have more bandwidth specifically dedicated to them. This will help push real world delivery speeds as close as possible to the advertised headline speeds.
"We currently only use two 8Mhz channels to serve all our broadband customers. For DOCSIS 3.0 this will be tripled. Each additional channel will be freed up by switching off a single analogue channel.
"Clearly it will not be long before we are in a position to switch off analogue completely, and this will free up significant bandwidth for even higher broadband speeds. We could easily provide 100Mbps if we chose to do so. We have a huge broadband advantage over competing technologies for speed quality, reliability and cost."
So far, so good. Personally, I'm happy with 20Mbps of broadband (when I get it - not as reliable as it used to be but hopefully that will improve as part of the upgrade). But this ain't just about broadband as releasing the bandwidth of the old analogue network will open up opportunities for more TV services too...including high definition linear channels and more on demand content. C4 HD? ITV HD? Sky basics in HD? If bandwidth's not an issue we could well see the former at least soon (even if Sky is a bit of a pipedream still).
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Berkett's recent presentation on the Q1 results doesn't make a single mention of current high definition services, let alone future ones. It's a big gap - when Sky execs talk about the future of their service, it's all HD-this and HD-that. With Virgin, not a word.
But things are moving, and hopefully in a positive direction for every Virgin Media customer. On past experience I wouldn't recommend holding your breath just yet for more HD, but a more efficient network is good for all. Let's just hope Berkett and VM take full advantage of it and don't put all of their eggs - and our money - into just the broadband basket.

May 09, 2008

HD Nickelodeon show appears in On Demand

First Nickelodeon show, Genie in the House, has appeared in the TV Choice On Demand HD selection today. Five episodes (25 mins each) for the more discerning kids. Only in 4:3 rather than widescreen - odd.

May 08, 2008

Virgin first quarter results

Headlines (with year-on-year comparisons) :
  • Continued customer and RGU growth
  • 204,300 total RGU net additions (Q1-07: 145,100)
  • 4,900 on-net customer net additions (Q1-07: 46,900 net disconnects)
  • On-net churn declined to 1.2% (Q1-07: 1.6%); lowest since 2004
  • 88,400 on-net broadband net additions (Q1-07: 87,900)
  • 29,000 on-net telephony net additions (Q1-07: 63,400 net disconnects)
  • 36,800 TV net additions (Q1-07: 36,100)
  • Record triple-play penetration of 51.3% (Q1-07: 42.9%)
  • Operating loss of GBP 5m (Q1-07: GBP 15m)

More details on the cable TV side of the business from the official press release:

Total TV net additions were 36,800 in the quarter (Q4-07: 61,100; Q1-07: 36,100). As anticipated, this was lower than in the previous quarter partly due to alterations to acquisition offers in order to emphasize higher priced TV tiers.

1.6m of our TV customers are now using our VOD service on a monthly basis, representing a reach of 48%. Average views per user per month in the quarter were 24 compared to 23 in the previous quarter and 11 a year ago. Average monthly views were 36m in the quarter, up 10% on the previous quarter and up 155% on the same quarter last year.

In April 2008, we launched the BBC's iPlayer service on our VOD platform offering hundreds of hours of BBC catch-up content. Developments like this give VOD a new impetus and help establish on-demand as a genuinely mainstream TV service.

During the quarter, we added a record 101,800 V+ DVR subscribers to reach an installed base of 364,200. This represents a penetration level of just 11% of our digital subscribers and so the growth opportunity remains strong. In addition, based on our experience, DVR subscribers and VOD users are less likely to churn.

The mix of TV subscribers improved during the quarter, with growth in the percentage of subscribers on our top basic tier. We believe that this growth continued to be positively affected by increased VOD content and usage and the addition of the Setanta Sports channels into our top basic tier.

And on a positive note, according to Reuters today Berkett has revealed that Sky and VM are in serious discussions about the return of the Sky basics to Virgin Media

May 06, 2008

Head of BBC HDTV's blog

There's a really interesting post on the BBC's Internet blog from Seetha Kumar that is well worth checking out. Seetha is the BBC's Head of HDTV and this is the first time I've seen her online. Check out the post here and be sure to leave a comment or two as we really could do with some more "insider" news from the BBC on the HD front.

Band of Brothers and Sopranos update

My region's now showing episodes 1 - 8 of BoB in HD, except episode 6 still, but that's not the case in all regions apparently.
We have Season Five of the Sopranos 1-8 with no missing episodes.
Cannot believe that Virgin Media still cannot get this consistent. It's not as though we're talking hundreds of hours of HD content coming on line - just a handful of programmes! Crazy.
Incidentally, anyone noticed how fabulous Heroes Season Two is looking in HD? The clarity and colours of the Hiro japanese sequences have been some of the best HD I've seen to date.

May 05, 2008

ITV HD "exclusive" for launch of FreeSat this week

According to the ITV website ITV HD will launch EXCLUSIVELY on FreeSat this week, albeit with very little HD content. Hmmmm - not on cable nor Sky. I recall ITV withheld ITV for a few years from Sky when it launched OnDigital, but I´m surprised they´re adopting similar tactics now, especially with Sky still having a 17% stake in the company. With the Champions League final likely to be one of ITV´s biggest programmes in years, I´m somewhat surprised it´ll be only available in HD on ITV to what will most likely just be a few thousand households at most. Odd decision.
I´d expect ITV HD to be on satellite and (fingers crossed) cable by the time Euro 2008 comes round.

May 02, 2008

BBC HD over the holiday weekend

Friday night is a treat for fans of Gavin and Stacey, with all seven episodes of the second season being shown in HD back to back from 9pm.
On Saturday things kick off a little earlier than usual with a Natural World about the snow leopards. The "entertainment" of I'd Do Anything is the only new programme today though - the rest of the schedule being repeats of Robin Hood, Hotel Babylon, Gavin & Stacey, Mitchell and Webb case you thought you were going to escape him completely, Jools Holland's Later.
Sunday: Tiger Spy in the Jungle, The Invisibles and something called Scallywagga all pale into insignificance, cos the Beeb are showing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in glorious HD at 20.05! Awesome!
On Monday, there's the not-at-all-bad Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure at 16:35, but the evening is all repeats including Hustle and Saxondale.