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...


Afront said...

Great post Neil, and I'm glad you're staying a little longer as it'll mean this great blog will continue uncorrupted ;)

For my part, I'm also sticking with Virin for now but perhaps for different reasons:

1. Cost I get a good discount since I've been a customer for decades: max broadband, max TV, phone line and free evening calls for ~ £58 a month

2. PVR The V+ HD box is a better piece of hardware than the Sky+ HD box, especially with its 3 tuners

3. On Demand Don't use this too often but it's good to have have iplayer and the C4 stuff upscaled to my plasma screen

4. Filmflex I only rent films in HD these days, and the Filmflex selection is tiny, but it's better than nothing (and I'm not paying a monthly subscription fee for it)

Actually now that I write this down, it doesn't seem all that compelling any more... I have an Xbox 360 which has 4x as many HD movie rentals available on it, and Virgin did personally promise me "more HD channels real soon" when I signed up a year ago... hmmm where's that Sky link again? ;)

Anonymous said...

"and this blog's poll shows that I'm not alone"

I never voted because I didn't like the bias in the questions. Yes I'm thinking about it, but decided not to when I compared the prices for what I want. And HD is very important to me, but not important enough to me to spend so much extra per month - I'd prefer to spend that on other HD sources like bluray when I'm not interested in that many broadcast channels anyway.

Nialli said...

That's a fair comment. The poll questions definitely reflected my disillusionment with Virgin that day! Apologies.
Another factor for me staying is Filmflex. Starts when you want, you can pause, rewind, etc - much better than Sky Box Office. I just wish they'd let you view over a longer period than 24 hours - it seems miserly considering how much they're asking you to fork out.

Afront said...

Filmflex is comparable to Xbox LIVE Marketplace: Once started, you have 24 hours to watch before the film's deleted.

surreydude said...

Hi Neil

Yep, interesting comments. I just sent an eMail to VM challenging them to convince me why I should not move to Sky HD. The reality though, is that I will be staying with VM. Why? It's pretty simple actually

- I don't want a BT line

- VMs XL broadband is very reliable and (as we all know) better than ADSL anyway

- The HD content on some of the other channels is shite anyway (I *never* watch ITV except for the odd movie)

- I watch the footy down the pub with mates. Much more sociable

Keep blogging. I'm loving your work ;-)


Anonymous said...

I also felt left out by your poll. I just couldn't justify the cost of a Sky HD package. Add on another £12 per month for Setanta and £10 for multiroom and things start to get ridiculous (£79 worth in fact). I'm not swapping my XL broadband for anything. My HD tele gets most use from my PS3 for games and movies and I'm happy with that at the momememt.

I've not watched Discovery/National Geographic for years, most of the documentries are a)crap and b)treat you like an idiot that can't remember sometthing you were told 15 minutes ago.

Nialli said...

Yeah, sorry again about the wording on the poll - I did it in a hurry and found I couldn't edit the wording on a Blogger poll once it's been posted up :o(
I agree on the NG/Discovery documentaries - it's true of History, Five and even Channel 4 docs. After every ad break they go over the same stuff again! Even more annoying if you're watching it without the ads (either FF through them or on OnDemand). Thank heavens for the BBC.

Anonymous said...

I have XL TV for £13.50 a month. Would be nice to have some more HD but I have a PS3 and bluray disc collection for that and am happy enough with BBC HD. The quality on Setanta is not great but it's certainly watchable and a bargain for being bundled with XL TV package.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of going "the other way"! I am with Sky and have the HD box/service. I started to look at moving because my BT broadband was so slow. For upto 8M, read 1.5M if you're lucky! It's the telephone line you see. Virgin have cables in the street and can offer better than BT. That's when the bundles come in. Cutting costs etc etc. So, you VM "oldies" - am I about to go off the rails? Will I be happy with my increased broadband speed but be wishing I had stayed with Sky HD? Is the difference content (Sky better than VM), quality or what? Help please before I go down another black hole of costly whoopsies!

Anonymous said...

The HD picture quality etc is OK with VM, but the amount of HD content is much lower right now than Sky - one channel versus about 28 channels including movies and sports! VM does have a few paid on demand HD movies, and some documentaries and HBO series to watch in TV choice on demand - good stuff, but it hardly ever changes. I do like VM TV service for the price I pay and I can't fault the broadband.

So if you think you can't manage without HD and you watch anything other than BBC HD on your Sky service, then VM just doesn't compare, but it's pretty good for what it is.

You could always consider just broadband (and maybe phone) with VM and just TV with Sky if you don't mind paying extra, that seems the only way to get best of both worlds!

Nialli said...

The broadband, in my experience, is as advertised. I get almost 20mb via an 802.11n wireless router (see Speedtest at the foot of the blog's homepage) and cannot fault it these days.
The TV service is very good (see if you can get the new Samsung V+) and VOD is superb.
However, as this blog sadly reports so frequently, it's the Virgin HD service that is woefully inadequate and if that's key to your TV requirements, you had best stick with Sky HD for now and move to VM for broadband.