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
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. 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, 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

UPDATE: Over on 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. 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.)