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?

16 comments:

Sam said...

I've noticed it too.

For me the quality has dropped across a number of channels including Sky movies and sports. Sky sports used to be really good but now it looks pretty poor.

I'm also getting frequent pixelation - not impressed. The cynic in me thinks that the quality has been dropped across the board to make room for the few new HD channels.

Sam

BikeNutt said...

I've always thought that the Sky Movie channels are poor compared to, say, Sky Sports. Very soft image and macroblocking everywhere!

The only reason I have them is that I'd only save a couple of quid unless I got rid of Sky Sports too.

Movies in our house come on silver discs in either red or blu.

demented said...

Yup. The bitrates have gone down. It's not as bad as say ITV4 but it's not ideal. If you look at the bitrates on satellite many of the day's averages for the movie channels are 2-2.5Mbs. Sometimes they are a bit higher but not that often. Premiere on average looks the worst imho. It's one of the reasons why I want the movie channels in HD so badly (I know it won't happen till about 2010 or 2011).

Disagree about sports decline. Sky sports looks fantastic compared to s**tanta.

Richardr said...

Is it a function of the direct links from Sky to Virgin Media now carrying the basic channels in addition to the premiums, so the bandwidth available for the premiums is lower?

Anonymous said...

I heard that Virgin put down the resolution of all the Sky Movie channels a few months ago, unrelated to any recent channel expansion.

Nialli said...

Interesting - so it was VM who have made a change rather than Sky? I feel a letter of complaint coming on...I pay as much now as I did before, but the quality has deteriorated considerably. I'll have a look over the next week or so and see if some channels are better than others.

Anonymous said...

I also wondered about a bitrate drop on other channels like Five & BBC 1 lately on VM lately. While I can't be sure about this, I did wonder if that's how they suddenly had more room to bring in extra channels including Sky basics, having previously said there was no more room!

Nialli said...

Haven't noticed a bitrate drop on BBC1 myself - in fact, I think the pq on the main BBC channels is excellent still.
Personally, I never bought the line that they didn't have room for a few more channels. There've been quite a few of the dross channels disappear of late, and the bandwidth allocation has always looked rather wasteful in some areas (I posted on this some time back - I'll see if I can find it and post the link again).
Sky Movies is a premium priced product and should be at least on a par with other channels, not a compromise. When the picture is weaker than even Movies 24, Movies 24+ and True Movies, you know something's amiss.
(And wasn't it an eye opener for your's trully when he stumbled upon Movies 24 at 11pm last night...)

Nialli said...

Here's that bandwidth breakdown http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_M2zQNjdagM4/SJ2AIBh7NSI/AAAAAAAAANw/4JHRzXkfq6o/s1600-h/bandwidth.jpg
The other contributing factor to accommodating the Sky Basics back was a reduction in the analogue channels on the network. Although the full shutdown is still in progress, they've let many go in recent months across the country.

Nialli said...

p.s. I've posted a thread on this topic over on Cable Forum to see if any of the VM technicians who post there have anything to say on the matter.

Anonymous said...

check the 6month links at http://www.linowsat.de/0282/all/0282.shtml. Sky have dropped the peak bitrate on most Movies&Sports since Sept. That will affect quality when there is a lot of motion. SciFi/Horror is up though.

Ataru said...

It's interesting to see just how low the bitrates used actually are. At best you're not even getting 50% of DVD quality, and more commonly only around 30%.

Even the HD channels are only 25% of the quality of a good blu-ray.

Discs are still king I guess.

Nialli said...

Are the bitrates determined by Sky or by Virgin Media? If Sky, then my cynicism that Sky has lowered the bitrates since the advent of the HD versions of the channels would appear to have some substance - note that the only one lacking an HD version, Sky Classics, is the only movie channel that doesn't dip below 2600, whereas the others go far lower.
Any idea what the spread over 24 hours is? I've sometimes recorded movies either very early or late in the belief that the PQ may be better.

demented said...

I agree with anonymous, infact my point apparently wasn't clear enough. It is Sky that has reduced the bitrates. When brand spanking new films like Copperhead and Stardust look poor on Sky Premiere (but great on HD) you know something is wrong.

Nialli, 7 of the movie channels now share the same transponder which shouldn't mean out of the ordinarily poor picture but it does seem to. The really interesting thing is since the channels played musical chairs in October Sky are getting 3 or 4HD channels + anytime on the same transponder! As nothing like anytime runs on tpx 7 the 24hr spread of bitrate shouldn't change considerably in theory on those 7 channels. I think sky are just running them low to encourage people to go HD and secondly to clear up space for the massive expansion of HD.

Nialli said...

If that's the case, then OFCOM should do something about it. Denigrating the quality of the regular product in order to upsell a more expensive one? That sounds like a monopoly abuse if ever there was one. I feel a letter coming on...

Richardr said...

But Virgin Media receive the Sky channels in direct fibre links from Sky to their headends - and so the broadcast quality from Sky on satellite should have no effect in the quality transmitted on cable.