February 29, 2008

How many hours of HD are you watching?

120 votes in this month's poll; most of us watching a handful of hours a week. 41% watching up to two hours, a third watching up to five. 15% watching more than five. I guess that was pretty predictable, but I thought some folk trawling through the 70+ hours of Lost in HD would bump up the averages a fair bit. Maybe not.
My current series links include the HD versions of Around the World in 80 Gardens; Damages; Torchwood; That Mitchell & Webb Look and I pick up the odd special (e.g. Messiah 5), so I'm slap bang in the middle of our sample's votes. Of course, if the likes of Life in Cold Blood and Ashes to Ashes were in HD I'd be at the top end, but they're not, and with films rarely appearing and the FA Cup still not with us in HD, I'm still pretty limited in my HD enjoyment, as are most.
New poll will appear in the next few days. Thanks for voting again, chaps.

February 28, 2008

Virgin Media's Q4 2007 results

Virgin Media’s results for the final quarter of 2007 make interesting reading. Tucked away in the fairly lengthy press release are numbers that show good growth on the TV front (the best quarter’s growth since 2004 in fact) and also strong performances on all other fronts. Here’s the TV piece in full:

Total TV net additions were 61,100 in the quarter, up from 20,400 in the previous quarter. This represented the best quarter for at least seven years, based on pro forma combined operating statistics for periods prior to the cable merger. We believe this result was aided by the attractiveness of our VOD platform. 1.5 million of our TV customers are now using our VOD service on a monthly basis, representing a reach of 47%. Average views per user per month in the fourth quarter were 23 compared to 10 at the start of 2007. Average monthly views were 33 million in the quarter, up 45% on the previous quarter.

TV net additions were also positively affected by a record quarter for driving DVR penetration, partly due to a promotional reduction in DVR pricing. During the quarter, we added 72,200 V+ DVR subscribers to reach an installed base of 262,400. This represents a penetration level of just 8% 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.

(For those not savvy with the acronyms, VOD is Video on Demand and DVR is Digital Video Recorder.)

So there are now over a quarter of a million VM customers equipped with HD capable boxes. Although the release talks of the “growth opportunity remains strong”, there’s no indication how they attend to secure that growth – marketing the V+ seems to be taking a backseat to the broadband push and certainly there’s no enhancements to the HD services to shout about. In fact, the only place I’m seeing the V+ promoted is on the side of the vans whizzing around South East London (Blackwall Tunnel permitting).

For me and mine, the V+ is the best piece of technology in the house. Easy to use, reliable, and an absolutely cracking TV picture. It’s a shame that VM don’t realise that with this and the VOD service they really do have something to shout about that’ll grow their revenues. But no, they’re still pushing a broadband service that has notable speed deficiencies in the peak evening hours and declining to add HD channels despite an obvious deficiency with even the basics (such as 4HD). Ho hum.

Postscript: The presentation made to investors today can be found here

February 27, 2008

New software upgrade for V+

According to reports over at Digital Spy (see this thread) and on the Newsgroups, there's a new software upgrade being tested in some areas for the V+. It's supposed to address some long standing issues, including the disabling of the RF and Scart outputs when HDMI is enabled and audio dropouts on some channels.
If you've received the upgrade, your software versions will read:
Application Version 11.3.2_ukcable
Software Version

Here's the post from the Newsgroup for info:

Hi all,

I'm pleased to confirm that yesterday morning we downloaded the new V+
software release to the Crawley and Southport areas. Over the coming days we
will deploy to four further pilot regions - Swindon, Warwick, Wessex and

Whilst customer pilot is the final formal stage in our software release
process before we deploy to all customers, issues can be found during this
phase which lead to the software going back into development. Because of
this we won't announce full deployment dates here until the pilot is
successfully completed.

Stephen Featham

(Head of TV Product Engineering - Virgin Media)

February 25, 2008

Night Stalker HD now complete

Took a day or two, but the ABC series Night Stalker is now complete with all ten episodes available in TV Choice on Demand. As mentioned in an earlier post though, it's 'complete' as in every episode is now available on VM, but not 'complete' as in the story...it was cancelled prematurely and unlike Day Break was never wrapped up properly.
Incidentally, I've noticed all the US drama programming appearing in HD, with the exception of Criminal Minds, is originally from the ABC network - does anyone know if Virgin has a deal with ABC (owned by Disney I believe)? If so, we could soon have Desperate Housewives, Men In Trees, Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Pushing Daisies and the intriguing Eli Stone joining the HD On Demand line up

V+ reboots during HD playback

Had an odd one Sunday evening. I was recording BBC HD and BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday, and decided to start playing the BBC HD recording before it finished. I've done this before without problems, but after 19 minutes the box goes and reboots itself. Took about two minutes to reset, then the two recordings recommenced. I was able to watch the remaining forty minutes or so of my HD recording, no problem. Annoyingly though I've lost two minutes of The Last Enemy which I'll have to find in Catch Up TV.
Most odd. And only a few hours earlier I'd remarked how we hadn't had to reboot the box in 2008. It does suggest though that HD playback/recording on the V+ is not as reliable as perhaps it should be, and that when (if?) we do get more HD channels on VM we'll suffer the same stability problems Sky HD owners report with multiple channel handling.

February 24, 2008

New stuff on BBC HD this week

In addition to the series already underway (Lark Rise to Candleford; Around the World in 80 Gardens; Damages; Torchwood; Holby Blue; Mitchell & Webb; Hotel Babylon) there's only one thing of note BBC HD this week. The godawful Fairy Tales gets a repeat airing on Sunday at 10pm. For those who missed it the first time around, here's a pity one-word review: AVOID!
What makes this risible programme even less palatable is that this time slot is, a week later, the same as BBC4 premiere of the critically acclaimed Mad Men, from one of the guys behind the Sopranos and very hotly anticipated in the Nialli household. Which means that instead of showing Mad Men a simulcast in HD, the BBC will be treating us to an entire run of Fairy Tale repeats. Laughable, but not in a good way...

February 21, 2008

Night Stalker in TV Choice on Demand HD

Night Stalker is slowly materialising in the High Definition section of TV Choice on Demand. There are now five episodes listed in my ex-NTL region (1-5). [Edit: as of Saturday, we're now up to episode 7]
It's another of those attempts to fill the post XFiles sci-fi mystery void, but it met with general apathy in the US and was whipped off the air after six episodes in 2005. There were actually ten filmed in total (the unbroadcast ones appearing online as downloads) though whether Virgin Media will make all ten available I don't know. Here's a summary from tv.com:
Crime reporter Carl Kolchak is partnered with Perri Reed at The Beacon , a Los Angeles newspaper. Together they investigate a string of strange murders...all of which may be related to the death of Kolchak's wife 18 months earlier in a similarly bizarre manner.

Be warned: the tenth episode ends with an unresolved cliffhanger.
(Incidentally, Lord of the Rings fans may find leading man Stuart Townsend interesting to watch; he was Peter Jackson's original choice for Aragorn, but was sacked after a few days of filming as it was felt he was too young for the role.)

February 19, 2008

Hotel Babylon tonight on BBC HD

Not a fan myself, but the new series of Hotel Babylon is on BBC HD tonight at 9pm. For those who enjoy the show, you can also find the previous serious in HD in TV Choice on Demand...minus the first episode.

HD DVD format war over

I'm quoting this direct from the BBC News website, but it's now being reported everywhere: the HD DVD format war is officially over, and the winner is Sony's Blu-ray.

Toshiba drops out of HD DVD war
Toshiba has said it will stop making its high definition DVDs, ending a battle with rival format Blu-ray over which would be the industry standard.
Following a review of its business, Toshiba said it would stop production of HD DVD players and recorders.

The HD DVD format has suffered as major US film studios backed the Blu-ray format, which is being developed by electronics firm Sony and partners.

Analysts said the move would allow Toshiba to focus on other products.

The company's shares have climbed on optimism it would drop HD DVD production.

"We concluded that a swift decision would be best," Toshiba president Atsutoshi Nishida said.

The final nail in the proverbial coffin was the decision by Warner Bros. to get off the fence and sidle up with Sony; other studios quickly followed suit and it was really just a matter of time.

What this does mean is that public confusion over which HD DVD format to invest in will now be ended. More HD devices will be sold, the price will come down, recorders will hit the European high streets and the whole DVD market will shift towards HD. It won't be overnight, but it will be accelerated now.

And that can only be good for HD TV services, though I fear it's going to be a long haul. I spent Sunday afternoon configuring a Samsung TV for some friends who thought they now had HD services, whereas in fact they just have Sky's Freesat service and an HD ready TV. These are not ignorant people (far from it: they're both leading academics) but it just goes to demonstrate how inaccurate the general public's perception of what constitutes "high definition" TV is in the UK. It's HD-Ready, therefore when it's plugged in it's HD? I don't think so. What's more, the morons who sold them the TV didn't seem to know otherwise. Sky's marketing of its HD service doesn't really educate the uninitiated either, which means that (I fear) HD will remain a minority interest (much like 5.1 sound) for the vast majority.

February 18, 2008

New poll - how much HD are you watching?

Just had a look through the Planned Recordings on my V+ for the week ahead and was quite surprised as to the amount of HD recordings scheduled. Damages, Around the World in 80 Gardens, Torchwood, Mitchell & Webb - that's a third of my regular recording now in HD. Add in my viewing of HD On Demand content and almost half of my regular viewing is in HD. Are others finding the same thing, or is my BBC-centric viewing exceptional these days? (I don't watch anything just because it's showing in HD - the novelty's pretty much worn off now.) I've posted up a new poll to see just how exceptional I am ;o)

How forums turn nasty

There's a debate going on over at Cable Forums that really is pretty breathtaking. You can find it here. It starts off gently enough, but gets really personal and vindictive about half way through. No doubt this still has some way to go, but it does make you wonder why some folk can't just accept that their opinions are only opinions and beauty (in all its High Definition glory) is in the eye of the beholder. Even the venerable march.brown has been dragged into the debate.
I enjoy the various forums but I really dislike it when a sensible discussion is sidetracked by certain posters and why are they trolling on cable forums anyway? I pity the poor original poster, who was simply saying she was a little disappointed by the difference between the V+'s upscaling and true High Definition.

February 16, 2008

HD On Demand update

Here's an update (Saturday, Feb 18 2008) on the HD On Demand programming available currently to ex-NTL customers. Virgin have finally completed some seasons (notably Day Break and Lost, which are now all complete) and the inconsistencies are a lot less irritating now.

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
All saying "79 days left"

Filmflex HD (all £4 unless mentioned)
Alpha Dog
Black Christmas
The Breed
Gone in Sixty Seconds
The Messengers
Moliere (£3.50)
The Painted Veil
The Queen (£3.50)
The Village

TV Choice On Demand (Home - 5 - 9 - 1)
Criminal Minds Season One 1 - 22
Day Break 1-13
Dog Fight 2 episodes
Engineering An Empire 3 episodes
Ghost Whisperer Season One 1 - 22
Mega Movers 2 episodes
Lost Season One 1-25
Lost Season Two 1 - 23
Lost Season Three 1 - 23
Night Stalker Season One 3, 4, 5

February 13, 2008

Finally - Day Break 13 arrives!

Those who've been waiting for the final episode of Day Break in HD - it's arrived!
TV Choice On Demand now has all 13 episodes listed under High Definition. Hurrah!

February 11, 2008

The Value of High Definition Services

The blog’s latest poll demonstrates the predicament over HD; almost half of the respondents said that they would not be prepared to shell out an extra £10 a month for more high definition services. 45% (of 284 voters) said they wouldn’t pay for the Sky HD channels, and given that this blog is pretty much preaching to the HD converted, that really does ask a question regarding the financial benefit to a company like Virgin Media of High Definition services today.
Admittedly the HD channels from Sky aren’t compulsive viewing for everyone, but last month’s poll had Sky Sports HD as the most wanted channels on cable, so I’m somewhat surprised by this month’s vote. For an extra £10 a month, Sky HD subscribers get two sports and movies HD channels, Sky One, National Geographic, History Channel, Discovery, Sky Arts and Channel 4. Is that worth £10 a month? Only 155 of you thought that was worth £120 a year – so what do VM do?
I think the vast majority of Virgin customers will be satisfied (for now) with the HD versions of the main broadcasters’ flagships; BBC, ITV, C4 and Five. Throw in a high definition Film4 or Five US, all for free, and we’d be very happy bunnies indeed. What’s more, I think envious Sky HD customers would be demanding the reduction or elimination of their monthly bills, too – check out some of the Sky HD forums over on Digital Spy.
The truth is that HD, fabulous though it is, is still very much of minority appeal in the UK. This ain’t the States, where the SD picture is almost unwatchable and the average TV is approximately the width of a terraced house – the SD on a V+ of a higher bitrate channel is exceptionally good on the average UK LCD. It’s not high-end home cinema, but it is sufficiently HD-enough for the average family.
That may not be comfortable reading for the HD aficionado (who is unlikely to be a Virgin customer out of choice anyway) but is pretty much the reality. For Virgin, an HD offering matching FreeSat’s basics when it launches later this year will probably be sufficient to keep the vast majority of its customer base happy, especially given the current V+’s limits with storing Mpeg2 HD programming. VM’s latest customer figures are due to be revealed any day now – the increase in V+ subscribers will be primarily down to the PVR functionality rather than HD capability. And I strongly suspect Virgin’s HD offering will be limited in its expansion in 2008, and for the foreseeable future. C’est la vie.

February 09, 2008

BBC HD Next Week

A 1pm start on Saturday with live Six Nations on BBC HD featuring the Wales v Scotland game. The early start means an extended schedule; two hours of Mountain then The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle, a feature length drama from the Beeb. Repeating later are this week's Torchwood and the first episode of Messiah 5.
Sunday's line up is now pretty established. Avoid the yawns of Candleford but check out Around the World in 80 Gardens for some glorious HD footage. I don't think it's 100% HD - much of the first episode lacked the vibrancy you'd expect, but the second episode had some great scenic Australian and New Zealand pieces. Hopefully India this week will be similarly dazzling.
Monday is all repeats until the 10.35 Damages. If you jump on board now, you'll not have a clue what's going on, but it's been a gripping drama from the off, albeit a pretty limited showcase for the dynamism of HD - pretty talky.
Tuesday: nothing to write home about. Torchwood Wednesdays continue with simulcasts of both BBC2 and BBC3's broadcasts from 9pm.
Holby Blue is the only new show I can see for Thursday, and there ain't nothing new at all on Friday.

And finally...On BBC 1 on Saturday the big game is live at 5.05 - Man U v Arsenal in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It's not currently listed as HD, but you never know...maybe Auntie will make up for missing the last England friendly in HD? Stay tuned....

February 04, 2008

Lost Season Four for Virgin customers

No, don't get too excited...Sky One ain't back and they haven't added season four to On Demand yet.

But you can get the first episode of season four legally via iTunes in the UK. It's £1.89 and is currently promoted on the iTunes home page. Once downloaded, you can watch on your PC/Mac/iPod or convert it to DVD (if you know how to).

February 01, 2008

Lost Season Three arrives in HD

Great news for those who thrive on confusion and piecing together impossible puzzles - Lost Season Three has arrived this morning on VM TV Choice on Demand and, as usual, the episodes have been delivered in a somewhat haphazard manner that's every bit as confusing as the programme itself.
[slight edit ahead] There are 23 episodes to season three, but so far only 20 are listed in my ex-NTL region. Missing (lost?) are 4, 11 and 13. Why? No idea. Maybe it relates to Hurley's lottery numbers. Dunno. Hopefully these will appear over the next week or so (that's what's happened before - and here episode 14 and 20 have appeared since I first posted this today). I think the series disappeared from Virgin screens around episode 9 btw. If you don't mind watching in SD, all 23 episodes are available via Virgin Central's menus.
And seasons 1 and 2? Both now complete in HD, the former returning after a few weeks' absence. Hurrah!
Having seen Season Three, I can offer this quick, non-spoiler summary; great opening, then drags for about a dozen episodes, then has a few great episodes and ends with an absolute humdinger.
Season Four starts on Sunday on Sky One - find a friend with Sky and a DVD recorder (that's what I did)...