April 30, 2008

BBC iPlayer arrives

They said it would be here in the spring, and although some may question whether we've actually had any 'spring' yet, BBC iPlayer has arrived on Virgin Media this morning, accessible via the red button.
There's a really interesting post on the BBC's blog about porting the hugely successful catch up service onto the cable platform. Here's an extract that caught my eye:
The programme offering is pretty much the same as that which you get on the web, although there are some exceptions due to rights. Regional variations, radio programmes and some acquistions are not available at present. However, we hope this will change in due course. We also hope to be able to offer High Definition programmes too!

A shame they haven't added the radio just yet - I often use iPlayer to listen to episodes of The Goons and Hancock from Radio 7 - but HD on its way? That may be the same listing of Blue Planet et al we've had for months in the On Demand listings, but you never know - it could be a way of supplementing the BBC HD channel programming during the summer's sporting and Glastonbury blanket coverage - that would be pretty neat.

April 29, 2008

Berkett in Madrid

According to the Broadband TV website Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett has said at the Cable Congress 2008 show in Madrid this week:

“We’re significantly improving our proposition in terms of HD and expanding our library, but we still have a long way to go before we hit the consumer mainstream that we aspire to. We need to educate consumers and drive experimentation.”

Berkett returned to familiar ground during his Wednesday evening keynote, putting his case for “economic access” to [Sky’s] pay-TV content and setting out the advantages of cable broadband over DSL to a willing audience.

What does this mean? Hopefully there will be more HD on demand available when the new iPlayer and 4OD services are introduced in May, and maybe a return of the Sky basics is pending, and possibly a Virgin IPTV offering is in the pipeline. Interesting.

April 26, 2008

More HD with FilmFlex

The on demand film service, FilmFlex, has been nicely adding more HD movies in recent weeks, including some worth investing in if you don't find the price of entry too prohibitive.
Added this week are the Joy Division Control, Michael Clayton (Gorgeous George in HD - careful now, ladies) and Steve Buscemi's Interview. Of the older movies there are two Tarentino's Death Proof and Pulp Fiction, the first Pirates of the Carribean movie (the watchable one) and and The Village. There are 21 in all showing in my region this week, priced from £3.99 to £4.50 - don't ask me to explain the pricing structure as it makes no sense to me whatsoever. IMDB links in the FilmFlex panel on the right of the blog

April 25, 2008

ITV1 HD coming in the spring with Freesat

Old news maybe, but here's the official words from ITV.com:

ITV has committed to launch an HD channel in 2008. ITV1 HD will feature the best of ITV sport and drama in stunning high definition quality. It will begin as a two-to three-hour peak time service that will extend its hours as HD audiences build.

HD is already capturing public imagination and industry forecasts suggest that the number of HD ready sets could reach 30 million by the end of switchover.

The launch of ITV1 HD will ensure that ITV is at the forefront of the HD revolution for our viewers and advertisers.


A new digital satellite TV service from the BBC and ITV. Scheduled for launch in 2008, freesat has no monthly subscription, just a one-off payment for the digital box, satellite dish and installation. For more information visit the official freesat website.

No mention of ITV1 HD on cable (or Sky, come to that) - I'm sure I'm not the only one who sincerely hopes that both this and C4 HD appear on Virgin Media before the summer.

"Virgin only needs one HD channel"!!!

Virgin: We only need one HD channel
Big story over at Digital Spy that interprets comments made by Virgin Media management as saying "they only need one HD channel". VM don't actually say "one's enough" (bit of tabloid journalism on DS's part there). Here are the salient points without the DS spin:

"Chief executive Neil Berkett and chief technology officer Howard Watson both addressed the issue of advanced TV services at the Cable Congress in Madrid this week.

"Watson said the popularity of HD in the US - where significantly more content and channels are generally available - was driven by the country's NTSC analogue television system. It is generally accepted that it gives a worse picture than PAL, the alternative employed in the UK.

"We don’t have the ‘Never The Same Colour’ challenge that has driven HD offering in the US," said Watson, according to Broadband TV News. "We have 7m HD ready sets in the UK and I still think HD works really well for certain bits of content but is disappointing for others.

"I don’t think we’re losing customers because we don’t have the HD lineup that Sky has. It’s not causing us a churn problem - all of our HD customers [have] PVRs - so it's difficult to separate them, but a part of that is HD."
"Neil Berkett used his comments at the Madrid event to talk up its commitment to offering VoD. ... Berkett said the strategy was going well - subscribers now spend more hours watching VoD than linear channel Five - but admitted the "need to educate consumers and drive experimentation" in order to push the service."

Still disheartening mind - has Berkett seen the paucity of VOD HD content of late? It's thrown up in such a slapdash manner it beggars belief - last night two episodes of Band of Brothers were added to the first five: episode 7, and a second listing for episode 5! How inept is that??

I maintain this blog because there seems to be a genuine passion for more HD services on Virgin Media - it gets around 6,000 visits a month and the folk who comment on it are all singing the same tune - we genuinely need more HD on the Virgin Media. If Freesat launches with a handful of HD channels and better bit rates for the Freeview line up, I reckon a lot of folk will move both from Sky and Virgin. I don't disagree with VM that Video On Demand is fantastic and very important, but they've got to promote it better than the nonsensical Samuel L Jackson ads that look great but hardly educate.

Postscript: on another Digital Spy thread, Virgin are saying this in an email to customers
"We still agree with you that adding both the main HD channels (eg BBC HD) and an increasing vod HD selection is the way to go. But it's early days as you know. Ch4 HD has lots of SD still in it, and neither ITV nor Ch5 have launched HD" properly yet. Meanwhile, we will continue to add more specific HD content to the vod platform.

April 23, 2008

Coming soon to BBC HD

(That's "coming soon" as in "the next few weeks", not "coming soon" as used by Virgin Media when referring to more HD content...)

Looking through the BBC HD listings for the next fortnight, here are a few things that caught my eye:

Sunday 27th, 2.55pm (yes, extended hours! Yippee!) Film: Holes. Fabulous kids' movie. Watched it recently with my family and couldn't believe it wasn't better known. A quality cast (Sigourney Weaver, John Voigt, Shia Leboeuf) and directed by The Fugitive helmer Andrew Davies, this is a real treat...and in HD, too!

Thursday, May 1st at 11.15pm (not a simulcast as Heroes is showing earlier) The Invisibles, a new BBC 'comedy' drama along the lines of New Tricks and (hopefully) Hustle. Cast includes Anthony Head, Warren Clarke and Jenny Agutter.

Friday, May 2nd from 8pm; the entire second season of Gavin & Stacey is shown back to back.

The bad news is that they don't seem to have anything special lined up for the May Bank Holiday weekend; more of the same repeats and simulcasts. A shame, given that Easter and Christmas showed a little more imaginative scheduling.

April 21, 2008

April 19, 2008

New on this blog

The daily update on what's new on BBC HD each evening seems to be quite popular, so I've added two more regular lists of HD On Demand information that I'll endeavour to keep current:
  • FilmFlex seems to be expanding its selection of HD films - here's the current listing for my region.
  • TV Choice On Demand HD has some quality US imports, all free of charge to XL customers. (Go to TV Choice On Demand, 9, 1 to access.)
I've not bothered adding a panel for the BBC HD On Demand as that's been constant for months. If you want the full listing for that, please check out this post, where the other info is out of date but the BBC stuff is still true.

April 18, 2008

No C4 HD on FreeSat at launch

According to this exclusive on Digital Spy, Channel 4HD will not be appearing on the new FreeSat format when it launches shortly. So, did C4 and Sky agree some kind of exclusivity deal to prevent the fledgling HD channel appearing on other platforms? Or are there 'technical issues' with providing the service? Whatever, something's amiss, and one of the country's 'public sector broadcasters' ain't delivering to a lot of its public...

Heroes, Volume Two

The eagerly awaited return of Heroes to BBC HD (Thursday April 24, 9pm and 10.30pm) leaves me with mixed feelings. Having resisted the urge to (illegally) download the truncated second season in less than full-HD glory, I’ve skimmed the reviews and it appears that it’s not been universally well received. Several posters on this blog suggest I ignore the reviews. Hmmm. What’s a guy to do?

I guess the odd thing for me here is that the first season didn’t exactly bowl me over, so a sub-standard second season is hardly quickening the pulse. As a guy who spent most of his childhood thrilling at the output of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee et al, this was, on paper, a sure-fire dead-centre hit for Nialli, but in reality I found the first season full of exciting potential that was rarely delivered. Great must-watch-again-NOW! episodes could probably be counted on one hand. I found that storylines would take an age to progress as Kring threw simply too many characters at us and mixed up too many plot threads in each episode. It could have taken a leaf from Lost's book - focus on a handful of characters each week, not the whole cast.

Only when the storytelling simplified (Company Man ep. 17 and Five Years Gone ep.20 being the best examples) did Heroes, for me, become compulsive TV. Even as things headed towards the end of season climax I couldn’t help but feel it was not quite firing on all cylinders. Remember the big confrontation between Peter and Sylah that we experienced from the OTHER side of a closed door? I felt pretty cheated by that, and it was fairly typical of writing that fired things up then left me feeling strangely empty.

But that’s not to say season one didn’t have its moments, and I guess that’s what I’ll be tuning in for more next week. Remember seeing Nathan fly for the first time? Pretty cool. Sylah was revealed brilliantly as a villain with true menace. Hiro’s time travelling was always fun. And Christopher Ecclestone – has there ever been a better bit of blow-me-away acting in a TV series? Awesome.

So I’ll be there. I’ve resisted the downloads, I’ll ignore the reviews and will absorb the whole of season two in luscious HD for the next ten weeks or so. It may not be Battlestar Galactica, but it's still a pretty darn fun way to spend an evening. Save the Cheerleader…

April 17, 2008

BBC HD Sports coverage

Over in a thread on Digital Spy's V+ forum there's a response from the BBC regarding the recent poor PQ of the FA Cup Semi Final on BBC HD:

Thank you for contacting the BBC regarding the Match of the Day Live broadcast of West Bromwich Albion v Portsmouth on Saturday 5 April.

We acknowledge that the pictures that were broadcast during this match were not up to the high standard expected from BBC HD.

Currently, we believe this was due to a connectivity issue between some of our cameras and the vision mixer. However we are continuing to investigate the issue with our Outside Broadcast supplier to ensure we fully understand the cause of the problem and to make sure it does not happen again.

We assure you that broadcasting the highest quality images on BBC HD is of the utmost importance to us and we wish to apologise for any inconvenience or disappointment the quality at this time may have caused.

What's disappointing, particularly for us VM customers with so little HD sport, is that it's not the first time - in fact, I'm struggling to recall BBC HD football coverage that hasn't had technical problems resulting in sub-standard PQ, and that's before the debacle over whether they were going to screen the England v Switzerland game in HD.

Technology's a bugger and often if it can go wrong it will go wrong, but Sky seem to have HD cracked and the BBC had no problems with its Six Nations and US Masters coverage. The FA Cup Final in a few weeks and Euro 2008 are all lined up for BBC HD: let's hope they get it right then. At the moment, Sky Sports' Premiership coverage looks better in upscaled SD than the Beeb's in HD - that can't be right.

BBC HD is still a scheduling hotchpotch of repeats with a smattering of new content each week. Summer sport is just about the only sport on BBC looking ahead - let's hope they get it spot on for Wimbledon, Euro 2008, the British Open and the like.

April 14, 2008

Heroes Season Two on BBC HD

Heroes returns to BBC HD on Thursday, April 24th at 9pm and a second episode at 10.30. The second season got what are best described as 'mixed' reviews, but that won't stop me from tuning in to one of BBC HD's most eagerly awaited series of the spring.

April 10, 2008

FilmFlex HD

The HD fayre on Filmflex looks like it's picking up: over on his excellent Inside Virgin blog, Virgin1 reports that in addition to Pulp Fiction (now available), Eastern Promises and Armageddon in HD. Presumably with the same bizarre pricing structure we currently "enjoy". More at Inside Virgin

HBO HD On Demand

I noticed this morning that the fifth episodes have been added to the HD On Demand series of Band of Brothers and Sopranos (season 5). If Virgin keep this up (adding an episode or two each week without removing earlier ones) it's something of a milestone achievement. Fingers' crossed.

April 09, 2008

iPlayer on Virgin - official announcement

The following is from the Virgin Media site:

BBC iPlayer is coming to Virgin TV

Missed your favourite BBC show? Well not for much longer as we're launching BBC iPlayer on Virgin TV.

What is BBC iPlayer?
BBC iPlayer is a catch up service of the last 7 days of the best BBC TV shows.

How can I watch BBC iPlayer on Virgin TV
BBC iPlayer will be part of Catch Up TV on demand soon but in the meantime we're giving Virgin TV customers a sneaky peek. So, from May you can tune to any BBC TV channel and press the red button on your Virgin Media remote to watch the best BBC programmes from the last 7 days.

How many hours of shows will there be?
You can choose from over 250 hours of BBC TV, selected and saved from the last 7 days; that's all the big hits and highlights from the last week's programming – from The Apprentice to Mad Men – ready to watch whenever you want them.

When will BBC iPlayer be in Catch Up TV on demand?
It will be in Catch Up TV on demand soon after it launches through the red button on the BBC TV channels. We'll keep you posted, so watch this space.

Use this early access through your red button to make yourself at home with the service and find out just how fantastic BBC iPlayer is. And don't forget, when BBC iPlayer launches in Catch Up TV on demand it will still be available through the red button on the BBC TV channels.

What will happen to the BBC shows that are in Catch Up TV on demand now?
There's about 50 hours of BBC shows in Catch Up TV on demand right now. When iPlayer launches in Catch Up TV on demand the BBC folder will be renamed BBC iPlayer and instead of having 50 hours of BBC shows to watch there will be over 250 hours!

Freeview HD - DTG

A few posts ago I reported that things were hotting up on the Freeview HD front. In fact, several of the London evening papers went as far as to make the news the front page lead that evening - mis-reporting what is currently only a proposal with a long way to travel. Now that the hype has started to calm down, a more realistic timescale is emerging. The following is from The Register, and refers to comments made by the influential Digital TV Group (DTG).

[Reminder: The OFCOM proposal is that the BBC vacate Freeview multiplex B so that equipment can be upgraded to handle the upcoming DVB-T2 broadcast standard (still subject to Department for Culture, Media and Sport approval).]

"The DTG says that ..."everyone involved in the upgrade should be wary that DVB-T2 isn't even a standard on paper yet. These things always take a lot longer than people think, especially when it comes to a new technology like this, we don't think it's likely HD will be on air before 2010 or 2011.

"It took from 1995 to 1998 for the DVB-T standard to be finalised and we've had errors before. The first generation of Freeview set-top boxes didn't work very well at all."


"The DTG argues that the four channel plan should only serve as a stop-gap before a full scale terrestrial HD deployment. It says more spectrum will be needed if Freeview is to continue to compete with the multiplicity of HD services on offer from satellite and cable. The digital TV industry's past is littered with the corpses of services that had a low number of channels and were rejected by consumers, such as ONDigital and BSB. "

Interesting stuff. I guess most of us have Freeview in our houses somewhere (we've got three tuners in TVs and recorders) but HD will need additional boxes. The longer time scales make it more likely that VM will have its HD house in order long before Freeview HD is widely available. The advent of FreeSat is more imminent - details of that should emerge in the next month or two, assuming it's announced launch in the first half of this year is still on track.

April 08, 2008

Re-format your V+ disc

Just a quick one:
If you've got some rogue recordings that keep appearing no matter how many times you delete them on the V+, the only way to remove them is to reformat the V+'s hard disk. It's not something to do casually as ALL programmes recorded will vanish forever, but if you may consider it worthwhile. Here's how you do it:
  1. All operations are carried out using the Remote Control
  2. Press the 'HOME' Button
  3. Press down the Play button for 5 seconds (E-00 Will appear on the V+ box front display)
  4. Press the V+ Button. (E-01 Will appear on the V+ front display)
  5. Press the CH - button 4 times. (As you do this hdd1, hdd2, hdd3 and then hdd4 will appear on the display)
  6. Reformatting will then begin and rFt will appear on the display and it'll take a few minutes and then the box will reboot.
  7. After reformatting leave the box for about 10 minutes before re-inputting series links to allow the EPG to fully load.
(The bug that causes this was supposed to be fixed in the last code drop, but my V+ has half a dozen programmes recorded in the last month that are refusing to disappear.)

April 03, 2008

BBC HD for the next seven days...loadsatorchwood!

It's been a while, but here's some of the programming on BBC HD in the next week that caught my eye:
Friday: penultimate episode of Damages. Final episode of Torchwood.
Saturday: football – no, really! FA Cup semi between Portsmouth and West Brom, kicking off at noon. Afternoon with the kids series Dinosapien. Repeats in the evening except for I’ll Do Anything (rather than watch that tosh…)
Sunday: drama special Casualty 1907 followed by an hour Tony Blair. Great use of HD, BBC...
Monday: Delia, Gavin and Stacey (interesting combo) and repeats, leading up to the season finale of Damages. Incidentally, early kick offs this week for the school hols and some kids programming before the usual 8pm stuff.
Tuesday: repeats surround the latest from Hotel Babylon.
Wednesday: Dan Cruickshank on Architecture in HD and yet another repeat of the last Torchwood episode. Three showings in five days!
Thursday: NO TORCHWOOD! And for those sartorially challenged, three hours of coverage of the first major of the year as the US Masters kicks off.

Incidentally, the last poll suggests that most of you have seen little improvement with BBC HD since it lost its "trial" status late last year and I'm inclined to agree. Aside from a burst of activity over Easter, it's still swamped with too many repeats, especially of the music shows, and there are too many top BBC programmes missing from the schedules. A few more films wouldn't go amiss either. Still, to my mind a better offering for HD than the C4 simulcast, rumoured to be on the platform soon (but don't hold your breath).

HBO HD arrives in TV Choice On Demand

Albeit slowly. The following has appeared in some regions this morning:
Band of Brothers episodes 1-4
Bill Maher: The Decider
The Sopranos (S5) episodes 1-4
Check the new HBO HD folder or the High Definition folder in TV Choice on Demand

April 01, 2008

New Inside Virgin blog worth checking out

Catching up on my email before going to bed (bloody jet lag) and Virgin1's launched a great blog which you can find here. Nice work mate - I've added a permanent link to the site in the right hand column of this blog, too.

Nialli's back!

Sorry about the lack of activity for the last ten days or so - been on holiday to Miami with the family but back now.
In the next few days I'll write up my great 10 days of living with HD in the US (our hotel room was blessed with a 42in LG LCD and a dozen HD channels courtesy of DirecTV) - I've probably watched more HD in the last fortnight than my family would have liked, but I do it for you guys!
Stay tuned...just got to unpack and there'll be a number of posts on the good, bad and ugly of US HD services.