September 28, 2008

Heroes Season 3 episode 1 - update

Pleased to report that the HD listing for the Sunday evening repeat of Heroes next weekend is now listed by the BBC as being the first episode ('The Second Coming') rather than ... er ... the second.
So just so everyone's clear...on BBC HD they're showing the second episode on Weds. at 10pm, but if you want to watch the first episode in glorious HD too you have to wait until the 11.55pm showing on Sunday. Confirmation here.
Why they don't just show episode 1 at 10pm on Wednesday and episode 2 at 10.45pm (instead of a Mitchell & Webb repeat and the ubiquitous Later...) is beyond me...

September 26, 2008

The evenings are drawing in...

Ah, the weekend beckons, and for those fancying a snuggle in front of their new high def telly on Saturday night it's a predictable line up on Virgin Media HD (aka BBC HD) I'm afraid.
Brucie and Strictly Come Dancing at 6.45pm, followed by a repeat from the second season of Torchwood and six episodes from Gavin & Stacey's second season. Much as I love G&S, yet another repeat (and missing the final episode, too) seems excessive even by BBC HD's standards.
Sunday isn't much better, although Tess of the D'Urbervilles continues at 9pm and Antique Roadshow breaks up an otherwise repeat-ful day's viewing.
Nothing new from Filmflex on the HD front either, and I haven't seen anything of note in the TV Choice On Demand selection for months. Please don't shoot the messenger...

September 25, 2008

BBC HD scheduling

Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler has posted another entry on her informative blog, this time about how some scheduling decisions are made. Read it in full here.

September 24, 2008

2008 Prediction Update

Back in January I stuck my neck out and made ten predictions about Virgin Media and high definition services. Nine months on and some of those predictions have come true, some are wide of the mark, and one or two look even less likely today than they did when I made them. Over to George Dawes for the scores on the doors...
1 Channel 4 HD finally makes an appearance on cable
Hmmmm. I thought it may be the Spring, but we'll be lucky to get anything this side of Christmas now. Once the C4 play out services move from Sky to RedBee Media there may be a change, but I'm not holding my breath and I don't suggest you hold yours. What's also disappointing is that C4 has little more HD content than it did at launch last year.
2 ITV HD not on Virgin Media at launch
Bingo! But I was surprised as anyone that it didn't appear on Sky. Still a Freesat exclusive, although not really a "channel" as yet.
3 VOD HD grows in fits and spurts
Filmflex has grown, but TV Choice On Demand has actually reduced, now just a handful of HBO documentaries, some stuff from the History Channel and seasons of The Sopranos that are removed before you're half way through them. No word on Lost season 4 nor any of the promised Sky series in either High Def or SD.
4 BBC HD expands, but "events" take precedent over regular programming
Still too many repeats, but the coverage of the Olympics, Euro 2008 and Wimbledon was memorable.
5 HD remains a niche product
I don't think anyone would see it otherwise. Sky's HD growth has slowed and they've cut prices to attract more, but it's still around just 5% of their subscriber base. Heavily marketed and now with over 20 channels it's pretty good value at £10 a month, but it's still struggling to become mass market. Only a matter of time, but it's not quite the TV revolution perhaps anticipated by the home cinema press.
6 Sky HD will be impacted by FreeSat
Too early to tell. Once the Freesat+ boxes ship it'll be interesting.
7 Sky One and the basics return
8 OFCOM report hits Sky...and Virgin
No report as yet. Relations between Sky and OFCOM took a turn for the worse though with the Picnic sniping.
9 Tiscali TV and BT Vision struggle IP TV fails to make the grade
Neither has set the world alight and the former's rumoured to be struggling to find a buyer. BT Vision has made some inroads. Mind you, BBC iPlayer proves that web TV access can be successful, especially the streaming version.
10 Blu-Ray will become the new DVD HD standard
Well, I called that one right at least!

September 22, 2008

Berkett on...

Virgin Media Chief Executive Neil Berkett's webcast at Goldman Sachs on Wednesday proved consistent with previous statements on Virgin's strategy with TV, but was a tad more enlightening as it specifically mentioned HD, albeit briefly. (My thanks to Cable Forum poster Horizon for the following summary of the salient points from the presentation.)
Berkett said he did want to make HD a priority went its right to do so, but that would still mainly appear in the form of VOD rather than linear channels. He did admit HD is better. Other headlines from the webcast:
VM will launch mobile broadband by the end of the year. Expect to see fixed line/mobile bundles soon both for voice and broadband packages.
Lots of hints that all broadband speeds could be upgraded in the future. Berkett wants VM to have "clear water" between VM and DSL competitors in this market. Which is why he has given priority to broadband and VOD, rather than HD.
50mb on course to launch by the end of the year and hints of upgrades to upload speeds in the future, once DOCSIS 3 and its bonding of channels is rolled out. But this product will never be anything near 50/50 speeds both ways.
VM has no intention of going after illegal downloaders for the reason there is no law to say they should. VM prefers to work with people like the music industry, but he made it clear that it's the owners of intellectual property (ie music companies) who should protect their property, not VM. Berkett said that VM would like to offer its own music service, but no details were given.
No agreement with Sky on getting the basic channels back. Berkett made it clear he would prefer to avoid litigation, but for the court case to be dropped there needs to be a deal done first on good economic terms for VM. Berkett made clear that this issue is tied into the wider issues with Sky that Ofcom are investigating and the issues surrounding pricing of premium channels too. Berkett made clear he could have the Sky channels back now if he wished, but the price isn't right.

September 21, 2008

Heroes' Return...October 1 (updated)

The third season of Heroes kicks off on BBC2 on Wednesday, October 1st at 9pm. At the time of writing the Radio Times website is listing only the second episode of season three being on BBC HD (simulcast at 10pm with BBC3) - the 9pm slot is the new series of Silent Witness.
A somewhat corny trailer for Sylar's return can be found here

September 19, 2008

BBC HD this weekend

Although I'm not a fan myself there's no doubt that Strictly Come Dancing is one of those programmes that looks great in high definition, if only because it can look so poor in standard definition. BBC1 in standard def really struggles with the flashing lights and fast images, whereas in HD they look great. Throw in the sequins n wrinkles and the intrigue of Bruce's "hair" and you have something of a visual feast! 6.10pm on Saturday night.
Disappointing but not surprising is the absence of the evening's new BBC centrepiece Merlin from the HD schedules. Apparently the Beeb isn't geared up for HD special effects (Doctor Who similarly suffers) so it's just available on BBC1. I was intererested until I saw the talking dragon...
On Sunday we have two episodes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles; a repeat of the opening episode at 5.30pm then the second episode at 9pm. Last week's looked great in HD and hopefully things will move a little faster plot-wise this time around. And, yes, Gemma looks gorgeous in HD.
Unfortunately next week on the channel has little worth commenting upon; repeats aplenty and just a handful of new programming; the intriguing Amazon, entertaining Mutual Friends and unintentionally hilarious Tudors.

September 17, 2008

Could this be the Samsung V+?

Pure speculation, granted, but I've found this on the Samsung site whilst looking for a cable PVR picture. You may recall that Virgin earlier this year mentioned a new V+ box being available in the second half of 2008, initially thought to be another Scientific Atlanta box (like the current V+) but later confirmed as a new Samsung machine.
This is the cable PVR on Samsung's international site; 160gb drive and just two tuners, but with both Mpeg2 and Mpeg4. More details here. If this was the release spec (which I doubt) that's a more HD capable box that would probably benefit from a bigger disc. It's a nicer looking box to my eye, looking more like a regular domestic piece of kit than the somewhat space age and plasticky design of the current V+.
Then again, it could be a completely different Samsung box or it could even be that the Samsung V+ never makes it to Virgin customers as it's still in the labs at VM and there've been no official announcements.

September 16, 2008

A selection of HD movies for a penny next month

FilmFlex are expanding their "1p movie" deal this autumn with a number of HD offerings. P.S. I Love You is available for a week from October 3rd for a penny; National Treasure: Book Of Secrets follows from October 10th along with The Cottage and then Be Kind Rewind is a £0.01 during the week commencing October 17th. Finally, a real treat with There Will Be Blood costing one of her majesty's finest pennies from the 24th. More details and trailers can be found here.

September 15, 2008

New this week on BBC HD

BBC HD's Paralympics 2008 coverage has been kicking off earlier than originally scheduled and is pretty much through the day most days. Check the daily BBC HD updates for details.
Amazon with Bruce Parry
starts on Monday 15th September at 9pm. The Radio Times billing says:
Bruce Parry begins an epic adventure in the Amazon following the river from source to sea. The first part of his journey takes him from the source in the High Andes through Peru's dangerous cocaine producing valleys to visit the Ashaninka tribe.
And on Thursday 18th September at 10pm Horizon goes HD, with a programme asking some of the biggest names in science to have a quiet word with the new President, be it Obama or McCain.

September 14, 2008

Additional TV bandwidth speculation

Virgin are possibly* testing additional bandwidth for 30 possible new channels according to this thread on Cable Forum (also referred to in other threads on the site). More +1 channels? Or could it be an HD addition or two??

*Let's not get carried away just yet...

September 13, 2008

Petition for more HD content update

I sent an updated version of the petition to Virgin Media as it has now passed 1300 signatures (thanks everyone). Within a few hours, I got the following response:

First of all, thank you for your considerable efforts in collecting and passing on this feedback. It is very clear.
We do understand that we need to improve our HD offer, both on VOD and HD channels, and are working to achieve this. I also take your point that the grouping can be improved, and again we are working towards this. As soon as we are able to make an announcement on specifics, I will make sure that we contact you personally on this e-mail, and seek your feedback.
In the meantime, as a valued premium customer, I hope you have noticed that this year we have invested heavily in upgrading our broadband access speeds, shortly to 50Mb, and made significant additions to our SD VOD offer, such as BBC iPlayer, which are proving very popular. I hope you also enjoyed the England football qualifiers on Setanta within XL. In short, we are continually looking for ways to improve the offer, and I can only apologise if we have fallen short on HD to date. We will review all 1300 comments carefully over the weekend.
Best regards
Andrew Barron

Much better response from Virgin this time (thanks, Mr Barron, for taking the petition seriously) - what do you guys think?

September 12, 2008

No Strictly Come Dancing in HD this weekend ...

...but it will be on as a live simulcast next weekend.
I guess the schedule overlap with the final of Maestro and the Last Night of the Proms was too much for BBC HD 's schedule.

Tess in high def

The Beeb's new adaptation of the Thomas Hardy classic kicks off on Sunday, September 14th at 9pm. Starring Gemma Arterton (who's also in Lost in Austen), this should make those dark September Sunday evenings a little more palatable. The picture btw is of Ms Arterton with Daniel Craig in the new Bond film - not in Tess!

September 10, 2008

Interesting site on Freeview and Freesat

Freeview and Freesat stories aplenty on this site. My eye was caught by the rumour around Sky trying to quash Freesat at birth by nobbling satellite installers - I have no idea if it's true, but the conspiracy theorist in me loves stuff like this! I've added the site to the Links at the foot of the blog's homepage for future reference.

Those awaiting a Freesat PVR may want to check out the Trusted Reviews piece here, which includes headline specs for the Humax Freesat+ box.

September 09, 2008

Pushing Daisies in HD please!

I missed it when it was shown on ITV1 earlier this year, but I stumbled upon the utterly, utterly charming Pushing Daisies in TV Choice on Demand at the weekend. There are only four episodes (of nine) available so far, but they're an absolute treat.
If ever a series was to benefit from being shown in high definition, this is it. They were shot in HD, but Virgin only has them in SD and the rendering often struggles with the detail of the sumptuous Barry Sonnenfield cinematography (the opening field of yellow flowers being a good example of SD just not being up to it - artefacts everywhere).
So come on Virgin - give it to us in HD. Pretty please?

September 08, 2008

New to Filmflex HD

Four new quality additions to Filmflex HD from Friday, Sept 12:
I'm Not There Well-received Bob Dylan biopic - the other film starring Heath Ledger and Christian Bale but it's Cate Blanchett's Dylan that impresses most
Margot at the Wedding Nicole Kidman and Jack Black no less
The Spiderwick Chronicles Based on the children's bestseller
Things We Lost in the Fire Halle Berry, Benicio del Torro and David Duchovny
Click on the film titles for the IMDB details.

It looks like almost all of the bigger releases on Filmflex are being made available in HD these days, which is very good news. On the ones I've watched the quality has been excellent. It's only the pricing they need to do something about now.

September 05, 2008

BBC HD this weekend

Highlights on BBC HD this weekend:

2008 Paralympics Opening Ceremony
, Saturday, 12.30pm
Live coverage from the Bird's Nest Stadium of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

, Saturday, 10pm
Film - IMDB details here

Northern Lights
, Sunday 9pm
Not the Philip Pullman fantasy epic, but a documentary in which Joanna Lumley travels to Norway's Far North to pursue a lifelong dream of seeing the Northern Lights.

Blog redesign

Had a few complaints about the white on black template I've been using on the site. Let me know what you think of the new one. Oh, and enjoy the weekend!

September 04, 2008

Meanwhile, on BT Vision...

Okay, so it's hardly Sky HD or even Virgin Media HD, but IPTV service BT Vision (basically Freeview plus some On Demand content) has shown its HD intent with the introduction of an HD service of its own.
After a test earlier in the summer, BT Vision now has a few HD films available on demand. Hulk, Babe and The Other Boleyn Girl are available for £2.99, with more promised soon.
Hardly earth-shattering news I'll admit, but the price is less than the £4+ Filmflex charge and it shows some intent.
Not sure if the other major IP TV service from Tiscali offers any HD content - does anyone know? For my money IPTV is a non-starter over ADSL connections today, but in the medium term who knows? Virgin Media itself is conducting its own trials in Kent and Sky's On Demand service on the TV depends on it too.

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...