December 30, 2009
I didn't try any of the films showing on BBC HD, but two I caught on 4HD, Dick Tracy and Slither, looked spectacular. TheChristmas lineup on FX was useless, but ESPN HD was as sparkling as ever.
It's a great shame that ITV1HD wasn't on cable in time for Christmas as they've got more HD programming than C4 now. Let's hope we get that before the re-start of the Champions League in February.
December 29, 2009
Andy Quested, Principal Technologist, BBC Future Media & Technology: "We don't do the encoding for the Virgin platform. The signal from the playout and continuity area goes straight to an inject point somewhere in the bottom of Television Centre and (I assume) off to Virgin's distribution centre. The Virgin distributed HD signal MPEG2 at around 17Mbs and has been for sometime. In fact I believe there has only been one encoder change since the test channel launched. MPEG2 is a mature codec so updates (hard and soft) don't come along very often."
So the BBC HD picture we get hasn't had its bitrate cut like the channel has on either of the satellite platforms, which means the degradation we're seeing is down to other factors. Interesting.
Incidentally, anyone relying on the HD section on BBC iPlayer catch up this Christmas is going to be sorely disappointed: it's missing most of the main Christmas shows (Doctor Who, Cranford, Day of the Triffids, Outnumbered etc). They're there in standard def, but no HD.
December 28, 2009
Not the most illuminating read on the matter.
December 27, 2009
Also returning in January to BBC HD are Wallander (Jan 3) and Hustle (Jan 4) and showing every week night from Jan 4 is US series Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco from The Sopranos.
(Sorry to say I haven't got a date yet for the return of Mad Men.)
The advance schedules are showing BBC HD in the new year running from 4am to 1am each day btw.
December 25, 2009
The Picturebox movie selection is free to all VM customers over the Christmas weekend in standard definition, but not HD.
Starting on Christmas day there's more than 20 movies via Virgin Central (channel 118)
Oh, and a Happy Christmas to all regular visitors to this blog
December 24, 2009
When high definition television launched in 2006 it promised to deliver clear, crisp pictures with vivid colours and up to five times more detail than standard definition. Yet the BBC has recently changed it's specifications of HD transmission and viewers say that their picture has detriorated. The BBC denies this.
If you've experienced problems with the service we'd like to hear from.
You can call us on 0800 044 044 or email us via bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours.
December 23, 2009
And earlier today I caught up with 4HD's showing of Dick Tracy from earlier in the week. I hadn't seen this movie since it was first released and it looked incredible in HD - really came to life with its wonderfully vivid colour pallette and some cracking cinematography.
Which bodes well for the next few days, especially as I was prepared to be disappointed with BBC HD over the next few days after the last few months of so-so PQ. I'm now looking forward to the second Cranford, the big Doctor Who double bill and the intriguing Day of the Triffids two-parter next week. The films on BBC HD may be mainly family fayre this season, but this is the channel's best line up for Christmas yet.
It's a shame 4HD's schedule is so lacklustre and FX HD seems to have lost the plot completely by lining up hours and hours of TV animation.
December 16, 2009
December 14, 2009
December 12, 2009
I'm a massive fan of the BBC - the vast majority of viewing in my house is BBC - but Ms Nagler has been responsible for a serious deterioration in picture quality standards on BBC HD. I find it sad that the BBC HD management's response to the unanimous public concensus that the picture quality has dropped has been to stick its collective heads in the sand and deny there's a problem. They do not answer the simplest of questions and hide behind scientific tests whilst denying what their own eyes must surely tell them. Shameful.
All a bit reminiscent of the appalling political mismanagement you see on The Thick of It, which I'll be watching tonight ... on BBC2. It all reminds me of "Tucker's Law" ...
* Delete as applicable
December 11, 2009
Mr Quested is normally very candid and the time he's taken in writing these (at times very technical) blogs is appreciated, but I'd still like to ask him if, all politics and spin aside, he cannot see that the picture we now have on the channel is inferior to that we enjoyed previous to the changes introduced in the summer. Frankly I don't care about the maths and physics behind the technical evaluations, all I know is what I see with my eyes - it is not as good as it was, and is now closer in sharpness and detail to standard def BBC1 than the HD channels from Nat Geo, C4, FX et al.
Is it bit rate? It has to be a factor and yet the BBC denies this. I don't know what bitrate the On Demand programming is alocated on Virgin but a number of folk have emailed me saying they think it's better to watch programmes on demand now than live or record them. Haven't noticed it myself (BBC HD On Demand being somewhat hit or miss about what it stores still I don't rely on it) but I can say that I currently regard BBC HD as a bit of a waste of my V+ disc at the moment and I'm watching all my BBC viewing on the SD channels.
The debate doesn't appear to be going anywhere - the BBC management are so entrenched they're not going to suddenly admit they were wrong, and the channel's going to the dogs. A real shame. A real setback for high definition TV in the UK.
December 10, 2009
December 09, 2009
Sun Dec 20: Miracle on 34th Street (1994 version)
Mon Dec 21: Aquamarine; Le Divorce
Tue Dec 22:Rugrats Go Wild; Dick Tracy; Tristan + Isolde
Thu Dec 24: The Nativity Story; 3 Men and a Baby; Slither
Fri Dec 25: Honey I Blew Up The Kids
Sat Dec 26: Aeon Flux
Sun Dec 27: Crocodile Dundee II
Mon Dec 28: Anna and the King
Tue Dec 29: Dreamer; And When Did You Last See Your Father
Fri Dec 31: Romancing The Stone
Sat Jan 1: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
In fact, looking through the C4 listings there's precious little actual genuine HD this year unless you fancy hours of Come Dine With Me or Ugly Betty. I think there was a better selection last year - so much for the channel's commitment to high def.
December 07, 2009
December 06, 2009
We'll be showing not just the final (two) appearances of David Tennant's Doctor Who (on Christmas and New Year's Day), but also specially made outings from The Royle Family, Gavin and Stacey, Catherine Tate, Cranford, and Victoria Wood. The week between Christmas and New Year will also see broadcasts of a remake of Day of the Triffids, The Turn of the Screw, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet with David Tennant in the title role.
Christmas Eve will showcase music - we're showing South Pacific (the 1958 film of the musical), The Tsarina's Slippers (ballet from the Royal Opera House), and Carols from Kings. New Year's Eve will see what has become a regular date with Jools Holland's Hootenanny, and we're also using that day to show again the BBC Prom featuring the music of MGM.
We know that many of you value watching films in HD. I can reassure you that a lot of the films that the BBC is showing over Christmas will be on the channel. Please enjoy The Incredibles (on Christmas Day, following on from the Queen's Speech), Herbie: Fully Loaded, Flushed Away, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (on Boxing Day), and 101 Dalmatians, Miss Potter, Chicken Run, Mary Poppins, the Wallace and Gromit films, at various other points.
My own personal treats to look forrward to over the period include the animation of Julia Donaldson's beautiful children's classic The Gruffalo (on Christmas Day afternoon), and Top Gear's trip to Bolivia showing on 27th December.
December 04, 2009
Also, Carnivale season one is back in the HD On Demand listings. I thought the first season was great ... the second season's a bit of a disappointment mind. It looks like the same HBO and History series are in heavy rotation in HD, which is not quite as galling now that we have more HD channels but it would be good to have something new every once in a while.
Meanwhile, the iPlayer's HD selection these days seems to have a lot of kids stuff but for some reason is missing the (marginally) more adult Paradox. Odd.
As regular readers of this blog are all too aware, there's been a lot of criticism both here and elsewhere of the picture quality on the channel since the bit-rate and encoder changes in August. Mr Quested has been mostly silent on the matter, but his long-promised blog posts are now to appear daily as he presents his Hitchhiker's Guide to Encoding that will hopefully answer a number of questions. Here's what he has on the menu - links will be added as the posts appear.
Friday: Opening and audio issues
Monday: HD encoder history
Tuesday: The EBU
Wednesday: PSNR and all that
Thursday: New encoder evaluation
Friday: Programme styles and closing thoughts
There's less good news for fans of FlashForward though (not in HD on Five of course) - the second half of season one has been delayed until mid-March 2010. I thought this series was a poor man's Lost, until I sumbled over the so-bad-it's-good Paradox on BBC HD last week - suddenly FlashForward doesn't seem quite so bad!
Incidentally, Lost is back on Sky1 early February. Season 8 of 24 returns Jan 24 on Sky1, and the sixth seasons of Grey's Anatomy and Nip/Tuck will be appearing in HD on Living and FX in January too.
December 03, 2009
December 02, 2009
Tech Radar coverage
Digital Spy story
(Watched my recording of Life on BBC HD last night and was pleasantly surprised - very good picture indeed. Are they tweaking things? Or was it just that underwater photography always looks amazing in HD regardless of the bitrate/encoders?)
December 01, 2009
"I don't think that regular punters really recognise a recognisable dip. And as Danielle said, it's down to the particular programmes that you are watching and how it is optimised for different types of programmes. On satellite, it's a pretty high picture quality.So they're now happy with "pretty high picture quality" - maybe they should call it BBC PHD ("Pretty High Definition"). Strewth... it really is the blind leading the blind...
"Ultimately, it's about the overall effect of HD, whether it's the surround sound you get with it or how they have shot it. And I think they are right to be experimenting with it to see which things work out. I just don't think it's an issue, I really don't.
"But it's a very subjective decision, a subjective judgement. . . we have no complaints about the picture quality of BBC HD."
November 27, 2009
November 26, 2009
Before your excitement reaches fever pitch though check out this more sobering post on Broadband TV News, which says
Virgin Media currently runs the SeaChange International-owned TV Navigator (the former Liberate) middleware across its technology footprint. It is expected that TV Navigator will continue to be used on SD receivers following the extension of its contract through until at least 2011. Broadband TV News understands that TiVo is likely to be used on a dedicated receiver model, TV Navigator continuing on current and future deployments of the standard and V+ (DVR) receivers.
November 25, 2009
Under the mutually exclusive agreement, TiVo will develop a converged television and broadband interactive interface to power Virgin Media's next generation, high definition set top boxes.
TiVo will become the exclusive provider of middleware and user interface software for Virgin Media's next generation set top boxes. Virgin Media will become the exclusive distributor of TiVo services and technology in the United Kingdom.
Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media said, "TiVo's proven track record of innovation, strength of its patented technology and experience in developing best in class user environments, make it an ideal strategic partner for Virgin Media as we move aggressively to bring our next generation TV service to market. The superiority of our fibre optic network combined with TiVo's capabilities, will allow us to offer consumers the most significantly advanced and compelling TV service available in the UK, and we believe will do to the TV market what Virgin Media has done to the high speed broadband market."
The next generation platform will offer a superior television viewing experience which will allow Virgin Media customers to search and discover content through major advances in video-on-demand integration and broadband video delivery creating the ultimate one-stop-shop for in-home entertainment.
Virgin Media currently anticipates its first TiVo co-branded product in 2010.
(Thanks to Tank and Nick for the info)
November 23, 2009
November 20, 2009
It's not available in the UK yet and it's not actually as generous a deal as it first appears: for each disc it's actually $7.95 (around a fiver) and the postage is another couple of quid unless you send them 25 or more. Still, not a bad initiative.
November 19, 2009
From the creator of The Wire, Generation Kill follows a battalion of elite US Marines through ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ – the first 40 days of the Iraq war. It’s based on the book of the same name by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, about his own experiences of being embedded with the Marines in Iraq in 2003. The seven-part miniseries portrays the true story of the young Marines’ experience at the tip of the spear of the American invasion, as they contend with equipment shortages, an unclear strategy, moustache protocol and an espresso machine fire.
November 17, 2009
Reading through the comments on Danielle Nagler's recent blog post it appears that everyone's favourite HD techie Andy Quested is back and investigating the matter. Not before time, as the poll on this blog showed that 83% of respondents felt the picture on BBC HD had deteriorated of late, which is pretty damning in the face of the denials from Auntie.
November 13, 2009
November 12, 2009
- BBC HD on Sunday at 7pm: Doctor Who
- BBC HD on Sunday at 9pm: Top Gear
- 4HD on Sunday at 9pm: Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers
- 4HD on Sunday at 11.35pm: Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima
No Wild Russia on Nat Geo HD this weekend - that series has finished. All six episodes though are apparently showing back to back on Christmas Day.
November 10, 2009
London has already joined Granada in getting Freeview HD this year, and Glasgow and Edinburgh (Black Hill), Durham and Teeside (Pontop Pike), Birmingham (Lichfield), and south Yorkshire (Emley Moor) were all scheduled for the first half of 2010. West and Central Wales (Blaenplwyf transmitter), Swansea (Kilvey Hall), Cardiff and Newport (Wenvoe) and around the Winter Hill relays will all be up and running by March. In April, Carmarthenshire (Carmel), Exeter and parts of Devon (Stockland Hill), Bristol, Somerset, Dorset Wiltshire and Gloucestershire (Mendip).
May sees Shetland (Bressay) and Orkney (Keelylang Hill) join the Freeview HD party and June brings North Wales (Long Mountain, Moel-y-parc, Presely), Caithness and North Sutherland (Rumster Forest).
Given the current picture quality issues I think that's the least of BBC HD's problems at the moment - no-one's going to bother with the HD channel at all whilst stuff looks just as good on the SD channels...
November 09, 2009
"If it's not crisp and sharp it's not necessarily a bad HD picture"? Really??
I'm not convinced by what she says regarding the current picture quality issue on the channel - my eyes tell me the channel has lost its ability to stun the optic nerves, but she thinks otherwise. Whilst it may not all be down to bitrates there is something wrong, and even if Ms Nagler cannot see it I'm sure others at the Corporation can.
What do you think? A quick poll is to the right.
November 06, 2009
According to Digital Spy, Virgin are demo-ing 3D TV to the great unwashed today (Friday) at the new Oxford Street store. Details here.
(I know it's not HD and I think in future I'll be keeping this blog just to HD posts from hereon rather than general Virgin news - I just haven't got the time to be honest and other sites cover this in sufficient detail now.)
November 03, 2009
Virgin TV M+ is £11.50 a month
Virgin TV L is £16 a month
Virgin TV XL is £27.50 a month
November 01, 2009
- Barton Fink
- Bourne Identity
- Bourne Supremacy
- Bourne Ultimatum
- Children of Men
- The Funhouse
- House Calls
- Knocked Up
- Let's Go To Prison
- The Long Run
- Lust, Caution
- Prince of Darkness
- The Serpent and the Rainbow
- Seesion 9
- Sometimes a Great Notion
- Very Bad Things
October 31, 2009
"Picture quality: I know this is a big concern for some of you, and honestly, I don't need lots of complaints to start to worry about this. I'll defend to the hilt a programme like Criminal Justice, which I think looked fantastic, though others are entirely within their rights to dismiss the "film look" that it went for. But of course I want to make sure that we keep up the standards of the HD offer from the BBC, and I want to make sure, through looking at both technical and audience filters (pardon the pun), that we are in good shape.I can assure Danielle that there definitely is a problem: there is a significant difference in picture quality between her channel and the other HD channels such as National Geographic or FX. There's actually less difference between BBC1 and BBC HD - that cannot be right.
"I've launched some further work around this - not because I believe there is a problem, but because I want to make sure there is not - and together with Andy Quested I will of course bring you the outcomes of that work as soon as I can."
Full blog post here.
(Incidentally, I recorded Criminal Justice off BBC1 and thought the PQ there was pretty dull and muted - it's not something I would have held up as an obvious example of the problems with BBC HD at the moment as the source material wasn't ever going to be a good showcase. Life, however, should look stunning. And doesn't. I hope when they sort out the encoder/bitrate problem they re-broadcast it.)
October 30, 2009
To rub salt into the wound, I then watched a programme on the Claridges hotel on BBC4...and the PQ on that was vibrant and so much more alive...than Life in HD!
So what's going on? How come BBC HD, for so long the quality standard, has dipped so low of late?
Lower bit rates and new codecs at the BBC apparently, brought in for the launch of HD channels on Freeview which is of little comfort for customers of satellite and cable. Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler and top techie Andy Quested have posted extensively on the BBC's blog on the topic and have offered assurances that it's all okay, but I ain't convinced. Check out this thread from the BBC's own Blog: I'm not the only unhappy customer - there are over 800 comments on this post and they're still appearing daily.
Meanwhile - Sunday, National Geographic HD, 8pm. Wild Russia. You will not be disappointed...
October 29, 2009
Slide 8 is the main TV information, which details the following:
• Significant V+ DVR growth potential from current 21% penetration
• Content investments focused on HD
– Plan to launch more HD channels
• Only 110k analog TV customers remaining
– On-track for analog switch-off in digital areas, freeing up significant spectrum
I gave a listen to Mr Berkett's words that accompanied this presentation but they gave us little clue as to when we could expect additional channels of a more highly defined hue, except it appears to be next year rather than this.
Neil Berkett, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Media, said:
“I am pleased to report that this quarter’s results delivered a strong OCF performance. I believe this demonstrates the success we have had in significantly differentiating and monetizing our compelling consumer proposition. Our triple-play penetration is at record levels and over 10% of our customers now take all four services from us. Our focus remains on attracting high value customers, who buy more from us and stay with us longer. This strategy has led to the second successive quarter of record ARPU and strong consumer revenue growth. I am delighted that these results show we are progressing significantly in this regard.”
In plainer english, here's the (very positive) Digital Spy interpretation of the numbers.
"Virgin Media beat analysts' forecasts for the third quarter, adding 8,100 net new cable TV households and boosting revenues by 1.3% to £953m.
"Overall, the company added 17,800 new customers in the third quarter.
"The cable operator reported a year-on-year increase in operating cash flow (OCF) – broadly equivalent to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) – of 6.8% to £348m for the quarter ended 30 September.
"Average revenue per user rose 5.3% to a record £44.24, almost a pound per user ahead of average analysts' forecasts."
October 24, 2009
Earlier in the summer we had the additional HD channels which, let's be honest, surpassed most's expectations - not just 4HD, but also Nat Geo, MTVN, FX, ESPN and Living, all for nowt if you're on the XL package. This time around I'd hope for more HD (ITV1, Sci Fi, Discovery, History?) but I think chances are it'll be back to something more about 50mb broadband, maybe making that the standard for VIP customers rather than the current 20mb. Or maybe he'll just pacify the financiers with more details of the accounting wizardry and London listing of VM.
Anyone know anything definite?
October 21, 2009
I'm not sure how they relate to cable bitrates (if at all) but here are the VM channels' rates on satellite (it's a dynamic table and will changed from one day to the next, so see these as indicative):
- BBC HD 9726
- C4 HD 9512
- ESPN HD 16517
- MTVN HD 14314
- Nat Geo HD 9160
Having watched Life on BBC HD last week and being distinctly underwhelmed I think the dropping of the bitrate does have a noticable affect (despite claims to the contrary from the Beeb team on their blog). What do you guys thinks? Do any Sky HD customers find the quality variable from channel to channel?
October 18, 2009
October 16, 2009
I think the key questions on the questionnaire related to willingness to pay £3-£5 for extra bundles of channels, so I've set up four polls on the right relating to the following bundles of channels.
Crime and Investgation HD
National Geo Wild HD
Good Food HD
Sky 1 HD
Sky Arts 1 HD
Sky Arts 2 HD
Sky Real lives HD
Sky Sports HD
Sky Sports 1 HD
Sky Sports 2 HD
Sky Sports 3 HD
Sky Movies HD
Sky Movies Premiere, Family, etc
October 15, 2009
October 13, 2009
Sundays, 8pm, channel 232.
Another attempt to block those households with pirate cable boxes.
UPDATE: Official confirmation on the Virgin site that new smart cards are on their way: http://allyours.virginmedia.com/html/help/smartcard/
October 10, 2009
4HD - 7.30pm Film: Oliver Twist (the 2005 Polanski version with Ben Kingsley)
BBC HD - 9.15pm Emma (repeat of last sunday's first bonnet-laden episode)
4HD - 6.30pm Okay, so it's not shot in HD, but Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour is my favourite show of the autumn and it looks fabulous with the wider bandwidth on the HD channel. This is a repeat of the first episode - the final episode is on Sunday at 9pm.
4HD - 10pm Film: House of Flying Daggers (visually stunning in SD - be prepared for serious eye burning in high def)
Living HD - lots of episodes of Ghost Whisperer and an episode from the first season of CSI in HD
FX HD - new HBO comedy Eastbound and Down debuts at 10pm with two episodes, and there's a repeat of the first episode of Life on Mars USA at 9pm (which didn't push my buttons)
Nat Geo HD - 8pm Wild Russia is pretty stunning if you haven't spotted that on the schedules yet, and Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections at 9pm is pretty good too.
October 08, 2009
Virgin Media will trial delivering its TV and broadband services via copper phone lines as part of plans to expand its footprint beyond the cable network laid in the 1990s.
The firm will run a small trial in Cornwall this winter.
Residents of Higher Pill, in Saltash, and nearby Hatt will be offered free broadband at up to 50Mbit/s downstream via a VDSL2+ line to a roadside cabinet. The cabinets will be linked to Virgin Media backhaul via new fibre laid by Vtesse Networks.
As well as broadband, Virgin Media plans to offer its full range of TV services, including high definition and on demand, over the new infrastructure.
October 06, 2009
October 05, 2009
- The rather marvelous run of ESPN HD premiership games continue tonight with a potential cracker: Man City v Villa, kicking off at 8pm
- Living HD kicks off at 7am tomorrow morning (Tuesday 6th) and its first day's programming includes episodes of Charmed, Ghost Whisperer and CSI
- BBC HD showcases the second series of Criminal Justice every night this week at 9pm. That'll fill your V+ disc up in no time...
- 4HD has season one of True Blood from the beginning, kicking off on Wednesday for those who missed it on FX. After a so-so start it really picks up and is worth staying with. Word is that season two (just finished in the US) is outstanding.
October 04, 2009
Virgin and BT say that if Ofcom applied the new pricing rules, consumers could see prices drop for channels such as Sky Sports 1 by as much as 20 per cent.Here's what I think will happen next:
The argument rests on Ofcom's proposals to demand a wholesale "must-offer" price similar to that used in telecommunications. This would mean Sky dropping its prices to other providers.
"The proposed wholesale must-offer remedy would promote the emergence of a more balanced mix of pay TV platforms and retailers which will benefit consumers in terms of choice, price and innovation," the submission says.
"[It] will enable each platform to compete based on its different strengths, and products to be developed which appeal more closely to the preferences of different groups of customers. Those who do not want or cannot have a satellite dish will not need one. Those that do not wish to commit at the outset to a twelve months subscription but are willing to pay for some TV channels will be more readily able to do so."
The submission adds: "In a more competitive market, it is clear that further innovations would result. One example is the greater availability of HD [high-definition] services on platforms other than satellite and the development of an increased range of on-demand and interactive services by Sky's competiton. For the first time consumers will be able to enjoy genuinely interactive services by being able to participate actively in the TV experience."
1. Sky will make its own submission that will be as strongly worded as ever, complaining that the interfering watchdog is exceding its brief and is proposing to limit an appropriate commercial return on Sky's considerable investment in pay TV content
2. Ofcom will take until the new year to publish its final report, which will find in favour of BT and Virgin, against which Sky will immediately appeal. This delays any action until Cameron's new Tory government can dismiss any ruling as part of the promised Ofcom deconstruction that is apparently a priority for them (I'd personally have thought there were other things they should be sorting out, but what do I know?!)
3. After many months, a compromise is met between Sky and VM/BT when the latter threatens to take things to the EU; Sky drops the price by a nominal amount and makes some of its unique HD services more broadly available. Savings to customers are minimal but on all platforms.
4. Sky Sports, Sky Movies et al finally appear in HD on cable as a subscription offering, but the HD market has already been pretty much monopolised by the satellite service.
5. Longer term, ESPN secures half the Premiership football packages next time they are auctioned and customers find any savings secured on Sky Sports are lost paying for games on ESPN.
October 01, 2009
September 30, 2009
Virgin Media's network was suffering problems this morning with cable subscribers in south London and the South East cut off, and the firm's own website - including webmail - down.
Apparently this was due to power problems were at a former NTL site in Winnersh, Berkshire.As of lunchtime, Virgin Media said services should now be returning.
September 27, 2009
Incidentally, they are also showing the Sky channels' HD tags too, which must be an error in the feed Virgin uses.
(I also noticed the last edition of VM's Electric magazine listed certain Sky Movies as being available in HD, which of course they aren't - unless you're a Sky HD customer.)
September 25, 2009
As mentioned on this blog earlier this week, Virgin has now confirmed the launch of Living HD on October 6th. Listings for that day's programming are here, and the full press release is below.
Virgin Media today announced that LIVING will exclusively launch in High Definition (HD) on its TV platform from the 6th October.
LIVING, home to the Next Top Model franchise, cult phenomenon Most Haunted and the break out hit of the year Four Weddings, is one of the UK’s most watched digital TV channels and will now be available to viewers in HD for the first time. LIVING HD will show some of the channel’s high-profile acquisitions to maximum effect, including programmes such as Ghost Whisperer, Private Practice, Boston Legal, CSI Vegas and CSI Miami.
LIVING HD joins Virgin Media Television’s line-up of great entertainment channels, including LIVING, Virgin1, Bravo and Challenge, and will be simulcast on Virgin Media’s TV platform from Tuesday 6th October. LIVING HD will be available to Virgin Media’s XL TV tier subscribers at no extra charge.
Mark Schweitzer, chief commercial officer at Virgin Media, said: “Our customers watch LIVING more than any other digital TV channel, so I’m delighted they will exclusively be the first to watch it in spectacular HD. LIVING has a powerful brand and a breadth of programming that works so well in HD. Our TV service continues to grow as we focus on content that both complements our existing line-up and benefits most from being shown in HD.”
Jonathan Webb, managing director of Virgin Media Television, said: “LIVING’s HD launch is a significant step forward in Virgin Media Television’s cross-platform entertainment strategy. LIVING offers some of the glossiest shows around and its HD launch will showcase our line-up at its most vivid and colourful.”
September 23, 2009
September 19, 2009
Carriage negotiations with Sky over Living HD continue and, despite the war of words that's flared up again over the Ofcom report, it has also been reported that the relationship between Virgin and Sky "is better than it has ever been". Okay, so the two companies start from a particularly low point but I'm still hopefuly that there's a "Living HD for Sky 1 HD" trade in the offing.
September 17, 2009
But is it going anywhere? The big selling point initially was that it was free HD for those with a dish, but it still only has BBC HD and a few hours a week of ITV HD whereas Sky, Virgin and the imminent Freeview HD have more. More comment on Freesat on the Home Cinema Choice site.
The BBC wrote to Ofcom asking it to consider whether the digital television HD signal could be encrypted via a so-called "broadcast flag" so that only selected PVRs will be able to record over Freeview.
The actual audio and video won't be scrambled, but the standard EPG data tables that set top boxes use would be encrypted so that only manufacturers that sign up to a new licence will have access to the right code, which is needed for recording.
September 15, 2009
September 14, 2009
Disappointingly, the Saturday evening showing of Lord of the Rings part one isn't listed as being in HD :o(
September 07, 2009
Returning to the channel at weekends are Strictly Come Dancing (this time, with the results), and Antiques Roadshow. There are channel debuts for Hole in the Wall, Countryfile, Waterloo Road and political satire The Thick of It. There's a range of new comedy, from BBC Two's Home Time, and series two of Beautiful People, to BBC Three's Lunch Monkeys and How Not to Live Your Life, as well as the channel's new horror title Harper's Island.
You'll find the majority of big BBC programmes for the Autumn on the channel, including Life, the Electric Proms, Lost Land of the Volcano, Emma, and The Art of Russia. As well as the Doctor Who specials, we'll be showing the animation series Dreamland, and the next Sarah Jane Adventures, and younger viewers may also appreciate the arrival of Shaun the Sheep and new Justin Fletcher (aka Mr Tumble) series, Gigglebiz, which is a bit like Little Britain for under 6s.
September 06, 2009
September 05, 2009
A poll conducted on this blog pulled 420 votes, but only 12% of respondents thought that 3D TV was "very important" whilst over a third said they felt it was a fad and not important at all, and another third felt it a niche service at best. 16% considered it moderately important but not essential.
I have to say I remain sceptical myself - as a glasses-wearer I've found 3D in its various guises to be an uncomfortable experience at best, but even the idea of the technology in new sets not requiring glasses doesn't set my pulse racing either. Some in Hollywood may believe it's the future but frankly I can't see it happening with movies apart from the summer comic book blockbusters and kids films.
Give me quality HD over a 3D headache any day...
September 04, 2009
Here's the URL for the HD programmes available online: http://www.virginmedia.com/tvradio/ondemand/new-tvlist.php?nocatchup=1&hdonly=1
If you click on a programme title it explains where you can find it in the maze of the EPG. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell you how long a programme is going to be available or what may be coming next, but it's a damn sight more efficient than scrolling through menus on the EPG trying to find the stuff. Appears to be fully searchable and sortable, too.
(Doesn't appear to include all of the Filmflex HD films though - just one or two.)
September 01, 2009
19.05 and 20.05 ER
21.00 Film: World Trade Center
23.30 Film: Hustle & Flow
01.40 Film: Mean Creek
09.25 Hollyoaks Omnibus (and every week day at 18.30)
13.00 Teen Choice Awards
14.50 Ugly Betty
20.00 Come Dine With Me
22.40 Film: Lucky Number Slevin
23.10 Film: Straightheads
23.35 Coming Up
00.05 The Kevin Bishop Show
13.20 Film: Batman (1966)
13.25 Film: Fantastic Voyage
01.15 Film: Against the Ropes
01.10 Film: Knights of the South Bronx
It's still not brilliant (but you can't blame Virgin for that) and it's disapponting that so many of C4's new homegrown programmes are still only in SD (Jaime Oliver, Dispatches, Location Location etc) but the films are most welcome.
August 31, 2009
ESPN HD has been brilliant for the footie but I still find it's BBC HD that is filling (rapidly!) my V+ each week - the recent series of River and Coast are backed up on my disc and a few episodes of Desperate Romantics have been recorded in SD just to squeeze on. If you're recording just HD it's a meagre 20 hours of recording you can store, and unfortunately the much-lauded HD on demand with iPlayer just isn't up to scratch yet, predominantly filled with kids' series and soaps (why??!).
The V+ storage is a problem Virgin will get complaints about if they can't engineer a Samsung roll out and a switch to MPeg4 soon.
Another poll then: now that we have more than one, which HD channel do you watch most?
August 28, 2009
Ofcom wants to impose a complicated pricing formula which it claims will allow Sky to make a decent margin from selling on its sport and movie channels, even after the cost of acquiring the rights has been taken into account.
"It would not make Sky sell at a loss," Patterson [Chief Exec of BT Retail] says. It is ironic, he adds, that Sky has built a broadband business with more than 2 million customers (BT has close to 5 million) by piggybacking on BT's own network, following a deal imposed by regulators, but is unwilling to accede to Ofcom's writ by making its own content available to BT and others.
I hadn't thought of it like that. Sky has talked up the investment made by the company in securing its premium TV content monopoly, but has conveniently ignored the similar situation in the broadband market with BT having made a huge investment and then having to bow to regulatory power to open it up to the competition. Which Sky has been one of the main beneficiaries of.
August 27, 2009
August 24, 2009
August 23, 2009
(Of course, it may not have been Sky being creative with bit-rates - it could just have easily been a technical fault at Virgin - but I do like a good conspiracy theory.)
Of late though, things appear to my eyes have improved on the SD movie channels. Watching Hellboy II and Indiana Jones IV recently I thought the picture was good again, probably the best it has been for some time. Has anyone else noticed this? Comparison with Film4 still suggest the Channel 4 service is superior, but it is less notable now.
It could be to do with the Luxemburg thing Virgin did a few months back (which I thought was just a tax wheeze), it could be improved bit-rates, it could be my eyes getting older, who knows? Of course it's no substitute for us getting the HD versions of the movie channels, but in the meantime any improvement to the (expensive) movie service is most welcome. Even if it is all in my imagination.
August 20, 2009
Anyway, if you want to do it more scientifically here's a handy guide on The Register to follow to maximise your televisual experience.
August 19, 2009
I hadn't noticed myself, but apparently there are quality issues with BBC HD that have led to them issuing the following statement:
"The BBC has deployed a new set of HD encoders. The current bitrates were picked after much side-by-side comparison of the old and new encoders using a wide range of programme material. While it is impossible to achieve parity in all formats the new encoders were judged to be giving equal or better quality in most cases."
"However, there is no test like putting these to air, and when we did, a reproducible problem was identified on certain types of material. We have shared this information with the coder manufacturer so they can investigate further. "
"The particular problem does not go away with higher bitrates, so whilst an investigation and fix are awaited some changes have already been made to the encoders to try and mitigate the effects. In addition, the new encoders also fixed other problems, unrelated to picture quality, which the BBC received complaints about."
There's more on this on the What HiFi site.
August 18, 2009
Sky spends more than double what Virgin Media does on advertising its services - and is in fact one of the biggest advertisers in the UK - and it has dug deep into its pockets again with a massive promotion of Sky HD in today's press, two page colour ads in every paper, belittling Virgin's six HD channels compared to (up to) 34 on Sky HD.
It's not a fair comparison - half of the channels Sky has in HD are not made available to VM as they are Sky-owned, and the VM service is free to XL TV customers whereas on Sky you pay extra - and as with all Sky and Virgin ads the devil is in the detail, but it does show that Sky is going to take Virgin's move into HD seriously. Possibly more seriously than Virgin themselves.
August 17, 2009
- At the end of March, over a quarter of UK homes (27%) had a PVR ("Personal Video Recorder", such as the V+ or Sky+), representing an increase of 29% since September, 2008.
- Around 9 million PVR's have been sold in the UK, the majority (over 5 million) of which are Sky+ boxes.
- Around a fifth (19%) of viewing in Sky+ homes is timeshifted, while in homes equipped with Virgin Media's V+ PVR service 12% of viewing is timeshifted; in Freeview PVR homes, meanwhile, around 9% of viewing is timeshifted.
So if you have a V+, do you still watch live TV (excepting sport or news)? I hardly watch anything when it's actually broadcast these days, the only exception really being what I'd call "event" TV, stuff I choose to watch at the earliest opportunity (Lost being one of the few examples of this). In fact, I think I actually watch less TV than I did before the V+, but I'm more selective in what I watch.
Which presents a problem with the new HD channels still being the less efficient compression of MPeg2. My V+ hard disc just ain't big enough to record several episodes of an HD series without the disc groaning under the size of a few hours of HD. What's more, the HD section of iPlayer seems to be extremely hit and miss, which means my (manual) series stacking of Desperate Romantics and Being Human has been recorded from SD rather than high def as I know I won't get around to watching them for a while. Anyone else struggling with this? I find that I only record HD programmes if I plan to watch them the same week now, which makes the whole thing somwhat frustrating.
Life & Lyrics
Thursday 20 August
11:00pm - 12:50am
Grow Your Own
Friday 21 August
11:00pm - 12:40am
The School of Rock
Sunday 23 August
8:00pm - 10:10pm
And for those with the £5 a month Picturebox service, there's a pretty motley collection of SD and HD movies that wouldn't look out of place in the bargain bins you see in garages: check out the 28 on offer at the Picturebox site
August 16, 2009
Will ESPN grab this and become the place for European football coverage, or will Sky regain what for my mind is the best football in the world? So far the two have been pretty amicable since the demise of Setanta, but word is that Sky are not happy with the deal ESPN has struck with Virgin and this could turn nasty. For the VM viewer, the preference I guess would be for ESPN, especially if the new season is broadcast in HD for the first time here. In fact, Sky has only shown La Liga in 4:3 ratio to date, so pretty much anything will be an improvement over that and the dodgy pictures we had last season some Sunday evenings.
(More details over on Digital Spy, btw.)
UPDATED: August 25th. Sky Sports has secured an exclusive three-year TV rights deal to broadcast live matches from La Liga in Spain.
Under the arrangement, Sky Sports will show at least two live matches every weekend, but no word as to whether it will be in widescreen or not.
August 15, 2009
August 14, 2009
Critically well received and with Harvey Keitel as Gene Hunt, this looks interesting even if it is likely to pale if compared with the BBC's original.
The show was axed after a single season in the US but they extended the initial number of episodes from 14 to 17 to wrap up the loose ends and create a twist apparently even more audacious than the end of the UK version.
Life on Mars will debut on FX HD at 10pm on Fridays from 9 October, once the channel has finished the first run of HBO’s True Blood.
August 13, 2009
This will bring Virgin's HD channels to seven (BBC, C4, Nat Geo, FX, MTVN, ESPN plus Living), with word that British Eurosport, History and ITV1 may join the line up before the year is out. Ten HD channels at no extra cost for XL customers is a pretty good deal if you ask me.
What will be interesting will be how much Sky is willing to offer for Living HD - they don't want to have it missing from their lineup (Living is one of the most popular pay TV channels) - but Virgin may demand access to Sky1 HD in return. Now that would be something...
August 12, 2009
August 07, 2009
The thing that's most notable in the US hotels I've experienced is that HD is still just a handful of channels - home customers obviously get much more and I've seen cable companies boasting over 100. But for hotel customers it's still primarily stretched 4:3 standard def, and the picture quality of those SD channels is absolutely dire, making HD pretty much the only viewing you can enjoy.
Oh, and the EPG was by far the worst I've seen since the early days of OnDigital - and slooooow, too.
Both hotels we stayed in had 42in LG LCD panels served by NXT hotel cable services. The HD channels we had were ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, HBO, TNT, TBS and ESPN. All were great pictures in HD but you do get used to it after a while, and when Mrs Nialli tuned into the SD versions a few times even she complained that there was something not quite right with the picture.
In the US they haven't sorted out the ads presenting in 16:9 and the majority appear in 4:3 ratio, and still many of the programmes on ESPN and other channels are showing in the old squarer picture ratio too. It still feels very much like a mixed bag, very similar to how I found things 15 months ago when visiting Miami - I'd expected things to have moved on but they haven't. It's not as though I was staying in average hotels - the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego prides itself on its high tech rooms. My own lounge is higher tech...
A few more things I'll comment on: anyone keenly awaiting the arrival of HD news services needs to be aware that although the studio filming looks good in HD the majority of news pictures are still in standard def and it's quite jarring when switching from one source to another. HD graphics laid over SD film look quite odd. Hopefully Sky News HD (and BBC News HD in 2012) will not suffer quite as badly when they launch here.
Managed to grab a couple of HD movies on demand. Star Trek looked excellent (and will be on FilmFlex in HD soon) but State of Play looked very ordinary in HD. We saw Watchmen in SD and I thought the picture was as good and comparable with DVD quality - impressive but not breathtaking. (Incidentally, I saw the same movie playing on Blu-Ray in a store and even Mrs Nialli said the picture quality was "unbelievable", which makes my Blu-Ray player request for Christmas look like a sure thing!)
Overall, a wee bit disappointed that HD is still not making more of an appearance in top hotels in the US. I'm off to NY at the end of September on business and maybe I'll see more in the big Apple.
Anyone else experienced HD overseas?
August 03, 2009
Channel 4 HD
National Georgraphic HD
No ESPN HD yet but that's not broadcasting until 8pm tonight.
Does anyone know of a more accurate set of listings?
July 31, 2009
Virgin Media's latest quarter results are published next Thurday (August 6th).
Here's our new HD channel line up:
- BBC HD (108)
- Channel 4 HD (146)
- FX HD (158)
- MTVN HD (310)
- National Geographic HD (232)