January 30, 2009

"Virgin getting more HD" rumours

There has been a flurry of comments on my last couple of posts and in other sites' forums suggesting additions to Virgin's lonely HD channel are on their way. I'm not sure if many visitors to this site look through the comments, so here's an example:
MattCaffeine said...This isn't really about freesat but thougt you may be interested in a conversation I've just had with a VM customer complaint officer. I'd e-mailed that I was considering the unthinkable and switching to $ky purely because I was very frustrated about the lack of HD, and especially that there was no news about SkySports HD or Movies HD. The rep who rang told me that there was being a major upgrade of HD channels in the "next few months" and when challenged confirmed that Skysports and Sky Movies in HD would be available in my area (Sheffield) in the next few months as some testing work had been done. Now I've either misunderstood, which I doubt cos i pretty much triple checked what he was saying, but if this is the case, it's a great breakthrough, but why aren't VM shouting from the rooftops to stop the mass migration to $ky??? I've asked the rep to e-mail confirmation which he promised he would, but nothing as yet, When (if) it comes in I'll let you know.
(Thanks Matt.) So will VM have Sky HD channels available nationally in time for the quarterly results announcement at the end of the month? I've heard so many reports of similar statements by engineers/customer services/friends of friends that I'm starting to get a little hopeful that something is about to happen. I'm not holding my breath (we've all heard it before) but the eternal optimist in me is a wee bit excited.
If I get anything concrete, I'll post it immediately.

January 29, 2009

Freesat numbers double

According to this story, Freesat installations doubled over the last quarter, now over 200,000 for the fledgling satellite "Freeview and then some" from the BBC and ITV. Quickly catching up with BTVision, that's hugely impressive given the lack of hardware, especially the PVR, on the retaillers' shelves.
So what's attracting punters? Well it's not the channel line up (it doesn't even boast Fiver or Five US yet) and the SD picture is by some accounts even worse than that of Freeview. So what could it be?
Well, apparently 61% of a "customer panel" said that the availability of high definition content was their "primary reason" for opting for the sub-free service.
Hello? Mr Berkett? Anyone home??

January 28, 2009

Sky HD numbers soar

Two news stories that merit repeating in full. The first is from mediaguardian this morning:

BSkyB has shrugged off the economic gloom by grabbing 171,000 new customers over Christmas and announcing plans to recruit 1,000 engineers and call centre staff as it launches a major push to get people to sign up for high definition TV.

The satellite broadcaster reckons more than 7m households already have TV sets that can receive HD programming - and this is set to double by the end of the decade. Announcing a 26% increase in first-half profits, Sky said it was looking to grow its HD customers from the 779,000 it had at the end of last year. As a result, today it is slashing the cost of a Sky+ HD box by two-thirds to £49.

To back up its drive for HD viewers, Sky is recruiting 1,000 more staff and opening a call centre in Leeds. The company, which employs about 15,000 workers, said it needed about 600 new engineers and 400 call centre staff to meet anticipated demand for HD services. Recruiting the staff, which has already begun, will add about £30m a year to Sky's cost base.

In the three months to the end of December, Sky gained 188,000 new HD customers – including existing subsribers who have upgraded – double the rate of first-quarter additions and five times the rate seen in the fourth quarter of last year. The broadcaster now offers access to 31 HD channels, more than any other broadcaster, but just 8% of its total customers base are taking the service. It refused, however, to set a target for how many HD customers it wants by the end of the decade.

Overall Sky added 171,000 new customers in the three months to end December – its second financial quarter – compared with 167,000 in the same period in 2007 as cash-strapped consumers opted to stay at home and watch TV rather than go out to the cinema or a restaurant. In fact, over the past year average TV viewing per individual in the UK increased by 3% to 3.7 hours per day.

City analysts had forecast Sky would add between 95,000 and 167,000 new customers in the quarter. Sky now has 9.24 million customers with 13% taking all three of its services – TV, broadband and home phone.

And this from Virgin Media's chief technology officer Howard Watson, April last year:

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."

Doesn't really merit comment, does it?

January 27, 2009

Six Nations rugby in February on BBC HD

The first England home game, England v Italy, is to be broadcast on BBC HD on Saturday February 7th, coverage starting at 2pm. On Sunday, 8th at 2.30 there's coverage of Scotland v Wales. The following Saturday has Wales v England. As with previous years, it appears that the games from France or Italy are not being shown in HD - just those from the UK.
Here's a useful guide to Rugby (and other sports) coverage on the telly.
Disappointing news again though for SuperBowl fans: the BBC is only showing it on BBC1. If you want to see it in HD, you need a dish :o(

January 26, 2009

BBC HD extends its hours

As promised some time back, BBC HD is broadcasting from 5pm now every day, albeit with repeats and children's programmes before 7pm. At 5pm each night this week there's Antiques Roadshow, and the following week the early slot is filled with Indian cookery and Delia.

January 25, 2009

Robert Burns: The People's Poet

Not satisfied with the the excellent History of Scotland in HD? Well, there's a 90 minute special on Robert Burns (250th anniversary of his birth, don't you know) on BBC HD Sunday afternoon at 4.30.

January 24, 2009

"A wide range of HD On Demand programmes"

Digging for the Truth (4 episodes)
Fire and Ice: The Winter War
George Lopez: American's Mexican
Human Weapon (5 episodes)

Ice Road Truckers (4 episodes)
The Universe (6 episodes)
Absolutely pathetic, and shrinking by the day it seems. Not worth listing anymore really, is it?

January 22, 2009

BBC HD this weekend

Good news; this weekend sees no fewer than two films on BBC HD, both new to the channel.
On Saturday night at 10.45pm Kenneth Branagh's curious japanese take on As You Like It airs; not his best Shakespeare adaptation in my book, but a treat for the old optic nerves. Then on Sunday at 10.30pm a real gem: George Clooney's excellent Good Night, Good Luck, which may be in black and white but should still be something in HD.
Also, the new BBC3 series Being Human is on BBC HD, though not as a simulcast - showing on Sunday at midnight.

January 21, 2009

New series appears in TV Choice On Demand HD - NOT

- post removed: another false dawn for HD VoD, the series is actually only available in SD and is now listed as such -

Battlestar Galactica

For those confused by last night's episode or intrigued by the revelations, there's a great interview with showrunner Ron Moore on the Chicago Tribute site that is a compulsive read (no spoilers aside from developments in last night's episode).

January 20, 2009

Berkett interview in the Telegraph

Virgin Media Chief Executive Neil Berkett is featured in this interview in the Daily Telegraph. Not a word about high definition services...

January 19, 2009

Obama's inauguration on BBC HD

In a late change to the BBC HD schedules, there's genuine history being broadcast on Tuesday 20th at 4pm with the inauguration of Barack Obama being televised live on the channel. More details from Danielle Nagler on the BBC's own blog.

January 18, 2009

More on the Samsung V+

Couple of things I'd like to say on the likely new V+;
1) The August 2008 release hasn't happened, so maybe this piece of hardware just didn't make the grade or couldn't be customised with the Liberate software used by VM. Five months have passed, so things aren't following the plan detailed. (See the bottom of this post though for a more positive view from someone better informed!)
2) I can't see any Dolby logo on the box; does the Samsung support 5.1 sound? (Mind you, if the box is an engineer's test sample then it wouldn't necessarily have all the livery of a production model.) To my eyes it's a better looking box - wonder what the remote looks like?
3) The document leaked is very much for installers rather than being a full technical evaluation by the engineers at VM. No technical details of the new box to give us an idea of whether this new box would be an improvement or compromise over what we have already. The reduction in ports makes sense to me as standards such as HDMI have become the norm. I'd like to know more about the disc, RAM and processor speed compared with the older box.
4) Much as I love new toys, sometimes it's better to stick with what you have than risk an upgrade, at least until things have stabilised. Unless you need the new box to receive additional HD channels, I'll be sticking with the Scientific Atlanta box for now.
-post edited-

January 17, 2009

New V+ "will be MPEG4"

There's nothing in the leaked document on the Samsung 3110 that indicates that the (likely) new V+ set top box will be Mpeg4 compatible, but a story over on TechRadar says it definitely is:
Although it has not been officially announced, it is the fact that the box will be MPEG4 that gives a true glimpse of the future for Virgin Media.
Let's hope that's accurate. The question then is how will Virgin roll out MPEG4 HD services. My guess would be that they'll look to introduce the newer technology with the new hardware as a premium service with additional HD channels. Depending on how many channels, it'll be either a monthly sub (similar to Sky's) or, if it's just a handful of channels such as those from C4 and ITV, a one-off install cost. The older Scientific Atlanta boxes then get distributed as straight PVRs with the single BBC HD channel as an HD "taster". Any other ideas?

January 15, 2009

New Samsung V+ details leaked

Thanks to Jasmeet_181 for the following:
Samsung 3110
View SlideShare document or Upload your own.

Who let the DOG out? BBC HD update

Danielle from BBC HD has posted an update on the mysterious Christmas reappearance of the DOG ("Digital On-screen Graphic" apparently) over on the BBC blog. It's great to see the Beeb being open about such matters, although I'm starting to think that this particular topic's pretty much exhausted and is deflecting debate from the more urgent matter of addressing the endless repeats on the channel.

January 14, 2009

The Secret Life of Elephants

More wrinkles than an episode of Last of the Summer Wine: BBC HD airs the first of three documentaries on The Secret Life of Elephants tonight at 9pm.

January 13, 2009

Prison Break cancelled

Okay, another non-HD story, but I thought I'd let fans know before they get too into the latest series: Prison Break, one of Sky1's top rated shows, has been cancelled. Full story over on Entertainment Weekly. Sorry guys.

Battlestar Galactica returns

What many (including this guy) call the greatest sci fi story of them all returns to Sky1 next Tuesday evening at 9pm for the final ten episodes. The good news for us Virgin Media customers who missed out on the first half of series four is that they're showing the episodes from last year in a quick burst this weekend on Sky2. Here's the schedule:
Wed 11pm Razor (self-contained movie)
Thursday night 12.10am - 2pm (ten past midnight)
Friday night 11pm, midnight
Saturday night 10pm, 11pm
Sunday night 11pm, midnight
Monday night 12.05am, 1.05am
It's shot in high def so this just about qualifies for this blog - it's certainly TV of the highest quality, trust me.

January 08, 2009

Freesat takes off...thanks to HD

Got a dish? Tired of paying Sky for hundreds of channels you don't even know about, let alone watch? Then why not buy a Freesat box...one payment, no subscription, plug it in and over 100 channels including BBC HD and the exclusive ITV HD.

It's been a slow start for Freesat, Freeview's fledgling big brother, but it is now starting to make an impression with over 200,000 households installing the alternative dish digital service in the latter half of 2008. Given that the all-important Freesat Personal Video Recorder (Freesat+ in other words) was only released in November and that the hardware was pretty hard to find in the run up to Christmas, that's a fast adoption rate for the new service in a very short space of time, especially as it has had very limited promotion. (By comparison, BT Vision still has only 350,000 customers and it's been around for over two years - Freesat launched in May 2008.)

According to this report in The Guardian, Freesat said that 61% of its customer panel identified HD services as the main reason for purchasing a set top box - that's a wake up call to both Sky and Virgin. The former may have overpriced its HD, the latter has, as we all know, undervalued the demand. With Freesat promising On Demand services next year, Virgin's management cannot ignore the new kid on the block. And neither can Sky - if you've already got a dish and need to save a few quid, Freesat must be very tempting indeed.

ITV HD programming to be available on Virgin On Demand

According to this story in The Guardian and this piece in today's Telegraph, programming from ITV's four channels is to be added to Virgin Media's On Demand service, including (gasp) "a selection of ITV's high definition programmes". The Virgin press release can be found here.

January 04, 2009

New season programming on BBC HD

A new year, a new season on BBC HD. Here are the new series / programmes debuting on BBC HD this week - a mix of drama, documentaries and sitcoms, and an old favourite of mine returns on Thursday. Click the titles for more info.
Sunday 9pm: Swarm: Nature's Incredible Invasions
Mon - Fri, 7pm: The Diary of Anne Frank
Monday, 8pm: A History of Scotland
Tuesday, 8pm: Science and Islam
Tuesday, 9pm: Nicholas Crane's Britannia: The Great Elizabethan Journey
Weds, 9pm: The Mighty Celt
Thurs, 8pm: Life of Riley
Thurs, 8.30pm: The Green Green Grass
Thurs, 9pm: Hustle

January 02, 2009

Sky1 repeats for Virgin customers

Thanks to Carol S for the following update on the latest on Lost:
A daily catchup for Virgin Media customers who missed season 4 begins on Tuesday at 10am on Sky2, with a repeat the same day on Sky1 at 2pm. The whole of season 4 is showing on weekdays (13 episodes if my memory serves me correctly), and season 5 itself kicks off on Sunday, January 25th at 9pm on Sky1. They're even showing the final episode of season 3 (the one at the airport with Jack and Kate) on Monday at 2pm on Sky1.
Also, for those who haven't seen Sky1's big budget adaptation of the first Terry Pratchett Discworld novel Colour of Magic, it is being repeated this weekend; part one on Saturday at 1pm, part two on Sunday at the same time.