July 31, 2009

Meanwhile Sky HD customers double

Sky's latest results are, as is becoming customary, hugely impressive. And again the main driver appears to be HD. Overall, Sky now has 9.442m customers, with annual net customer additions of 462,000 - the highest number in five years. Sky HD added 534,000 customers net over the year, taking it to a subscriber base of 1.313m. Details of the Sky results on The Guardian's site.
Virgin Media's latest quarter results are published next Thurday (August 6th).

Channel 4 HD arrives

Arrived this morning - again, apologies for the delivery of what for many is old news!
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)
If this is what happens when I go away, please feel free to contribute to the new Nialli HD-while-he's-away Holiday Fund!

July 29, 2009

ESPN HD British football NOT a Sky HD exclusive

Uh oh...the ESPN website seems to suggest that we're not getting the British football in HD after all - check out this page which describes it as "Sky+ HD customers only". The original VM press release though says "The ESPN HD channel will offer live Barclays Premier League and Clydesdale Bank Premier League football" but that ESPN page appears to contradict this. Full debate on this over on Cable Forum.

UPDATE The ever-reliable BenMCr over on Cable Forum has just posted
I have it on VERY good authority that ESPN just haven't updated their website properly yet
ESPN HD on Virgin is EXACTLY the same as ESPN HD on Sky
Ben works for VM and has always been on the money in my experience. Panic over. Sleep well...

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE ESPN has now corrected the information on its website.

HD channels arriving July 30 - and C4 HD coming, too

Bloody hell...how's this for icing on the cake? Great news - congrats to the VM team for delivering big time. Here's the press release

Virgin Media (NASDAQ: VMED) today announced that Channel 4’s High Definition (HD) channel, 4HD, will join its HD line-up. 4HD was the first full-schedule HD channel to be launched by a UK terrestrial broadcaster and offers ground-breaking programmes including Skins, Shameless and Desperate Housewives in glorious High Definition.

4HD will be available to Virgin Media’s 3.5 million digital TV customers and joins the BBC HD channel, ESPN HD, LIVING HD, FX HD, MTV Networks International’s HD channel, MTVNHD, and National Geographic HD in Virgin Media’s linear HD line-up.

FX HD, MTVNHD and National Geographic HD are launching on Virgin Media’s TV platform tomorrow. ESPN HD will launch on 3rd August, with 4HD and LIVING HD coming soon.

Mark Schweitzer, chief commercial officer at Virgin Media, said: “Channel 4 is home to some of the UK’s most talked about and innovative TV programmes with a great mix of fantastic home grown shows and top imports, and we’re delighted to be bringing them in HD to our customers. We continue to evolve our TV service, across linear TV channels and on demand content, and our growing HD line-up offers a great choice from some of the best UK and US TV series, documentaries, comedy, sport and music.”

Sarah Rose, Head of Channel Development at Channel 4, said: “We want our viewers to be able to watch their favourite Channel 4 programmes in the format they want and across multiple platforms so we’re delighted to be launching 4HD on Virgin Media. Our catch-up service, 4oD, has been a great success on Virgin Media’s TV platform and, as we continue to invest in HD production, we’re bringing more Channel 4 programmes to more viewers in HD.”

4HD is a simulcast of the core Channel 4 schedule with a proportion of programmes produced and transmitted in the HD format. Programmes currently broadcast in HD include Ugly Betty, Come Dine With Me and Shameless as well as the best documentaries, current affairs, music and film. Channel 4 is committed to increasing its investment in HD production and the proportion of its schedule transmitted in high definition over time.

4HD will be available to all of Virgin Media’s TV customers at no extra cost, alongside the BBC HD channel. Virgin Media will make its full range of HD channels available at no extra cost to its XL TV customers.

Virgin Media customers will be able to watch FX HD on Channel 158, MTVNHD on Channel 310 and National Geographic HD on Channel 232.

Again, sorry I'm reporting this late and thanks to all those who wrote to the blog whilst I was sleeping in sunny ol' Santa Monica

ESPN launching on Virgin on August 3rd - in HD!

Apologies for the late arrival of this news, I'm on the West Coast of the US and eight hours behind. Here's the big headline:

Customers who subscribe to Virgin Media’s XL TV pack will be able to watch ESPN and ESPN HD at no additional cost. As part of the deal, these subscribers will also receive ESPN Classic, featuring the greatest moments of UK and European sport.

Those on Virgin Media’s M or L pack will be able to subscribe to ESPN and ESPN HD for £8 a month if they already subscribe to any combination of the Sky Sports channels, or £10 a month if not.

As a special introduction to the new ESPN and ESPN HD channels, Virgin Media will make these ESPN channels available to all of its digital TV customers, for no additional cost, during August.


July 28, 2009

Improving SD rates

Ben's written to the blog asking the following:
Surely Virgin must get direct feeds from the BBC, ITV and C4 – especially in these days of on-demand offerings. If they do, why don’t they ask these broadcasters to increase the bit-rate of these feeds, and hence increase the quality to us?
It seems that SD channel bitrates vary widely on cable, which would imply they can be changed/increased.
The blocky SD picture quality on flatpanel TVs (although Virgin’s SD is the best) isn’t really a resolution issue, because when a still image is shown –like a photo – it looks clean and sharp. It’s only when things move that it all goes blocky – and that’s down to bitrates that were set originally for CRT screens – which don’t show up pixels anything like LCDs/Plasmas.
I suspect an answer may be that the main broadcasters produce standard feeds for all platforms (cable, satellite, Freeview) and producing a better feed for one would incur additional costs, but does anyone (more informed) know? I know the bitrates are adjusted dynamically to ensure (to some degree) maximum PQ and on Freeview the bitrates for the C4 channels is notably poor, but could they be improved at the upper end of the scale for cable?

July 27, 2009

Heroes returns to BBC HD

The new season of BBC HD's leading US import Heroes won't be with us until the autumn, but for those who are missing their regular fix of Sylar and co BBC HD is repeating the first season in double-episode sized helpings on Saturday nights leading up to the new series. You remember the first season? The GOOD one before things went seriously astray?
Also coming up is a season of Friday night movies in HD at 10.30. The first two have been shown on the channel before - The History Boys on July 31st and The Wonder Boys on August 7th - so it remains to be seen if we'll actually get any movies new to the channel or not.

July 25, 2009

The new HD channels on Virgin Media

Guess who's out of the country when Virgin adds its new HD lineup?
Me, that's who. After almost two years of campaigning for more HD channels on Virgin Media they are launching the four additional channels whilst I'm on bloody holiday. Typical.
I'll still be posting on this blog from afar but won't be able to actually view FX HD et al until mid-August, so if you have any comments to make on the new Virgin lineup when it finally appears please feel free to add comments to this post so that other visitors to the blog have an idea of how things are whilst I'm away. Enjoy...

July 22, 2009

Live football in HD on Virgin Media

Tucked away towards the end of Danielle Nagler's latest blog post is the news that the BBC's weekend coverage of Championship* football next season will be broadcast in HD, starting August 8th. Hurrah! Now can we please have ITV HD before the Champions League and FA Cup kick off?

*Division Two really

July 19, 2009

More on the additional HD channels coming soon (honest)

According to a VM insider:
The four additional HD channels will be available from August 1st. The PictureBox service HD films will increase to around 75% of their films within the first year. Confirmation on ESPN is expected shortly. And there may be more additional HD channels (Eurosport and History?) available October/November.

July 18, 2009

True Blood episode 1 in HD

Not easy to find, but if you tune to channel 118, press Red and take the third option, the first episode of HBO's acclaimed True Blood is there in both SD and HD formats, no ads or DOGs and in proper widescreen. It says that it's only available for five days but I would imagine that's as a Virgin Central listing (available free to all Virgin customers) and that it will be available for longer for those with the full On Demand service. As of Saturday morning, it's not appearing in the TV Choice on Demand listings.

July 17, 2009

Picturebox - the month ahead

Just discovered that if you click the "Forward" button several times on the Picturebox site you can see the next 28 films coming to the service over the next month.
Not a great line up to be truthful - the odd gem like ET but, as someone else remarked, the selection is like the DVDs you find for sale in a basked at a garage check out. Still can't see any indication on the site as to what's in HD.

July 15, 2009

New 50mb pricing from Virgin

According to today's press release, the 50mb service is now available across the Virgin Media network. And they've dropped the price, too.
To celebrate the completion of the network roll-out, Virgin Media announced a new pricing structure for its 50Mb service. From 1st September Virgin Media will reduce the monthly cost of its 50Mb service for new and existing customers to £28, when taken with a phone line, or £38 if taken as a sole product, making the ultrafast service ultra-fantastic value. The 50Mb service continues to be free of traffic management.
Which is nice. Not sure how much VIP customers need to pay to upgrade from 20mb - anyone know?
Also, there's a free Virgin netbook on its way...but I don't have any more details than this TechRadar story at the moment.
Pretty momentous week for VM...

July 14, 2009

Virgin getting HD Sky Sports and Movies? Probably not

Someone's just emailed me asking me the likelihood of Virgin customers getting Sky Movies and Sports channels in HD any time soon in light of yesterday's announcements. Having now digested the recent OFCOM report on Pay TV, I'm afraid I have to conclude that I think it is very unlikely in the short or even medium term.
My reasoning is not a result of OFCOM's findings (which may ultimately force Sky to make them commercially available...unless Mr Cameron intervenes) but the revelation that Virgin has a very low take up of the standard definition versions of the Sky sports and movies channels (page 8 of the report). Here's an extract - unfortunately the actual numbers were removed because of the commercial sensititivy but the tone is very clear:
[The]relatively low level of penetration of Sky’s Core Premium channels on cable reflects Sky's wholesale price, which disincentivises Virgin Media from marketing these channels. Only [  ]% of cable customers currently purchase premium content, as compared to [  ]% a few years ago, and [  ]% on Sky’s satellite platform. Evidence, including the recent decline in penetration of Core Premium channels on cable indicates that a substantial proportion of Virgin Media customers who do not currently subscribe to Sky’s Core Premium channels may have an interest in doing so, although evidently not at current prices.
So you have to ask yourself why would Virgin look to add the Sky Core Premium channels in HD if the majority of existing customers haven't even invested in the SD versions? Sky has a greater percentage of Premium channel subscribers at the same price, so it must be that the VM audience isn't as keen on handing over the extra money, prefering the budget options of Setanta/ESPN and now Picturebox. With the best will in the world, selling HD at a £10 premium is a tough sell on cable without factoring in the extra subs for the standard def channels too (an extra £20 - £30 a month depending on the bundle you're on). Painful though it may be for some to hear, it makes more sense for VM to add other HD channels rather than hunt the biggest game in town.
Sadly, assuming that OFCOM will struggle to get any positive reaction from Sky regardless of its strongly worded report, I think it fair to say that Sky Sports and Movies will not be appearing in HD on cable any time soon. Sorry.

July 13, 2009

Comment on the new four HD channels

Given that the four additional HD channels on their way to Virgin are going to be at no extra charge to XL TV customers I can't really complain about them. In adding FX, Nat Geo, MTV and Living HD there is something there for most viewers - of course there will be complaints, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time and at least we have been spared HD "showcase" channels like Luxe...
I'm looking forward to FX and Nat Geo and will probably have a look at MTV and Living. Howeverd the continued absence of Channel 4 HD and ITV1 HD, whilst neither is full to the brim with HD, is something of a disappointment. The former would give us access to a handful of films and US imports in HD, whereas ITV1 may be a damp squib but at least it has live football in HD in the autumn. I'm hoping that these, and maybe the HD versions of Eurosport and History, will follow very soon - if that's the case then Virgin Media will have a reasonable selection of HD channels to compliment the improving On Demand HD programming, all at no extra cost. It may still pale next to Sky HD, but it is a step in the right direction at last. And if the negotiations with Sky regarding Living HD result in us getting Sky One HD in return, I'll be a happy bunny indeed.
Encore, Mr Berkett, encore!

July 10, 2009

Carnivale season two arrives

The first episode of the the second (and final) series of Carnivale has arrived in HD.
Also, two HD films in Filmflex worth noting: Frank Miller's interpretation of The Spirit may have appalled fans of Will Eisner's original (including yours truly) but it's visually impressive. It's on Filmflex now. And starting next week is the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, which will look amazing in high def.

July 09, 2009

Panasonic to support Freeview HD

According to What HiFi, Panasonic will be launching Freeview HD compatible TVs and recorders when the service launches towards the end of the year.

New arrivals on Picturebox HD

Starting on Friday seven movies leave the Picturebox selection and seven new arrive. Not sure which ones are in HD, but here are the new arrivals:
  • Baseketball
  • The Break Up
  • The Hulk
  • Curse of the Golden Flower (wow!)
  • The Holiday
  • Repo Man
  • This is Spinal Tap
And the following week includes David Lynch's Inland Empire and Total Recall. Now that is to my eyes a pretty good line up. Hopefully they've sorted out the quality now on the HD front (I haven't signed up yet to check) as the full 28 for next week makes this a decent alternative to the Sky Movies channels in my book.

July 08, 2009

Six HD channels now testing on Virgin Media

According to Jasmeet:
The following are now in testing
  • VMTest1 - History HD
  • VMTest2 - National Geographic Channel HD
  • VMTest3 - FX HD
  • VMTest4 - MTVNHD
  • VMTest5 - History HD
  • VMTest6 - Eurosport HD
I cannot verify this but Jasmeet's normally on the money. (Please, no quips about VMTest5 - History HD being a +1...)
If this becomes the promised channels, with C4 HD instead of a second History HD channel, then that's a pretty broad selection. ITV HD for the football would be welcome, too.

July 07, 2009

ESPN announces UK sports channel

The new ESPN channel launches on August 3rd according to a BBC News story. It also confirms that it will launch an HD version of the channel, which will carry the 46 Premiership games picked up after the demise of Setanta, plus some of the US sports the channel also has the rights to show.
Sky's residential customers will have to pay a premium of £9 a month for the new channel if they already pay for Sky Sports or £12 a month if they do not.
No confirmation on Virgin Media's carriage, although the latest channel list from Virgin shows that ESPN will appear as channel 553 and will be a "premium channel". No sign of the HD version in that listing btw - given Sky's close partnership with ESPN in all aspects of the channel's evolution, I would frankly be stunned if we get the HD version on cable.

BBC HD to broadcast Michael Jackson Memorial live tonight

6pm and running until it ends (estimated at around 7.30pm), the Michael Jackson memorial will be shown live on BBC HD. Full details here

July 05, 2009

Quality problems with Picturebox HD?

Couple of threads on the forums bemoaning the picture quality and lack of 5.1 sound on the new subscription service Picturebox: Digital Spy and Cable Forum.
And for those wondering, the minimum subscription period is 30 days.

July 04, 2009

Top Gear in HD?

For those desperate to see Clarkson and co in high defintion, a chance to be heard - in her latest BBC blog post Danielle Nagler (Head of BBC HD) asks:

What it is about Top Gear that means you really want to watch it in HD?

What are the qualities which you identify as particularly suitable for HD?

Can you let me know - ideally in one short sentence - either through comments here or by emailing me at danielle.nagler@bbc.co.uk? I want to understand what you see in SD shows that you believe gives them added value in HD, not least because it is really helpful in evaluating new HD programme opportunities that cross my desk.

July 02, 2009

True Blood coming to Virgin On Demand

According to the teaser running on channel 118, the first episode of HBO's highly acclaimed vampire series True Blood is coming to Virgin Central from July 18th. Fingers crossed that it'll be in HD and stack like the third season of FX's Dexter. Also, no ads and in widescreen, unlike the FX version. And how's that for a stunning poster???!

Picturebox HD Movies

The Picturebox subscription service announced earlier this week is now live on Virgin Media and, as promised, the majority of movies are also available in HD.
To access the service, go to the Movies On Demand listing and select 3 Picturebox, then 3 High Definition. In the first week these are the HD movies:
  • 8 Mile
  • Air America
  • Along Came Polly
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Exiled
  • Ghost Story
  • Gotcha!
  • The Grudge 2
  • Heroes
  • Jaws
  • The Life of David Gale
  • Magicians
  • Mr. Bean's Holiday
  • Ned Kelly
  • Red Dragon
  • The Scorpion King
  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Stay Alive
  • Thursday
  • Village of the Damned
That's not too bad a list - one of the greatest movies of all time in Jaws, one just a few years' old Magicians and a few blockbusters - Red Dragon, Shaun of the Dead and the excellent United 93. Can't grumble - if they keep this kind of quality up it may prove well worth £5 a month.
The Picturebox site is updated but doesn't detail what's available in HD yet. No first-run movies of course, but now we know that's because Sky secure the rights for subscription on demand movies...but doesn't make them available to its own customers, let alone Virgin's.

July 01, 2009

PictureBox on Virgin Media

The service isn't available yet but there's a Picturebox Virgin Media website now active. This isn't the launch selection and no mention of what will be in HD, but worth bookmarking for when it gets going this month.

Carnivale season two arriving in a few weeks

Regular blog visitors will know that I've been blown away by Carnivale, showing in TV Choice on demand in HD. Good news - season two should be with us starting July 10th. Also on its way is the Emmy award-winning John Adams that was recently shown on Channel 4. Starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, it won't appeal to the Transformers crowd but for those who appreciate the finer drama it's an absolute treat.