August 07, 2009

Living with HD in the USA

Okay, so I've missed all the excitement of Virgin finally giving us more HD at home, but I've been in the good ol' US of A this last fortnight and have been watching HD TV most evenings when not enjoying the California sunshine, so it's not been a complete HD wash out for your intrepid blogger.
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?


peternixon said...

hello! Just thought I'd drop you a comment to say I read your blog and it's nice and useful. Though I'm intrigued what made you start it up in the first place? And do you ever get that nagging feeling that it might just be better going over to sky for all their HD, even though you hate murdoch and all he stands for?

The Little Guy said...

BBC News HD In 2012???

Jasmeet said...

HD start for BBC World News in 2012

Dexter said...

im watching newcastle vs west brom on BBC HD right now, and it looks fantastic. As i've said before the new HD channels on virgin don't have anywhere near the PQ of the BBC HD PQ, i think that will be the new complaint, that we finally have HD channels but the quality the majority of the time is rubbish. Hopefully UFC 101 will be broadcast in proper HD this evening on ESPN.

As for HD abroad, I visit LA atleast twice a year and stay with family, cable have around 70 HD channels while direct tv have over 150. And i always watch the LA Laker games live in HD on a 50" tele over there and it is fantastic. However I do agree you do get quite used to it after awhile and hotels in california don't really have a wide selection of HD

Nialli said...

To answer Peter's questions:
1) I started the blog in November 2007 partly to campaign for more HD on cable, partly to inform customers (Virgin had series such as Lost and Criminal Minds available in HD on demand, but they were tucked away in a labyrinthian listing system). I still find it amazing that VM can't creat a simple web page or two for customers listing all the On Demand content.
2) I don't hate Murdoch and actually admire the way Sky deploys technology, but I do have a problem with the way the company sometimes does its business (see the recent OFCOM report). Why don't I go to Sky HD? The reasons I posted a while back here still hold true, and the arrival of the additional HD channels are most welcome in this household.