August 23, 2009

Sky Movies channels picture quality improved?

Long time visitors to this blog will know that I have a theory that Sky deliberately reduced the bit-rate on its SD movie channels (both on cable and satellite) to artificially exagerate the difference between standard definiton and the new high definition versions. I'm not saying HD isn't superior, but it struck me as probably more than coincidence that the premium movie channels on cable in SD seemed to suffer a significant quality drop around the time that the majority got HD equivalents on satellite. It wasn't just me that commented, and sites that measure the bit-rates for channels broadcast on satellite appeared to back up what I was seeing.
(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.


BikeNutt said...

I don't watch the movie channels very often - I should cancel them really - but I too believe they were intentionally softened along with the other suite of Sky channels.

The re-runs of House on Five are much sharper than the current season on Sky1. I've also noticed a significant drop in quality on Sky Sports since the Luxemburg 'thing'. The cricket looks awful now and I know others have spotted this too. Static shots actually appear worse than moving images - blocking everywhere!?

I'll have to check out the movie channels at some point.

Nialli said...

Interesting - the Ashes looks great on my TV and has done all summer. Certainly as good as any other standar def sport and no blocking whatsoever.
I don't watch House but did think the PQ on Lie To Me (for my money the best of the new imports on Sky) variable. I got annoyed by all the onscreen flashes and the enlarged DOG on Sky1 so switched to Sky2, only to suffer what I thought was a worse picture so ended up going back to Sky1 and the ridiculous overkill graphics - not as bad as US channels but still extremely annoying. Do Sky1 plaster the screen with those on the HD version of the channel?
Overall I find Sky1 comparable with other SD channels like SciFi or Living, with Sky2 more like ITV4. Sky Arts 1 looks okay, as does Sky News. I'm watching on a 32in LCD, so I would imagine any deficiencies will be far more apparent on larger panels.

Richardr said...

But Virgin Media get a direct feed of the Sky channels, supposedly at somewhat higher quality than that broadcast, and then reencode and multiplex it themselves. Hence, the quality is up to Virgin Media.

Sky insert different adverts and promotions in the cable feed (shortly before the spat they had adverts giving Sky's point of view and hence Virgin Media switched to the satellite version).

Nialli said...

but that was the theory - Sky was lowering the bit rate to all customers of SD (VM and Sky) to emphasise the HD world. Sky customers on forums were complaining too.