March 30, 2009

Coming soon...

The revelations about the Home Secretary's husband's Virgin Media viewing habits in the press will no doubt drive punters to cable in the belief that it harbours on demand porn on a grande scale. They're likely to be disappointed, but there's no such thing as bad publicity and I suspect there'll be an increase in subscribers as a result. I have no idea how VM's adult selection compares with Sky's, but I've noted before that there's a fair amount available in high definition. In fact, it's an area that seems to be growing whereas other on demand HD content is shrinking.

March 28, 2009

The week ahead of Channel 4 HD

Despite being heralded in a press release from Virgin Media back in 2007 we still don't have the high definition simulcast of Channel 4 on cable. Over the last 15 months or so the HD output from C4 has steadily grown, albeit mainly with films and US imports. This week seems pretty typical, so here, for curiosity value only for VM customers I'm afraid, is what recipients of C4 HD can look forward to this week:

21.15 Film Brokeback Mountain
14.10 Big Bang Theory
17.30 Time Team
20.00 Come Dine With Me
22.50 Film John Q
09.50 Brothers & Sisters
18.30 Hollyoaks (and at every night at this time)
00.55 film I [heart] Huckabees
10.00 Brothers & Sisters (and at every morning at this time)
22.00 Shameless
23.05 Big Bang Theory
23.35 My Name is Earl
20.00 Relocation Relocation
22.00 Desperate Housewives
23.00 Shameless
13.50 Film Cattle Empire
20.00 A Place in the Sun: Home or USA
22.00 Film The Ringer

It's better than most weeks on ITV HD and arguably on a par with BBC HD. Whatever your view on the C4 HD programming, any additional HD on cable would be greatly appreciated after such a long wait. Surely it must be truly be "coming soon"...

March 27, 2009

High Definition soap

BBC HD has its own soap. Not Eastenders (though it is coming) - Doctors. No, I hadn't heard of it either, but tonight's a big night as it's the final episode of season 10 - episode 223 of 223 no less. Quality.
Those suffering withdrawal symptoms from this "medical drama series set in a busy Midlands practice following the turbulent lives and loves of the staff and patients" can undertake immediate treatment on Monday when season 11 kicks off with episode 1 ... of 224 ...

March 25, 2009

Robin Hood returns to BBC HD

Saturday evenings on BBC HD take on a familiar look from March 28th with the return of Robin Hood at 6.50pm. Not a personal favourite, but it has plenty of fans young and old. According to the promotional material, this series opens with Robin's sad demise...
Saturday also has Planet Earth and Tiger - Spy in the Jungle repeats starting for those that have miraculously avoided those series in HD over the last few years...

March 24, 2009

BT take on Virgin Media - why??

Can anyone explain how BT's initial roll out plans for its fibre-based cable are to enable a "Digital Britain"? No fewer than 25 of the announced BT 29 exchanges to get the upgrade are already covered by Virgin Media's 50Mbps fibre-optic broadband. BT is investing £1.5bn in its fibre rollout, so why prioritise customers who can already get faster broadband, albeit from a competitor?
Meanwhile, Berkett announces his expectation that Virgin will offer 150Mb broadband by next year (see this BBC story). It seems there are two definitions of "coming soon" in the Berkett Lexicon: one for the 'mine's bigger than yours' broadband boasting, a completely different one for the promised HD service expansion...

March 21, 2009

Six Nations rugby on BBC HD

Two games today on BBC HD:
15.15 England v Scotland
17.20 Wales v Ireland
Which is followed by a half hour studio discussion on this year's tournament at 19.30

Later on Saturday evening at 22.45 is a BBC drama Trauma starring Colin Firth - click the link for more details.

March 19, 2009

The hottest HD...

Is there no end to the stunning documentaries in high def the BBC is showing this week? After Yellowstone and the awesome Nature's Great Events (both shown last night) we have on Thursday Hottest Place on Earth, a two-part series about the Ethiopian desert. (9pm BBC HD)

March 18, 2009

BBC HD now nine hours a day

Quietly, when no-one was really paying attention, BBC HD slipped an extra hour into its daily broadcasting schedule and it now gives us nine hours a day, the full amount agreed with the BBC Trust when the channel was formally launched back in 2007. Okay, so it seems to have filled the earlier hours with family fayre, but it's still good to see the channel broadcasting as promised.
This and a few other interesting tidbits are in Danielle's latest post over on the BBC HD blog - a recommended read as always

The Wire coming to BBC2

All five season's of HBO's finest will soon be shown on BBC2 for wider appreciation after the critical acclaim has reached fever pitch. Unfortunately it won't be on BBC HD - it was shot in Digibeta rather than on film and it's a 4:3 presentation rather than widescreen despite being only a few years' old.
But that shouldn't stop anyone from dipping in to the finest US TV drama ever. Bar none.
And for those who wonder what all the fuss is about, this classic clip (contains quite a few bad words - do not play aloud in the office!) is a brief demonstration of its appeal. CSI was never like this...

March 17, 2009

More on next gen TV from Virgin Media

Couple of interested comments posted to the story below about Cable Congress this week that I'm promoting to their own post so that they don't get lost:
The next-generation service delivery gateway architecture being discussed by Motorola and Virgin Media is proposed to deliver advanced multimedia services, such as:
* Multi-room TV – the ability to watch recorded content from any TV or PC in the house
* Converged entertainment services across three screens – PC, TV and mobile
* Media Mobility – moving your content from device to device and taking it on-the-go
* Customizable user interfaces.

Visitors to Motorola’s stand (#25) will experience the company’s next-generation technology showcase, developed in conjunction with Virgin Media, which demonstrates the drive towards a less complex delivery of the personalized viewing experience.

Full story here

And Jasmeet 181 has also sent this link Virgin Media, Where Are We Now? to three tantalising slides of Virgin's IP vision

March 15, 2009

Yellowstone on BBC HD

The new BBC natural history series Yellowstone kicks off at 8pm on Sunday night, but hang on for its appearance on BBC HD on Wednesday evening at 8pm. First of three.

March 14, 2009

ITV HD - will it be worth the wait?

Althought it has crept onto some Sky customer's Sky+HD boxes this week, the non-channel ITV HD is still officially only available via the red button on FreeSat. It is strongly rumoured to be one of the HD channels to arrive on Virgin Media this year, but will it be worth the wait?
Here are all the programmes on ITV HD in the next seven days:
Saturday, 3.35pm Film: Thunderbirds (the 2004 live action yawn)
Saturday, 9pm Film: About A Boy
Sunday, 9pm Wild at Heart
Monday, 9pm Law & Order: UK
Friday, 9pm Moving Wallpaper
And that's it. For the entire week. Hardly worth the wait, I think you'll agree; three hours of TV and two mediocre films. They don't even show the two quality ITV1 US imports, Dexter and Pushing Daisies, in HD. Apart from the Champions League and FA Cup games, this hardly deserves a fanfare if it does finally arrive.

March 11, 2009

Virgin Remote codes

Often get asked about these, so here's some helpful advice from Ben at VM:
Virgin has now updated the Help and Support pages to include the Volume Control codes and instructions for all remotes. To access the information go to Home/Guide > Help & Info > Help with your Remote, then follow the on screen instructions

ITV HD available on new Sky+HD EPG

Although not officially available on any platform apart from FreeSat, folk with the new Sky+HD electronic programme guide can access ITV HD, albeit with some manual tuning - see DS thread here.
Virgin Media customers wishing to access ITV HD can only do so by installing a satellite dish...

March 10, 2009

High Definition's Great Event

Only two episodes to go of the finest optical spectacle currently on television: BBC HD's extraordinary Nature's Great Events has been an absolutely astonishing piece of television, truely what HD is all about. I thought Wild China and Planet Earth were good, but this has been mind-blowing and I cannot commend it highly enough. Wednesdays at 9pm, repeated Sundays at 6pm.

March 09, 2009

More comments on the New Samsung V+

From this thread over on Cable Forum:
"I have fitted 5 over the last 2 days. We are being instructed by Virgin to make sure all new install get the Samsung so now is the time to order in Notts.
They are great, channel changing is quick, there is nothing between it and my Sky HD box so it looks like that old complaint is over and done with.
PQ is just the same as the SA. No Component, No RF. VCR scart always active with menus.
Overall this box is what we have been waiting for. Now just lets get more HD."
"I noticed it was much sharper straight away on HDMI. Also menu at 1080 looks great. Haven't got any complaints about the box at all."

March 08, 2009

The best EPG around?

Who's got the best EPG - Sky or Virgin? To be frank they both look absolute pants when you see the Verizon fibre TV service from the US - click the link the the "Take a look" button and have your breath taken away...

Sky HD EPG finally arrives

There are precious few areas where Virgin Media's TV service is superior to Sky's, but the V+ EPG's functionality is one. Okay, so the interface itself isn't to everyone's liking, but what it actually does is pretty impressive and it's only now that Sky seems to have caught up. According to Digital Spy, the new Sky HD EPG is finally rolling out this week, many, many months after it was first announced. Here are the key features new to the service:
  • a mini TV screen, so viewers can browse the guide without interrupting the programme being watched
  • a now, next, later banner that displays full data about forthcoming programmes in the next 12 hours on any channel
  • the ability to record and series stack without going to the planner
  • a grouping of stacked series in the planner so that all recorded episodes are displayed together
  • an improved search feature that includes genre and sub-genre filters.
Of these, only the last one is really lacking from the V+ - genre categories not featuring at all on Virgin.
I've always prefered the colour scheme of the Sky planner but it does feel extremely dated compared to Virgin's. It'll be interesting to see if it performs any faster than the V+ software, and if it's bug-free; Sky of late have had some issues in quality assurance.

March 07, 2009

In the news

Virgin Media TV (Living, Trouble, Bravo and Challenge) may be a profitable business in its own right but it's up for sale. Here's the report from The Times. Also up for grabs is VM's stake in UKTV. Letting go of the content side of Virgin's business has been a strategic intention for many years and will bring some much needed cash into the business to offset some of the crippling debt still on the books...and may be some investment in new services?
Also, programmes from UKTV channels Gold and Eden are to available online via SkyPlayer. Virgin Media co-own UKTV yet they're on demand via Sky? I know it's old BBC content and some is already in Virgin's On Demand service, but it still struck me as an unusual deal.

March 04, 2009

New Samsung V+ "launched"

[split screen picture top: the current SA V+. bottom: the new Samsung V+ in the same position]
According to the always-informative Cable Forum and this thread, the new V+ from Samsung is launched on a trial basis this week. A number of reliable Virgin contacts have posted comments:
  • "As with any new STB there will be a limited number of installs across the network to cover all senarios - it cannot be asked for, it will purely be if the installer has been given on."
  • "Best part is the much much sharper picture and also the menu looks great even at 1080i and quicker channel changing."
  • "It has the same amount of tuners as the current V+ box. So you can record 2 and watch a third channel"
  • "You can still archive recordings while watching something else"

In the news

ITV's dire trading will no doubt curb any HD investment plans but may lead to ITV HD appearing on satellite and cable a wee bit quicker than planned - can they afford to keep it as a FreeSat exclusive? (Suggested in an email I received from Matt B today - cheers Matt)
BBC's gloat-free account of Michael Grade's blackest day at ITV here.

OFCOM has greenlit BT's request to charge ISPs the earth for its fibre-to-the-cabinet- network of the future. Virgin's advantage with broadband speeds in the major conurbations. BBC story here.

And Malcolm Wall, Virgin Media TV's Chief Executive, is leaving the company to "pursue other interests". According to the report on BroadcastNow:

Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett said: "Malcolm's long experience in broadcasting, combined with an acute understanding of the changes that are taking place in the industry, have helped steer our content business into the digital age. On behalf of Virgin Media, I wish him every success for the future."

In a statement, Virgin Media said: "An announcement about the future management of Virgin Media Television and Virgin Media's subscription TV services will be made in due course".

It's been widely reported that VM are looking to sell Virgin Media TV (Living, Bravo, Trouble etc) and it's share of the Flextech stable (Watch, Gold, Dave et al), so his departure is not really a big surprise. Not sure what they're going to announce on the management of the "subscription TV services" but hopefully it will be about someone who's vocabulary includes the words "high", "definition" and "now". And less of the "soon".

March 02, 2009

BBC HD highlights this week

Broadcasting now for 8 hours a day (5pm - 1am -ish) and pretty strong on original programming at the moment - BBC HD may have some odd regulars (has any one watched Doctors or Raven in HD?) but it's improving almost every week. Here are the highlights for the first week in March
9pm Heroes (BBC2 simulcast)
10pm Who Do You Think You Are?


8pm Timewatch QE2 - The Final Voyage
9pm Touring Britain The Victorian Way
10pm Mad Men


9pm Nature's Great Events (the best HD showcase around today - last week's was the best HD I've seen this year)
11pm This Way Up (Oscar winning short animation)


9pm Darwin's Dangerous Idea


10.35pm Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (not much of a highlight - Friday's being a pretty weak night at the moment on the channel)

Weekend: nothing really of note. Sunday has Damages and Victorians, but most of the weekend's schedule is repeats I'm afraid.

March 01, 2009

Nialli's series links

Somebody asked, so here's what I have series links on the V+ for at the moment:
  • Being Human
  • Lost
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Nature's Great Events
  • Heroes
  • My Name Is Earl
  • Damages
  • Mad Men
  • QI
  • Spooks
  • Battlestar Galactica
(bold indicates titles in HD on VM). Of course, if I had Sky HD everything would be available in HD except QI and the old repeats of Spooks from Watch.