April 30, 2009

BBC HD content appears on VM iPlayer

As mentioned in a few comments to earlier posts, a new folder, HD Catch Up has appeared in the on demand catch up TV listings (option 5). Content appears to have been added over the evening - all so far has been from BBC HD.
Also, someone has posted that there are now subtitles available on BBC HD - haven't checked this myself.

BBC HD copy protection

Whilst we're now counting the hours down to Virgin's inevitable so-so quarterly results and maybe (but don't count on it) an announcement about more HD, here's an interesting article from Crave about the BBC HD copy protection standards. I don't necessarily agree with what the guy is saying, but I do think that copy protection is a thorny issue for HD once Blu-Ray recorders become more commonplace.

April 29, 2009

iPlayer HD - good enough to play through your TV?

Those dapper guys at Crave have had a good look at the new BBC iPlayer HD and rate it pretty highly. Here's their conclusion:
"So, is iPlayer HD good enough for your HD TV? Yes, we think it is actually. The quality isn't perfect, but if you missed something, or simply don't have access to the proper HD channel, it's likely to be a godsend. We're hopeful that the BBC will continue to improve the quality."
And for more, here's the link to the full review.

April 28, 2009

Match of the Day to go HD ... in 2011

According to the Radio Times, Match of the Day's regular Saturday evening programme cannot go full HD until 2011. Although the games are apparently now shot in high definition, it's going to be a long wait as
"the MOTD team have to edit down the footage in a hurry [and] they have their own edit suite. This isn't capable of handling HD footage...until 2011 when they are moving to new facilities in Salford"

Virgin Media in negotiations for History HD

According to Media Boy's "Coming Soon to Virgin TV" thread over on Cable Forum A&E, the folk behind the History channel, say that
We are in active discussions with Virgin Media in relation to both Military and History HD.
We hope that our discussions will be successful, but in the meantime would suggest that you also express your desire to receive these Channels directly to Virgin Media.
It is unclear whether this is for the HD channel or more on demand content (there has been some History HD on demand programming already, notably The Universe).
Still no official confirmation from Virgin regarding the timing of any additional HD services.

April 25, 2009

Dexter season 3 in HD arrives

You have to hunt around for it and then sit through a (standard definition) trailer for the FX channel, but then you have it, and it's widescreen, ad and DOG free, too!

Why we really, really need HD On Demand and to get off MPeg2 ASAP

Virgin Media's continued use of the inefficient MPeg2 encoding for its high definition services, dictated by the limitations of the SA V+ hardware, has us all worried. An hour of BBC HD recording takes up a shade under 4 hours of the 80 available on your PVR's hard disc. If you're going on holiday and set it to record say 4 hours of HD a week for a fortnight, that's almost half of your disc consumed by just 8 hours of TV. Throw in a high def movie or attempt a series stack of Mad Men and you've got a major problem. And, unlike a Sky box, you cannot (legally) put a larger disc into a V+ as it's Virgin's property. And besides, Sky HD uses MPeg4 - the Sky+ HD overhead for recording high def is a fraction of that the MPeg2-crippled Virgin VIP incurs.
What will it be like when we have C4 HD and the other rumoured HD channels? Once you've got a PVR, there's very little TV you watch 'live' - sport, news, that's about it. I timeshift pretty much everything, and some weeks my V+ struggles with the single HD channel.
So it was disappointing to read that the new Samsung V+ being trialled has the same 160Gb disc as the SA V+, and, despite it having vastly superior MPeg4 encoding capability, Virgin has no plans to utilise it and will be sticking with MPeg2. Sky HD, Freesat HD and even (when it arrives) Freeview HD use Mpeg4, so Virgin really is isolated in the industry with this technology legacy.
To some degree, HD content in iPlayer, ITV Player and 4OD catch up services will help out - if it ever arrives. If I could watch Heroes in HD via iPlayer and it was series stacked, I'd only record the SD version on my V+. Not ideal, but a compromise I could live with.
What would be better would be if, once the additional HD channels are available, they were also available in MPeg4, and we could trade in our SA V+ for the Samsung V+ to decode them for a nominal install fee. (And, yes, I know this would take even more bandwidth, but analogue's almost gone now.) This would create a two-tier HD delivery service in the short term, but would see VM homes with the necessary technology base to move HD services forward into the 21st century. Future HD services could be MPeg4 only, whilst customers with the SA V+ would only have access to the HD taster of BBC HD and a few others also available on Freesat. As the SA V+ estate ages (and it will age pretty quickly - those cheap hard discs won't spin forever) new equipment will be installed and Virgin will have a technology base to move forward with, rather than one that makes you rue the short term technology strategising of a few years ago.
(And if Virgin needs a CIO to make this happen, they know where to find me...)

April 22, 2009

Dexter Season 3 in HD

Press release from Virgin today:
Virgin Media customers will be able to get a fix of their favourite blood-spatter-analyst-turned-serial-killer whenever they want, as the latest series of Dexter launches on Virgin Media TV on demand this week. All Virgin Media TV Choice customers will be able to catch season three on demand, with V+ HD users able to enjoy the show in all its gruesome goriness in HD.
Now in its third series, Emmy award winning Dexter stars Michael C. Hall as a sociopathic killer as he carries out his vigilante crusade, ridding society of criminals he believes deserve to die. Season two ended with a gripping finale with Dexter’s secret almost unveiled by Sgt. Doakes, when he found evidence linking Dexter to the ‘Bay Harbour Butcher’ victims. But with Doakes out of the way, Dexter is once again back on track, believing he is now master of the techniques his father taught him.
Season three begins on FX UK on 24th April with Dexter setting his sights on Freebo, a dope dealer and killer, as his next target. It looks to be just another night of his dark justice, but things don’t go as planned. The first episode will be available in Virgin Media’s on demand library TV Choice from 26th April, with a new episode stacking each week, All Virgin Media TV customers will be able to enjoy a taste of Dexter with the first episode available in Virgin Central, the on demand channel, from 26th April. Virgin Central is available at no additional cost to customers who subscribe to Virgin TV on digital cable.
Katharine Burns Rivington, managing director of content acquisition and strategy at Virgin Media said “With Virgin Media TV on demand, our customers have the flexibility to watch the broadest range of shows whenever they choose, with over 4,600 hours of TV, film and music to pick from. We’re big fans of Dexter and are delighted to bring our customers such a great show in HD. This is just one example of our commitment to bringing more HD to our customers, be it via linear channels or our extensive on demand service.”
Not wishing to appear ungrateful, but I can't think of any other examples of their commitment to bringing more HD to us customers...

BBC and ITV HD schedules

Just found this handy page on the Freesat site as a quick way of checking out what's on ITV HD in the coming week. Also clearer than the new BBC HD site.

April 21, 2009

Virgin: no extra charge for additional HD channels

A few folk have contacted this blog having received emails from Virgin Media Customer Services after they complained about the lack of HD channels on cable. Here's what they were sent:
Please be assured we are aware that the amount of HD content currently available is limited.
We are trying to get more channels in HD as a priority. It is taking a lot longer then we would have hoped.
We have to negotiate the rights with the other providers to show the channels in HD. As our competitor Sky is one of those providers it is proving difficult to come to an agreement.
We can confirm that unlike Sky, when we have more HD content you will not be charged extra to have access to the channels.
There will be more channels available throughout the year. We do not want to give specific dates until we are 100% certain that we can transmit the channels.
Please look out for anything we may send through the post as you will be informed of any developments.
So, still no dates, but the bit in bold is news and good news too. And it sounds like some Sky HD channels are among those being negotiated for (though not movies or sport).
There are some posts on a DS thread along similar lines, too. As always, there's also some speculation (and scepticism) as to when these channels will arrive and there's the usual list of possible channels - Discovery, C4, ITV, Sky1 and Virgin1 - mentioned in dispatches.

April 20, 2009

HD arrives on online iPlayer

It's a week late, but the online version of now has BBC HD content today (Monday). Not everything's there (a cursory glance found that No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency was in HD but Mad Men and the recent Doctor Who special weren't) but it's a start. Picture quality on the streaming service wasn't ideal on my (2omb) connection but an improvement on the regular and higher quality streams. I'd expect the download version to be better - certainly I wouldn't want to watch the streaming versions on an 8mb or slower connection.
Two interesting blog posts on the BBC site: BBC iPlayer goes HD, adds higher quality streams, releases iPlayer Desktop out of Labs and BBC HD: Joining the BBC iPlayer family

April 19, 2009

Virgin Media share price

I know the US stock markets been experiencing a less torrid time of late, but the performance of Virgin Media's share price over the last month has been pretty impressive, up over 50%. Given that the last quarter's results were pretty mediocre, I'm at something of a loss to explain this turnaround. Is Berkett's broadband hype impressing the markets or was the stock criminally undervalued?

April 18, 2009

Recording BBC HD

Somewhat bravely, head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler takes on the thorny subject of Digital Rights Management in her latest blog on the BBC HD site. With Freesat Blu-Ray recorders appearing this summer from Panasonic and others (see post from a few days ago) the issue of copying restrictions with HD channels is now with us. Currently, you can record BBC HD and other high definition channels onto the internal disc of your PVR, but if you make a copy to a DVD recorder the quality takes a nosedive and is nearer SD than HD. With Blu-Ray the increased capacity of the discs makes copying a full HD recording to a single shiny disc a technical reality, but the copyright holders have other ideas. Danielle says that:
It will now be possible to make a single HD Blu-ray copy of one of our programmes, although not copies of copies. An HD connection to a protected home network will also be possible, although an HD connection to the Internet or portable devices will not work. The diagram below [click the link to see it] I think sums up the various paths you might want your HD content to take - and the extent to which that will be possible. I should add that the partial unlocking of some paths should also enable the high quality standard definition RGB outputs from some set top boxes.
It's a very interesting post, and one that's already collected a fair amount of comment from its audience. Great to see the ever-informative Andy Quested chipping in with some information too.

April 17, 2009

BBC iPlayer in HD arrives...or does it?

According to a number of sources, the BBC's online version of iPlayer is now delivering high definition programming.
BBC iPlayer Labs report that the new "high-quality stream" has a 1,500kbps bit-rate. Hmm. That's not HD in my book - YouTube HD maybe. A somewhat liberal use of "HD" if you ask me. It's better than the previous "High Quality" streams but most definitely not true HD. Think DVD rather than Blu-Ray.
No word on when real HD programming will be made available via iPlayer on Virgin Media (or other platforms).

April 15, 2009

Virgin Media on HD channels:

If you complete the Virgin Media questionnaire, you get this feedback at the end of your form filling:

Lots of you were unhappy with the amount of HD Channels available on Virgin Media TV.

We’ve listened to your feedback on this and the great news is we’re launching more HD channels later this year. We‘ll also continue to add a huge amount of new On Demand HD content for you to enjoy whenever you choose, including The Sopranos, The Wire and Dexter and a great range of movies like Tropic Thunder and Kung Fu Panda.

And as well as more HD content, we’re improving our On Demand service – for example, all our TV customers are now able to catch up on the best of the last seven days of ITV shows with ITV Net Player, along with shows from BBC iPlayer and 4oD.

Panasonic to launch Freesat Blu-Ray recorders

For those looking at Freesat as an alternative to Virgin Media's pitiful HD line up, Panasonic is launching a new range Freesat HD digital recorders to the UK in June, two of which are Blu-Ray recorders. (Details from Home Cinema Choice)
The £999 DMR-BS850 and £899 DMR-BS750 will have 500GB and 250GB hard drives respectively, whilst the DMR-XS350 is a DVD recorder with Freesat HD and a 250GB hard drive. While hi-def broadcasts can be recorded to the hard drive, the DVD recorder in the XS350 will only archive in standard def. All three models have twin Freesat HD tuners, but not all HD programmes will be recordable. According to HCC:
'There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to record every HD show you fancy, or archive them to Blu-ray media. This is because broadcasters reserve the right to flag their transmissions as ‘Copy Free’, ‘Copy Once’ or ‘Copy Never.’

'The BBC has informed us that once these recorders go on sale, they will move the majority of their broadcasts to Copy Free, but if Hollywood, or a rights holder, specifically wants to restrict usage, a TV channel will broadcast ‘prohibit’ flags.'

April 10, 2009

Doctor Who, Saturday 6.45pm

The latest Doctor Who special (and first to be filmed in high definition) Planet of the Dead debuts on BBC HD Saturday night at 6.45pm, with a repeat showing on Monday at 5pm.

April 09, 2009

Easter weekend on BBC HD

Here are the highlights of BBC HD's line up this Easter weekend. Aside from Doctor Who's high def debut, if you like golf it's somewhat sparse to say the least (the rest of the schedule is repeats and regulars)

Good Friday
16.20 Film: Chicken Run
20.30 Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death
21.00 Golf: US Masters

17.10 Film: Finding Nemo
20.30 Golf: US Masters

Easter Sunday
18.55 Golf: US Masters (all evening)

Easter Monday
17.00 Doctor Who - Planet of the Dead
21.00 Heroes

April 07, 2009

US Masters on BBC HD

Teeing off on Thursday, April 9th at 9pm is high definition coverage of the US Masters Golf extravaganza. Three and a half hours through to the small hours for four days, it looked great last year and hopefully will be as good this. Enjoy.

April 05, 2009

Samsung V+

Has anyone out there got a Samsung V+ yet? Now that the new Virgin Media box has been released for a few weeks, it would be interesting to get some opinions on the new hardware's day-to-day performance. Please send us a comment or, if you want to write something a little longer, email me at niallivm@gmail.com

April 01, 2009

Virgin in "advanced discussions" over 3 to 4 HD channels, or is it 6 to 7?

Not an April Fool (it was published after midday): according to DS, a Virgin spokesperson says that "advanced discussions" are underway with "a number of content providers... aiming to launch three to four linear HD channels over the next few months". The full story is available on Digital Spy
Not really news, and that next few months line was last seen...er...a few months ago. Those still on VM not already signed up to Sky HD are advised not to restrict their respiration waiting in anticipation...

This from an interesting thread on Cable Forum. Aaron emailed Berkett about his promise of HD channels in the next few months (Dec 08) and got this reply:
"No I was referring to HD channels which was absolutely our intention. We are negotiating as we speak and will be launching 6 or seven channels at once shortly

Neil Berkett | Chief Executive Officer
Virgin Media"
Be still my beating heart...deep breaths...

New BBC HD Indent and website

Nice. And there's a new look to the station website too: BBC HD

More details on Danielle's latest blog post