August 31, 2009
ESPN HD has been brilliant for the footie but I still find it's BBC HD that is filling (rapidly!) my V+ each week - the recent series of River and Coast are backed up on my disc and a few episodes of Desperate Romantics have been recorded in SD just to squeeze on. If you're recording just HD it's a meagre 20 hours of recording you can store, and unfortunately the much-lauded HD on demand with iPlayer just isn't up to scratch yet, predominantly filled with kids' series and soaps (why??!).
The V+ storage is a problem Virgin will get complaints about if they can't engineer a Samsung roll out and a switch to MPeg4 soon.
Another poll then: now that we have more than one, which HD channel do you watch most?
August 28, 2009
Ofcom wants to impose a complicated pricing formula which it claims will allow Sky to make a decent margin from selling on its sport and movie channels, even after the cost of acquiring the rights has been taken into account.
"It would not make Sky sell at a loss," Patterson [Chief Exec of BT Retail] says. It is ironic, he adds, that Sky has built a broadband business with more than 2 million customers (BT has close to 5 million) by piggybacking on BT's own network, following a deal imposed by regulators, but is unwilling to accede to Ofcom's writ by making its own content available to BT and others.
I hadn't thought of it like that. Sky has talked up the investment made by the company in securing its premium TV content monopoly, but has conveniently ignored the similar situation in the broadband market with BT having made a huge investment and then having to bow to regulatory power to open it up to the competition. Which Sky has been one of the main beneficiaries of.
August 27, 2009
August 24, 2009
August 23, 2009
(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.
August 20, 2009
Anyway, if you want to do it more scientifically here's a handy guide on The Register to follow to maximise your televisual experience.
August 19, 2009
I hadn't noticed myself, but apparently there are quality issues with BBC HD that have led to them issuing the following statement:
"The BBC has deployed a new set of HD encoders. The current bitrates were picked after much side-by-side comparison of the old and new encoders using a wide range of programme material. While it is impossible to achieve parity in all formats the new encoders were judged to be giving equal or better quality in most cases."
"However, there is no test like putting these to air, and when we did, a reproducible problem was identified on certain types of material. We have shared this information with the coder manufacturer so they can investigate further. "
"The particular problem does not go away with higher bitrates, so whilst an investigation and fix are awaited some changes have already been made to the encoders to try and mitigate the effects. In addition, the new encoders also fixed other problems, unrelated to picture quality, which the BBC received complaints about."
There's more on this on the What HiFi site.
August 18, 2009
Sky spends more than double what Virgin Media does on advertising its services - and is in fact one of the biggest advertisers in the UK - and it has dug deep into its pockets again with a massive promotion of Sky HD in today's press, two page colour ads in every paper, belittling Virgin's six HD channels compared to (up to) 34 on Sky HD.
It's not a fair comparison - half of the channels Sky has in HD are not made available to VM as they are Sky-owned, and the VM service is free to XL TV customers whereas on Sky you pay extra - and as with all Sky and Virgin ads the devil is in the detail, but it does show that Sky is going to take Virgin's move into HD seriously. Possibly more seriously than Virgin themselves.
August 17, 2009
- At the end of March, over a quarter of UK homes (27%) had a PVR ("Personal Video Recorder", such as the V+ or Sky+), representing an increase of 29% since September, 2008.
- Around 9 million PVR's have been sold in the UK, the majority (over 5 million) of which are Sky+ boxes.
- Around a fifth (19%) of viewing in Sky+ homes is timeshifted, while in homes equipped with Virgin Media's V+ PVR service 12% of viewing is timeshifted; in Freeview PVR homes, meanwhile, around 9% of viewing is timeshifted.
So if you have a V+, do you still watch live TV (excepting sport or news)? I hardly watch anything when it's actually broadcast these days, the only exception really being what I'd call "event" TV, stuff I choose to watch at the earliest opportunity (Lost being one of the few examples of this). In fact, I think I actually watch less TV than I did before the V+, but I'm more selective in what I watch.
Which presents a problem with the new HD channels still being the less efficient compression of MPeg2. My V+ hard disc just ain't big enough to record several episodes of an HD series without the disc groaning under the size of a few hours of HD. What's more, the HD section of iPlayer seems to be extremely hit and miss, which means my (manual) series stacking of Desperate Romantics and Being Human has been recorded from SD rather than high def as I know I won't get around to watching them for a while. Anyone else struggling with this? I find that I only record HD programmes if I plan to watch them the same week now, which makes the whole thing somwhat frustrating.
Life & Lyrics
Thursday 20 August
11:00pm - 12:50am
Grow Your Own
Friday 21 August
11:00pm - 12:40am
The School of Rock
Sunday 23 August
8:00pm - 10:10pm
And for those with the £5 a month Picturebox service, there's a pretty motley collection of SD and HD movies that wouldn't look out of place in the bargain bins you see in garages: check out the 28 on offer at the Picturebox site
August 16, 2009
Will ESPN grab this and become the place for European football coverage, or will Sky regain what for my mind is the best football in the world? So far the two have been pretty amicable since the demise of Setanta, but word is that Sky are not happy with the deal ESPN has struck with Virgin and this could turn nasty. For the VM viewer, the preference I guess would be for ESPN, especially if the new season is broadcast in HD for the first time here. In fact, Sky has only shown La Liga in 4:3 ratio to date, so pretty much anything will be an improvement over that and the dodgy pictures we had last season some Sunday evenings.
(More details over on Digital Spy, btw.)
UPDATED: August 25th. Sky Sports has secured an exclusive three-year TV rights deal to broadcast live matches from La Liga in Spain.
Under the arrangement, Sky Sports will show at least two live matches every weekend, but no word as to whether it will be in widescreen or not.
August 15, 2009
August 14, 2009
Critically well received and with Harvey Keitel as Gene Hunt, this looks interesting even if it is likely to pale if compared with the BBC's original.
The show was axed after a single season in the US but they extended the initial number of episodes from 14 to 17 to wrap up the loose ends and create a twist apparently even more audacious than the end of the UK version.
Life on Mars will debut on FX HD at 10pm on Fridays from 9 October, once the channel has finished the first run of HBO’s True Blood.
August 13, 2009
This will bring Virgin's HD channels to seven (BBC, C4, Nat Geo, FX, MTVN, ESPN plus Living), with word that British Eurosport, History and ITV1 may join the line up before the year is out. Ten HD channels at no extra cost for XL customers is a pretty good deal if you ask me.
What will be interesting will be how much Sky is willing to offer for Living HD - they don't want to have it missing from their lineup (Living is one of the most popular pay TV channels) - but Virgin may demand access to Sky1 HD in return. Now that would be something...
August 12, 2009
August 07, 2009
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?
August 03, 2009
Channel 4 HD
National Georgraphic HD
No ESPN HD yet but that's not broadcasting until 8pm tonight.
Does anyone know of a more accurate set of listings?