December 30, 2009

BBC HD over Christmas

What did everyone think? I thought the Doctor Who and Cranford specials looked very good - the former was an improvement over the Waters of Mars episode to my eyes, but that may just be because those aerial shots of London always look good in HD. Cranford looked good too, and so did Outnumbered. I've still to watch Day of the Triffids and Victoria Wood.
I didn't try any of the films showing on BBC HD, but two I caught on 4HD, Dick Tracy and Slither, looked spectacular. TheChristmas lineup on FX was useless, but ESPN HD was as sparkling as ever.
It's a great shame that ITV1HD wasn't on cable in time for Christmas as they've got more HD programming than C4 now. Let's hope we get that before the re-start of the Champions League in February.

December 29, 2009

No cut in Virgin Media BBC HD bit rate

As not everyone reads the Comments posted on this blog, here's some information that will be of interest to those following the BBC HD debate (thanks to Erich and BikeNutt)
Andy Quested, Principal Technologist, BBC Future Media & Technology: "We don't do the encoding for the Virgin platform. The signal from the playout and continuity area goes straight to an inject point somewhere in the bottom of Television Centre and (I assume) off to Virgin's distribution centre. The Virgin distributed HD signal MPEG2 at around 17Mbs and has been for sometime. In fact I believe there has only been one encoder change since the test channel launched. MPEG2 is a mature codec so updates (hard and soft) don't come along very often."

So the BBC HD picture we get hasn't had its bitrate cut like the channel has on either of the satellite platforms, which means the degradation we're seeing is down to other factors. Interesting.
Incidentally, anyone relying on the HD section on BBC iPlayer catch up this Christmas is going to be sorely disappointed: it's missing most of the main Christmas shows (Doctor Who, Cranford, Day of the Triffids, Outnumbered etc). They're there in standard def, but no HD.

December 28, 2009

Which? report gives thumbs up to BBC HD quality

Consumer group Which? has never been highly regarded by the purists for its technology prowess, and it has now stepped into the debate regarding BBC HD picture quality with this report: BBC HD 'in the clear', says Which? Labs.
Not the most illuminating read on the matter.

Mad Men Season 3 begins on BBC HD January 21st

According to page 10 of this edition of Shortlist, the outstanding US show Mad Men returns to UK screens on January 21st 2010. Hurrah!

UPDATE: Delayed by a week or so: now premiering Wednesday January 27th with a double episode.

December 27, 2009

BBC HD Sky vs Virgin

I've heard that the Sky and Freesat BBC HD picture quality is far worst than the so-so BBC HD PQ on Virgin - can anyone verify this? Whilst I find the picture a shadow of its former self, it doesn't sound anywhere near as bad as the descriptions being reported on the BBC HD blogs.

Heroes returns to BBC HD

The fourth series of the (once) eagerly anticipated US series Heroes arrives on BBC HD on Saturday, January 9th at 10.10pm with two episodes. The next day sees the second season of the extremely good Being Human kicking off at 10.30pm.
Also returning in January to BBC HD are Wallander (Jan 3) and Hustle (Jan 4) and showing every week night from Jan 4 is US series Nurse Jackie, starring Edie Falco from The Sopranos.
(Sorry to say I haven't got a date yet for the return of Mad Men.)
The advance schedules are showing BBC HD in the new year running from 4am to 1am each day btw.

December 25, 2009

Free Picturebox but only SD

Apologies for the earlier post (now removed) - I was misinformed
The Picturebox movie selection is free to all VM customers over the Christmas weekend in standard definition, but not HD.
Starting on Christmas day there's more than 20 movies via Virgin Central (channel 118)

Jazz Shorts - nice

If you haven't seen it yet, there's an innovative new series Jazz Shorts on BBC HD this week. Why "innovative"? Read this interesting BBC R&D blog to find out more. Episodes are appearing the iPlayer HD selection if you miss it when broadcast.
Oh, and a Happy Christmas to all regular visitors to this blog

December 24, 2009

BBC HD on Radio 4 'You and Yours'

Danielle Nagler's putting in an appearance on the Radio 4 consumer show You and Yours. From the You and Yours website:
When high definition television launched in 2006 it promised to deliver clear, crisp pictures with vivid colours and up to five times more detail than standard definition. Yet the BBC has recently changed it's specifications of HD transmission and viewers say that their picture has detriorated. The BBC denies this.

If you've experienced problems with the service we'd like to hear from.

You can call us on 0800 044 044 or email us via

December 23, 2009

Cracking start to an HD Christmas

Well, waddayaknow? I've just watched the first episode of Cranford on BBC HD iPlayer and the picture quality was outstanding. Did anyone else see it? Looked fab. The scenes with the ailling Lady Ludlow were super sharp and the photography throughout was really something.
And earlier today I caught up with 4HD's showing of Dick Tracy from earlier in the week. I hadn't seen this movie since it was first released and it looked incredible in HD - really came to life with its wonderfully vivid colour pallette and some cracking cinematography.
Which bodes well for the next few days, especially as I was prepared to be disappointed with BBC HD over the next few days after the last few months of so-so PQ. I'm now looking forward to the second Cranford, the big Doctor Who double bill and the intriguing Day of the Triffids two-parter next week. The films on BBC HD may be mainly family fayre this season, but this is the channel's best line up for Christmas yet.
It's a shame 4HD's schedule is so lacklustre and FX HD seems to have lost the plot completely by lining up hours and hours of TV animation.

December 16, 2009

BBC HD - the final insult

The problems with picture quality on BBC HD have now made it onto the BBC's own news service. How embarrassing is that....

December 14, 2009

Interesting article on Tivo

Here's an interesting piece on Virgin Media's Next Gen TV partner Tivo. Not all rosy in the Tivo garden: Can Tivo Re-invent Itself?

December 12, 2009

Danielle Nagler quits...the debate on BBC HD PQ

She's had enough/run out of excuses/is desperately hoping it all goes away* and has "drawn a line" under her contribution on the matter. Frankly, that's pathetic, and if you read the comments on her latest blog post you'll see that all she's done is wind people up even more. Doesn't she realise that there's no point in promoting the channel in future blogs if people aren't tuning in because of the superior picture elsewhere, even on the standard definition BBC1?
I'm a massive fan of the BBC - the vast majority of viewing in my house is BBC - but Ms Nagler has been responsible for a serious deterioration in picture quality standards on BBC HD. I find it sad that the BBC HD management's response to the unanimous public concensus that the picture quality has dropped has been to stick its collective heads in the sand and deny there's a problem. They do not answer the simplest of questions and hide behind scientific tests whilst denying what their own eyes must surely tell them. Shameful.
All a bit reminiscent of the appalling political mismanagement you see on The Thick of It, which I'll be watching tonight ... on BBC2. It all reminds me of "Tucker's Law" ...

* Delete as applicable

December 11, 2009


Andy Quested has now posted the last part of his response to those questionning the drop in picture quality on BBC HD; final post (and links to the others) here. The comments speak volumes...
Mr Quested is normally very candid and the time he's taken in writing these (at times very technical) blogs is appreciated, but I'd still like to ask him if, all politics and spin aside, he cannot see that the picture we now have on the channel is inferior to that we enjoyed previous to the changes introduced in the summer. Frankly I don't care about the maths and physics behind the technical evaluations, all I know is what I see with my eyes - it is not as good as it was, and is now closer in sharpness and detail to standard def BBC1 than the HD channels from Nat Geo, C4, FX et al.
Is it bit rate? It has to be a factor and yet the BBC denies this. I don't know what bitrate the On Demand programming is alocated on Virgin but a number of folk have emailed me saying they think it's better to watch programmes on demand now than live or record them. Haven't noticed it myself (BBC HD On Demand being somewhat hit or miss about what it stores still I don't rely on it) but I can say that I currently regard BBC HD as a bit of a waste of my V+ disc at the moment and I'm watching all my BBC viewing on the SD channels.
The debate doesn't appear to be going anywhere - the BBC management are so entrenched they're not going to suddenly admit they were wrong, and the channel's going to the dogs. A real shame. A real setback for high definition TV in the UK.

Freeview HD: Humax box announced for February

Expected to cost around £170, the first Freeview HD box from Humax has been announced - details here

December 10, 2009

BBC HD complaints hit the national press

In today's Independent:BBC criticised over HD picture quality
(thanks Hew)

UPDATE: And now the Mail too, who never miss a chance to lay into the BBC. Comments go off topic really quickly though

Telegraph as well.

December 09, 2009

Films on 4HD this Christmas

Not the most exciting line up, but I guess better than we had last year...
Sun Dec 20: Miracle on 34th Street (1994 version)
Mon Dec 21: Aquamarine; Le Divorce
Tue Dec 22:Rugrats Go Wild; Dick Tracy; Tristan + Isolde
Thu Dec 24: The Nativity Story; 3 Men and a Baby; Slither
Fri Dec 25: Honey I Blew Up The Kids
Sat Dec 26: Aeon Flux
Sun Dec 27: Crocodile Dundee II
Mon Dec 28: Anna and the King
Tue Dec 29: Dreamer; And When Did You Last See Your Father
Fri Dec 31: Romancing The Stone
Sat Jan 1: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
In fact, looking through the C4 listings there's precious little actual genuine HD this year unless you fancy hours of Come Dine With Me or Ugly Betty. I think there was a better selection last year - so much for the channel's commitment to high def.

December 07, 2009

E4 HD coming to Sky

...but not Virgin Media yet. It's not the C4 channel I'd get most excited about (personally I'd prefer Film4 or even More4) and if the current 4HD is anything to go by it'll be pretty light on actual HD programming, but it is another step forward. Details here.

December 06, 2009

BBC HD this Christmas

Quite a line up heading our way. Here's some of the detail from Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler's latest blog post:
We'll be showing not just the final (two) appearances of David Tennant's Doctor Who (on Christmas and New Year's Day), but also specially made outings from The Royle Family, Gavin and Stacey, Catherine Tate, Cranford, and Victoria Wood. The week between Christmas and New Year will also see broadcasts of a remake of Day of the Triffids, The Turn of the Screw, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet with David Tennant in the title role.

Christmas Eve will showcase music - we're showing South Pacific (the 1958 film of the musical), The Tsarina's Slippers (ballet from the Royal Opera House), and Carols from Kings. New Year's Eve will see what has become a regular date with Jools Holland's Hootenanny, and we're also using that day to show again the BBC Prom featuring the music of MGM.

We know that many of you value watching films in HD. I can reassure you that a lot of the films that the BBC is showing over Christmas will be on the channel. Please enjoy The Incredibles (on Christmas Day, following on from the Queen's Speech), Herbie: Fully Loaded, Flushed Away, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (on Boxing Day), and 101 Dalmatians, Miss Potter, Chicken Run, Mary Poppins, the Wallace and Gromit films, at various other points.

My own personal treats to look forrward to over the period include the animation of Julia Donaldson's beautiful children's classic The Gruffalo (on Christmas Day afternoon), and Top Gear's trip to Bolivia showing on 27th December.

December 04, 2009

New feature for On Demand

Not sure exactly when it appeared, but there's now a View From feature on all On Demand programming that means you don't have to 'fast' forward to a specific point in a programme - just type in the time you want to watch from and ... voila! Nice one, VM.
Also, Carnivale season one is back in the HD On Demand listings. I thought the first season was great ... the second season's a bit of a disappointment mind. It looks like the same HBO and History series are in heavy rotation in HD, which is not quite as galling now that we have more HD channels but it would be good to have something new every once in a while.
Meanwhile, the iPlayer's HD selection these days seems to have a lot of kids stuff but for some reason is missing the (marginally) more adult Paradox. Odd.

BBC HD picture quality - Andy Quested blogs

Andy Quested is BBC HD's Principal Technologist and seems to be not just incredibly switched on but also remarkably candid when talking about the challenges facing the channel.
As regular readers of this blog are all too aware, there's been a lot of criticism both here and elsewhere of the picture quality on the channel since the bit-rate and encoder changes in August. Mr Quested has been mostly silent on the matter, but his long-promised blog posts are now to appear daily as he presents his Hitchhiker's Guide to Encoding that will hopefully answer a number of questions. Here's what he has on the menu - links will be added as the posts appear.

Friday: Opening and audio issues
Monday: HD encoder history
Tuesday: The EBU
Wednesday: PSNR and all that
Thursday: New encoder evaluation
Friday: Programme styles and closing thoughts

True Blood season two

Good news for those who like their vampires a little more adult than Twilight offers: the second season of True Blood will be on FX HD in February. (Season one is currently wowing a sizable audience on C4 HD and will end just before Christmas.)
There's less good news for fans of FlashForward though (not in HD on Five of course) - the second half of season one has been delayed until mid-March 2010. I thought this series was a poor man's Lost, until I sumbled over the so-bad-it's-good Paradox on BBC HD last week - suddenly FlashForward doesn't seem quite so bad!
Incidentally, Lost is back on Sky1 early February. Season 8 of 24 returns Jan 24 on Sky1, and the sixth seasons of Grey's Anatomy and Nip/Tuck will be appearing in HD on Living and FX in January too.

December 02, 2009

Freeview HD ("Hardly Different") arrives

Full story and pics from the BBC: BBC Blog
Tech Radar coverage
Digital Spy story

(Watched my recording of Life on BBC HD last night and was pleasantly surprised - very good picture indeed. Are they tweaking things? Or was it just that underwater photography always looks amazing in HD regardless of the bitrate/encoders?)

December 01, 2009

Introducing BBC PHD

According to Digital Spy, Freesat MD Emma Scott thinks that the obvious drop in picture quality on BBC HD is a "geek issue".
"I don't think that regular punters really recognise a recognisable dip. And as Danielle said, it's down to the particular programmes that you are watching and how it is optimised for different types of programmes. On satellite, it's a pretty high picture quality.

"Ultimately, it's about the overall effect of HD, whether it's the surround sound you get with it or how they have shot it. And I think they are right to be experimenting with it to see which things work out. I just don't think it's an issue, I really don't.

"But it's a very subjective decision, a subjective judgement. . . we have no complaints about the picture quality of BBC HD."
So they're now happy with "pretty high picture quality" - maybe they should call it BBC PHD ("Pretty High Definition"). Strewth... it really is the blind leading the blind...