January 29, 2010

4HD this weekend

Couple of films on 4HD this weekend that should look mighty fine in high def:
The Day After Tomorrow is on Saturday night at 8pm, followed at 10.20pm by Pitch Black.

January 28, 2010

Sky phasing out SD boxes and introduces a 1tb hard disc version

Sky is standardising on a single Sky+ HD receiver and introducing a new 1 terabyte PVR.
“Sky+ HD is our best box, it’s got a larger hard drive, greater processing power, it’s Ethernet enabled and is VOD and 3D Ready,” Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said at an investor presentation in London.
Also announced, a new 1 terabyte Sky+ HD receiver that will store up to 240 hours of HD content. It will (initially) cost an extra £249.
Meanwhile, my SA V+ still chugs along recording HD programmes on a hit-n-miss basis, squeezing barely 20 hours of HD onto its 160gb disc...

Over 2m Sky HD customers

In its latest quarters' results BSkyB has announced that it has added almost half a million HD customers in the last quarter and now tops over two million customers in total.
Virgin's results are due shortly (normally a week or so after Sky's). Expect some additions to the HD lineup to be announced beforehand.

January 25, 2010

Murray v Nadal on BBC HD Tuesday, 8.30am

BBC HD is showing the Murray Nadal match in the Australian Open tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 8.30.

January 24, 2010

New blog feature

The most recent Comments posted on this blog are now listed top right. It doesn't like apostrophes but I thought it would be a useful addition to make.

Not HD but...

Two new series start on Sky1 that will interest the masses, even if they're not available to us in HD:
Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica starts on Tuesday, Febuary 3rd with a double episode, and the sixth and final season of Lost begins on Friday, February 5th, again with a double episode. Both are 9pm, although the latter is preceded by a "the story so far" special at 8pm.
And if you didn't know, 24 is back tonight (Sunday) at 9pm.
Incidentally, Virgin's last quarter results and full 2009 results are due early in February and these announcements are often accompanied by the some new channels. Mind you, nothing happened last quarter, but maybe something on the HD front this time? ITV1 HD would be great. And Sky1 HD would be fabulous, albeit extremely unlikely.

January 21, 2010

Samsung V+

My previous post has led to a number of recommendations that I ask Virgin to replace my box with a Samsung. Couple of questions:
  • Have any Samsung V+ users experienced failed recordings?
  • Are there any other problems with the newer box you would warn me about before making the call?
Incidentally, it's disappointing to see that BBC HD, the home of the frequent repeat, isn't showing How Earth Made Us again this week. 

January 20, 2010

Bloody V+...

I'd been looking forward to How Earth Made Us all week and started watching it on BBC HD last night - sensational! Watched about 30 mins then had to go off to bed for an early start Wednesday. 'Never mind,' thought I, 'I'm recording it.'
Tonight I found a failed recording...and no sign of the programme in the Catch Up HD section of iPlayer, either. Bloody hell. As I watched the SD version on iPlayer, complete with loads of blocky artefacts and a very blurry picture, I almost wept.
Bloody SA V+ box...can I have a Samsung please Virgin?

January 18, 2010

How Earth Made Us

Iain Stewart's Earth: Power of the Planet was one of the early triumphs of BBC HD - glorious pictures, fascinating documentaries. So it will be interesting to see if the picture quality on its follow up, How Earth Made Us (BBC HD, Tuesday 19th January at 10pm), holds up in light of the recent criticisms levelled at the channel.

Man U v Man City on BBC HD

It may be something of a third-rate tournament, but the first leg of the Carling Cup Manchester derby ding-dong is showing on BBC HD on Tuesday at 7.30pm, with the deciding leg of the Villa v Blackburn game showing at the same time on Wednesday night.
(The second leg of the Utd v City game is on Sky Sports 1.)

January 17, 2010

Sky Sports HD "coming soon" thanks to OFCOM?

According to the front page of today's Sunday Telegraph, the decision on SkySports and movies, will be made this week by OFCOM. It won't be public until March, and of course then will be subject to appeals by Sky and possibly cancelled by a future Tory government, but at least something is being done to redress the balance.
OFCOM's last published report did say that HD versions of the channels will be subject to the same rulings as the standard definition ones.
It's not really big news and I'm not sure why it suddenly makes the front page of the Telegraph, especially as their political leader of choice, Cameron, has already announced he'll deconstruct OFCOM as one of his first actions if he become PM. Odd.
I've watched ESPN HD most weekends and have enjoyed it, a vast improvement over Setanta. It's a shame that they will only have half as many Premiership games next season, but if we eventually do get Sky Sports in HD on Virgin I will be a happy bunny, even if it comes as a price.
UPDATE: This morning's Guardian says that the Tories will not overturn any OFCOM ruling, and that OFCOM's decisions will be carried out regardless of any legal appeal by Sky:
The satellite broadcaster is expected to launch an immediate legal attack on any moves to cut its prices but the regulator will use its powers to introduce the measures while the lawyers make their arguments [...]
The Conservatives, however, do not appear interested in reversing any decision by Ofcom concerning Sky. Shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the BBC's Newsnight on 26 November: "On pay-TV … and Ofcom, we explicitly said that is something that should be decided at arm's length from politician.

January 16, 2010

Mad Men 3 True Blood 2

And how's that for a poster??
Mad Men season three kicks off on BBC HD on Wednesday, January 27th with a double episode at 10pm.
And those craving a second helping of True Blood will be pleased to hear that season two starts on FX HD on Friday, February 26th at 10pm. To see the second season trailer, have a look at this link to the FX website

January 11, 2010

New Virgin Media HD STB arriving Jan 2010

According to this thread on Cable Forum, Virgin are introducing a new, non-recording HD set top box this month.
Later this month VM will be releasing a new HD standard stb. This box is aimed at customers who would like HD viewing but do not require the recording options offered by the V+.
Initially it will be released on a trial basis accross the country.
They will be using the Cisco 4585
Virgin staff in the thread have confirmed its imminent arrival. More pictures in this post.
Not something the Nialli household will be getting too excited about. However, it would be nice if those of us with the original V+ SA boxes could upgrade to the whizzy Samsung V+ for a nominal fee - the sluggish response to the remote causes much teeth-gnashing on the sofa now that we've seen someone's Samsung in action. How about it, Virgin?

January 08, 2010

Heroes, Being Human, Slumdog and Glee all in HD

Some programmes to look out for in the coming days:
Heroes, returns to BBC HD Saturday evening with a double-episode at 22.10.
Wallander looked great on BBC HD to my eyes last week and we have the second of three episodes this Sunday at 9pm. And that's followed by the start of the second season of Being Human at 22.30. Also next week on the channel Hustle, Nurse Jackie, and Silent Witness, and repeats of season two of Criminal Justice and the excellent Small Island adaptation. And the second series of Survivors (finally) appears on Tuesday at 9pm (thanks, Afront)
4HD films in the next week include The Simpsons Movie and Hostage on Saturday, Cheaper by the Dozen and Forest Gump on Sunday, Cruel Intentions on Monday and the dazzling Slumdog Millionaire next Wednesday, all showing in full HD.
Those thinking that Virgin not having E4 HD will mean they're starved of the new hit US show Glee in all its glory will be pleased to find it will be repeated on Sundays on 4HD in full high def starting on January 17th at 17.35 with a double episode.

Finally, for those following the BBC HD quality debate, there's a piece on You and Yours on iPlayer on the topic - kicks in around the 14.30 mark and is pretty inconclusive. Personally, I think the BBC HD picture quality has improved lately on VM now and certainly not as dire as is being described by satellite customers. Still not as good as the HD programming on 4HD and Nat Geo, but better than regular BBC1.
Oh, and the HD iPlayer listings have now been refreshed after their disappearance over Christmas. Obviously the person who knows what they're doing has returned from their Christmas break...

January 02, 2010

BBC HD - Virgin Media comparisons

Here's an interesting addition to the debate on BBC HD picture quality on Virgin: DigitalWorldz.co.uk (thanks to Westburne for the link and 'Senor Ding Dong' for taking the time to put it all together).
What the Senor has done is compared this December's broadcast on BBC HD of the second Pirates of the Caribbean film with his (presumably V+) recording on the same from the previous year. And he sees little difference - in fact, if anything the newer recording is fractionally better.
Which is interesting. I've watched a lot of BBC HD over the Christmas break and I think the PQ has been very good - finished watching Day of the Triffids last night and it looked good to my eyes. Similarly, Cranford, Doctor Who and The Taming of the Screw all looked mighty fine too.
Have Virgin or the BBC been tweaking settings themselves, or did we all imagine a drop in PQ in the autumn? Senor DD does say that the bitrate we have now is slightly lower than we had when we only had a single HD channel:
What's interesting about these samples is that the old broadcast had an average bitrate of 17.60 mbps, and the new one 16.50 mbps. Checking some other older recordings against recent ones, it turns out that Virgin's version of BBC HD actually dropped its bitrate a little bit when they introduced the new HD channels, but all the testing they did to fine-tune the encoders at the time, which was quite visible on the first test versions of the new HD channels, obviously means they are now at least as efficient at the slightly lower rate, and in some cases even more so.
Presumably Virgin's use of MPEG2 means that 16.5mbps isn't quite as generous as it sounds but it does looks like we're getting pretty much what we were before.

So are we victims (or perhaps, in my case, an instigator) of a mass deception? I don't think so. I don't have the know-how (or the time) to do similar tests myself, but I did watch the movie A Simple Plan on the channel in the autumn and was unimpressed, yet when I watched it in 2008 I remember being blown away by the scenes in the woods. And there is no doubt in my mind that the episodes of BBC's Life were less detailed than the Nat Geo Wild Russia covering similar animals and landscapes. Here's what I posted in October:
I've just watched two wildlife programmes in HD back to back and I have to say that the quality of BBC HD is still sadly lacking when compared to National Geographic HD. First up I watched an episode of Nat Geo's incredible Wild Russia (Sunday evenings, 8pm) and was blown away by the detail in the footage of the polar bears, reindeer and the stunning floral meadows. Strangely enough, the episode of Life I watched straight after also had reindeer and polar bears. But it looked flat. Dull even. Some of the later shots of the humpback whales were incredible, but not for the picture quality, more for the drama of the "heat run". Having seen the effort the cameramen went to for these pictures, one can only wonder how they felt to see all their excellent work buggered up by the BBC HD channel's transmission shortcomings.
Similarly, The Thick of It looked muddy this season as did the second season of Criminal Justice, and I know many have been disappointed with Top Gear's HD debut. But, judging from what I've seen this last week or so, PQ is very good again on cable BBC HD - whereas on the satellite platforms it's apparently still weak (check out some of the screen grabs posted on the BBC's own blog posts).
Everybody is viewing the channel on different set ups and mine (just a 32in 720p TV) is far from ideal to be the last word on the subject. What do you guys think?