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?