June 29, 2010

Home Cinema Choice reviews the HD V Box

If you don't need the recording capabilities of the V+ but still want the full Virgin Media HD experience, the new Cisco V HD box is probably the one for you. There's a full review over on Home Cinema Choice which is informative and acknowledges VM's superior on demand services ("Alongside this healthy selection of linear HD TV is by far the best VOD choice in the UK TV market"), something reviews elsewhere always seem to gloss over. I haven't got one of these V boxes myself (my secondary TV is only 22in and HD is hardly a priority on a screen that size) but judging by this review they are a good option for a bedroom or kitchen. The only negative I've heard about them to date is a limited EPG - just 24 hours rather than the 7 days of programme information on the V+. Oh, and they look somewhat odd...

June 28, 2010

Hallmark HD launches on Sky

I don't think I've ever watched Hallmark, but Sky HD customers now have it in high def, added this evening. No word on it appearing on Virgin Media any time soon.
[update: the SD channel is now broadcasting on Virgin Media in widescreen. Mind you, the picture I saw last night was pretty soft and worse than other SD channels]

June 27, 2010

Off topic: Jackson in talks to direct Hobbit movies

Not sure why the main news channels in the UK haven't picked this up yet, but The Hollywood Reporter (and other US sources including CNN) are confirming that Peter Jackson is in talks to direct the two Hobbit movies.
Not an HD or a Virgin Media story, so apologies for going off topic. But at least I'm not talking about a certain football match this afternoon ;o)

Which new HD service has you most excited?

With Film4 HD arriving on July 8th and the Sky HD channels on their way too, which of the new HD services coming to Virgin Media are you most looking forward to? I've added a poll to this blog so please vote for the one that you're most keenly anticipating.

June 24, 2010

Film channels renumbered ... to accommodate Sky Movies HD?

Turner Classic Movies - now channel 415
Movies 24 - now channel 419
Movies 24+ - now channel 420
True Movies - now channel 424 (has anyone ever sat through one of these films?)
Film 4 - now channel 428
Film4+1 - now channel 430

I think what we will see is the numbering matching that used by Sky for the HD variants, which would make the Virgin Sky movies HD line up:

413 Sky Movies Premiere HD
414 Sky Movies Showcase HD
432 Sky Movies Comedy HD
433 Sky Movies Action & Adventure HD
434 Sky Movies Family HD
435 Sky Movies Crime & Thriller HD
436 Sky Movies Drama & Romance HD
437 Sky Movies Sci Fi & Horror HD
438 Sky Movies Modern Greats HD
439 Sky Movies Indie HD

Something of a shame to lose Film4 on channel 444 - it was a quick way to navigate to the movie channels. Still no word as to when these will arrive or how much they will cost. I've seen July 31st mentioned as a possible date but that's a Saturday and strikes me as unlikely. I've also seen that Five HD is rumoured to be launching simultaneously on Sky and Virgin in July, but this isn't confirmed yet.

June 21, 2010

BBC "how we make HD" videos - more entertaining than informative

The Beeb is releasing a series of videos on how HD is made, but judging from these first two they're pretty light on any real info:

Virgin email on Sky Sports and Movies HD

For those who haven't signed up yet for notification of the iminent arrival of the HD Sky Premium channels on Virgin Media, here's the email currently doing the rounds:
Virgin Media update on Sky Sports and Movies in HD
Been wondering when you can start enjoying Sky Sports and Sky Movies in HD, on Virgin TV?
Just keep an eye on your emails and we'll be in touch as soon as they're available! Plus all the details of how you can get your hands on them too. There's no need to call now though, you'll be the first to hear the news from us. 
In the meantime, make sure you're ready to go by getting all the right kit. You'll just need an HD Ready TV and one of our nifty set top boxes (choose a V HD or V+ HD Box). Plus an HDMI cable to connect it all up. That way, you can sit down to watch top movies and sport, the second they're ready to go.
Kind regards,
The Virgin Media Entertainment team
To receive notification yourself, click the link at the end of this Virgin Media page.

June 19, 2010

BBC HD - hello variable bit rate encoding, goodbye unhappy customers?

Whilst we on Virgin Media have enjoyed excellent picture quality on BBC HD of late, those on satellite have suffered an appalling loss of PQ. However, that should now be about to change. According to Tech Radar: "The BBC has launched a raft of picture quality improvements for BBC HD just weeks after campaigners took their complaints direct to the channel’s bosses. The changes include Variable Bit Rate encoding, a fix for mix/fade problems and a new approach to noise in pictures."
Details can be found on the BBC's latest blog post from Andy Quested.

June 16, 2010

What's everybody watching in HD this summer?

Aside from the World Cup and other summer specials, is there anything worth catching on our HD channels at the moment? After a great Spring of high def (True Blood, Luther, Father & Son, etc) I've just noticed that the only things I've got set to record in HD next week are Desperate Housewives and Lennon Naked. Has anyone found anything they think worth recommending?
(Oh, and if you don't mind slumming it in SD for an hour a week, may I recommend Five USA's excellent Justified? Timothy Olyphant in an Elmore Leonard-inspired corker of a Southern thriller. 10pm Wednesday or Friday nights.)

June 14, 2010

He's been a reliable source before so...

Big Red over on Cable Forum has posted:
Sky's Basic and Sports & Movies HD channels will be included in the XL price. (Sports & Movies HD channels subject in taking these packages)
So XL/VIP customers will not have to pay for the coming soon HD channels.
I can't verify this but, if true, that's pretty awesome.

Virgin MD on Project Canvas

Interesting piece by Neil Berkett in today's Guardian, regarding the proposed Video on Demand project Canvas. Here's some of what he says - the full article is worth a read though.
"Far from trying to block the development of these open standards, we have offered to work commercially with Canvas to explore mutually beneficial ways in which we could incorporate them as a self-contained service in the next generation of Virgin Media set-top boxes.
The Canvas consortium has rejected the opportunity to incorporate Canvas into the Virgin Media customer experience, insisting that if we want to use their standards we must also accept that the entire Virgin Media entertainment service be accessed by our subscribers via a Canvas-imposed interface, including the Canvas channel listing and search facility. This "shop window" to services would be entirely controlled by the joint venture partners and would allow the Canvas partners to give preference and prominence to their own channel content above that of any other content provider.
At this point, Canvas starts to look less like a set of genuinely "open" standards and more like a fully-fledged competing distribution platform from which established pay TV operators are effectively excluded, along with other innovative platforms offering a differentiated user experience, such as the PS3 and the Xbox. Unless we accept the Canvas consortium's conditions, people who want both Canvas and a pay TV service will have to buy two set-top boxes. Far from simplifying the digital world, Canvas will complicate it."

June 13, 2010

ITV1 HD's massive own goal

How could they? A few minutes into England's World Cup opener and we're suddenly watching an ad for Hyundai. Then, when we return to the game ... we've missed the England goal! Unbelievable. Apparently ITV1 standard def channel was unaffected. Nice one, ITV.
Coverage: BBC, Sky, Guardian

June 12, 2010

Neil Berkett: Sky Premium channels in HD "for a very competitive price"

From a post of Digital Spy, Neil Berkett is quoted as saying in an email:
We will continue to improve the quality of our TV service in the months to come, including for the first time the addition of Sky Premium channels in HD for a very competitive price. While I am unable to share all of the details with you now, please rest assured that there is more good news to come for our TV XL customers.

Virgin's Cindy Rose shares her Digital Dreams

From Saturday's Telegraph:

Cindy Rose, the company’s executive director of digital entertainment, is tasked with delivering [Virgin Media's] vision.
Although Rose did not broker the partnership with Tivo, it’s her job to make sure it’s as transformational as the company hopes. She says that it brings the best of the web to the TV screen, in the form of apps, and offers a search service which is “smarter than Google”.
It is the smart recommendation tools which historically have set Tivo apart from its rivals, pointing users in the direction of programmes the service thinks a user will enjoy based on other Tivo audience members with similar tastes, or previous viewing habits. The Tivo box then downloads these shows, saving them on the hard drive and no distinction is made between content that has been recorded via TV or downloaded via broadband.
There will also be apps such as Spotify pre-loaded onto the service, too – so people can listen to their music, while browsing the TV menu.[...]
Rose thinks high definition will soon replace standard definition fully. Virgin, she’s keen to stress, offers it to customers for no additional charge.
More in the full interview. There's nothing particularly revelatory here (although I didn't know Spotify was in the mix), but it's an interesting read, probably timed to counter the recent Sky announcement regarding its long-promised Internet and On Demand services.

Blog re-design

There are some new design features on Blogger so I've refreshed the site to get away from the narrowness of the previous design. Hope it works for you guys.

June 11, 2010

Price reduction details in full

Virgin cuts prices on Sky Sports and Movies

official press release:
Virgin Media customers can now save a bundle on Sky Sports & Sky Movies channels
  • Sky’s premium channels now available for as little as £13.50
  • Customers can save up to £108* per year
  • Reductions available on both Sky Sports & Sky Movies packages
Virgin Media is to pass on big savings to customers this summer, by offering Sky’s premium channels at simple, newly reduced prices. From the 1st July, Virgin Media customers – both new and existing - will be able to save up to £108 per year on Sky Sports and Sky Movies packages, provided by Virgin Media Entertainment.
With the premium channels now available for as little as £13.50 per month, it’s never been a better time to be a Virgin Media customer. For those wanting to add or keep a single Sky Sports (Sky Sports 1 or 2) or Sky Movies (Sky Movies 1 or 2) package, the cost is now only £13.50 for Virgin Media TV customers on M+, L or XL TV packages – offering regular savings of up to £9 per month.
  Virgin Media is helping to kick-off the brand new premier league football season with a bang, offering all of the sports channels in the Sky Sports Collection (Sky Sports 1, 2, 3 and 4) for just £20.50** per month. This new pricing offers football fans a discount of up to £42 per year – enough to buy their favourite team’s new season shirt!
Film fanatics will also benefit this summer from the new prices, saving up to £84 per year on Sky Movies channels – enough to indulge in pizza and popcorn to accompany their favourite films. Virgin Media is offering all of the Sky Movies channels in the Sky Movies Collection (Sky Movies 1 and 2, plus Sky Movies Premiere, Sky Movies Premiere +1, Sky Movies Showcase and Disney Cinemagic) for only £19.50 per month.
For film and football fans under one roof, Virgin Media is also offering big savings on the top Sky Sports and Movies Collection – making all of the premium channels available in one package for only £27.50 per month. This top of the range bundle will now save Virgin Media customers up to £72 per year.
No word yet on the availability or pricing for the HD sports and movies channels. In fact, Virgin has appealed to OFCOM that Sky also make Sky Sports 3 & 4 HD available to us, and have also asked that the cost of the movie channels be reduced.
And just when we thought they were all becoming best buddies again...
Looking through the actual details on these price changes, if you're on TV XL with VIP package I can't see any change whatsoever: full sports and movies for us is exactly what it was before. Maybe someone from Virgin reading this can explain why other customers are benefiting from the OFCOM price cuts, but the highest paying customers are seeing nowt?
Of course, if Virgin increases the number of subscribers to the Movies and Sports channels they'll be hitting a bigger base when launching the HD channels in the coming weeks, but it seems like us poor VIPs are paying a premium these days and the overall VIP package has changed little since the launch of the V+. Certainly, the 20mb broadband is no longer the "VIP" offer it once was, the phone price has actually increased and we now get Sports and Movies for the same price as everyone else. Or am I missing something?
More on TechRadar.

June 09, 2010

Luther Finale on BBC HD

Did anyone else suffer severe picture break-up during the tense final ten minutes of Luther on BBC HD last night? Fortunately I had a simultaneous SD recording of it from Freeview BBC1 running and was able to watch the closing action from that, but it was bloody awful timing if it was more widespread disruption.

June 08, 2010

Media Boy reports...

For those who missed his posting over on Cable Forum yesterday:

"Media Boy EXCLUSIVE: Media Boy given more info on the BSkyB/VMTV take over.

"I have been told that Virgin hope to launch Sky1 HD, Sky News HD, Sky Real Lives HD, Sky Arts 1 HD and Sky Arts 2 HD on Virgin TV in a few weeks, once the deal has been approved in Ireland.

"My insider also thinks that for the Sky Movies and Sky Sports HD Channels viewers maybe charge extra if they want them.

"But the Basics HD Channels may probably all end up on the XL Pack"

June 05, 2010

Virgin asks us to register our interest in the Sky HD channels

If you click the link at the bottom of this Virgin Media page, you can register your details if you are interested in getting the Sky HD sports, movies and baisc channels when they arrive. Interesting that it doesn't say "all" of them are coming, just "many".

June 04, 2010

Sky HD channels coming to Virgin Media...and more

Official Press Release
I've highlighted in bold points that will make everyone smile. Enjoy the sunshine all!

British Sky Broadcasting and Virgin Media today announced that they have reached agreement for the acquisition by Sky of Virgin Media Television. The companies have, in parallel, agreed to enter into a number of agreements providing for the carriage of certain Sky standard and high-definition (HD) channels.
The agreements cover the following:

  • Sky will acquire VMtv for a total consideration of up to £160 million in cash, with £105 million paid on completion and the remainder paid following the regulatory process. The acquisition will expand Sky's portfolio of basic pay TV channels and eliminate the carriage fees it currently pays for distributing VMtv channels on its TV services.
  • Sky will assume responsibility for selling advertising for the newly acquired VMtv channels from January 2011.
  • New carriage agreements will secure wholesale distribution of Sky's basic channel line-up, including Sky1 and Sky Arts, and the newly acquired VMtv channels, on Virgin Media's cable TV service.
  • For an incremental wholesale fee, Virgin Media will, for the first time, have the option of carrying any of Sky's basic HD channels, Sky Sports HD 1 and Sky Sports HD 2, and all Sky Movies HD channels.
  • Virgin Media will make available through its on-demand TV service a range of content from Sky's basic and premium channels, including the newly acquired VMtv channels. Virgin Media will also have access to red button interactive sports coverage and the opportunity to deliver selected standard definition programming over the internet.
Completion of the agreements is conditional on obtaining merger control clearance in the Republic of Ireland.
Jeremy Darroch, CEO, BSkyB, said: "VMtv is an attractive investment opportunity which complements our existing content business and delivers strategic and financial benefits. We are pleased that, through commercial negotiation, we have been able to ensure wide distribution of our channels to a growing pay TV universe."
Neil Berkett, CEO, Virgin Media, said: "The sale of our channels business has generated substantial value. Together with the new commercial agreements we've announced today, it will allow us to focus more closely on our strategy of exploiting Virgin Media's super-fast connectivity to offer our customers a range of the very best content through a highly versatile next generation entertainment application."
Additional information:
The acquisition of VMtv involves Sky acquiring LIVING, LIVINGit, Challenge, Challenge Jackpot, Bravo, Bravo 2 and Virgin1. Sky will not license the Virgin brand and will announce the new channel brand for Virgin1 in due course.

Breaking News: Sky Sports and Sky Movies coming to cable in HD

"For an incremental wholesale fee, Virgin Media will, for the first time, have the option of carrying any of Sky's basic HD channels, Sky Sports HD 1 and Sky Sports HD 2, and all Sky Movies HD channels."

 Full press release to follow

STV HD launched Friday, June 4th

Even earlier than promised! Channel 113

June 02, 2010

Bravo's Spartacus in HD

Over on Cable Forum someone posted that Bravo's Spartacus is available in HD via On Demand, but I can't see it - anyone found it? (update: not appearing using the Search function, but is near the top of the first page of HD TV Choice on Demand. Watched five minutes and decided it just wasn't for me)
Somehow, this sub-300 sword n sandals epic is beating the mighty Fringe in the ratings. Huh? Serves Sky1 right for treating Olivia and the Bishops so shabbily last week when the first half of the season finale was bumped for (yawn) another showing of the Lost "conclusion".
And if you want to know what I made of that, have a read of this Lost review from New York Magazine which for me sums it up better than I ever could...

June 01, 2010

STV HD now launching before the World Cup

Launching on channel 113 in Scotland on Monday, June 7th. Apparently carriage on Sky has not yet been agreed (thanks to those who emailed me on this)