January 31, 2011

TiVo - Virgin calling customers who have registered their interest

Stand by your phones - I've had a few folk contact the blog saying they've had a call this afternoon. Earliest TiVo install I've heard so far - this Wednesday.

Interesting Sky Atlantic article

Media analysts believe there's little evidence that people subscribe on the strength of a single channel. "Sky Atlantic is part of a chain of value, aimed at convincing people TV is worth paying for," says one analyst. "It's about [putting] clear blue water between pay and free TV. It's not so much a driver of dish sales as a retention tool … as well as justifying future price rises [...]
What does the launch mean for rival pay-TV providers? Virgin Media stresses that Sky has talked about "wholesaling" Sky Atlantic to other platforms, while also pointing to the continued availability of channels such as FX.
In fact the strongest short-term competitive impact of Sky Atlantic – when allied to Sky's acquisition of Living and an increased budget for Sky1 – may be on the acquisition strategies of other broadcasters; its lineup contains shows previously aired free-to-air, including Entourage (ITV2), Curb Your Enthusiasm (More4) and Big Love (Channel 5). "The fear for everyone else is how much other stuff Sky will hoover up," says one senior free-to-air broadcaster, who emphasises how vulnerable hit acquisitions are to poaching and price hikes. Sky, the executive suggests, is now the only UK broadcaster with the capacity to do sizeable studio output deals.
The full article is worth a read. For one thing, it emphasises that the Sky strategy is to lure the Freeview/Freesat audience rather than the Virgin Media one, probably with the intention of upselling broadband and phone services once they are hooked with the TV.
Sky Atlantic HD launches on the Sky platform exclusively tomorrow.

January 29, 2011

The Sky Atlantic dilemma

I'm probably not alone with my frustrations here, so let me outline my dilemma and see what you think. It's not a "shall I get Sky TV?" dilemma as that particular avenue isn't open to me. This is different.
I pay Virgin Media and, indirectly, Sky, a considerable amount of money for TV services every year. I am prepared to do this as I want access to a wide range of movies and TV shows and enjoy live sports coverage as a high definition experience.
I am also a terrible hypocrite when it comes to copyright piracy: I abhor the sellers of pirated movie DVDs who haunt the local supermarket carparks on a Saturday afternoon and would no sooner copy a pirate CD than I would shoplift one from HMV. But I think nothing of loaning my CDs and DVDs to friends, or recording a DVD from broadcast TV and giving it to a friend to watch. So I'm a hypocrite. Who isn't?
But I now find myself going a step further: downloading US TV series is something I am reluctantly doing (Boardwalk Empire) and considering further (with Treme, the forthcoming Game of Thrones, series of Mad Men and whatever else Sky secures on its exclusive Sky Atlantic) because the content providers offer me no legal alternative. Boardwalk is not on iTunes or disc, nor is there an HBO online service I can subscribe to in the UK, nor is Sky offering Atlantic to other platforms at an affordable price.
So if I want to see these series there is no alternative, and the temptation is too great, and I'm even prepared to watch a sub-HD quality recording to see the TV I want to see (a 500mb hour ain't HD, no matter what the source and label says).
I would much, much rather watch is legitimately but I have no choice but to turn to the darker side of BT downloads, and, until the programme makers and broadcast companies wake up and realise that their profits can only be short-term whilst they seemingly inadvertently encourage such activity, I'm not alone I'm sure.

January 27, 2011

New and returning HD series

Here are some of the new and returning HD series coming soon on Virgin Media channels:
  • Bedlam s1 - Feb 8 at 9pm on Sky Living HD
  • Cougar Town s2 - Feb 8 at 8pm on Sky Living HD
  • Desperate Housewives second half of s7 - March on C4 HD
  • Fringe second half of s3 - April on Sky1 HD (April??? It's already being shown in the US!!)
  • Hawaii Five-0 s1 - Feb 6 at 9pm on Sky1 HD
  • Hot In Cleveland s1 - Feb 15 at 8.30pm on Sky Living HD
  • House second half of s7 -  Feb 10 at 10pm on Sky1 HD
  • Marchlands - Feb 3 at 9pm on ITV1 HD
  • Mike & Molly second half s1 -  Feb 7 at 10pm on Comedy Central HD
  • Modern Family second half of the excellent s2 - Feb 25 at 8.30pm on Sky1 HD
  • Raising Hope second half of s1 - Feb 25 at 9pm on Sky1 HD
  • Ride-Along s1 - Feb on Sky1 HD
  • Skins s5 - Jan 27 at 10pm on E4 HD
  • Spartacus: Gods of the Arena s1 - Feb 7 at 10pm on Sky1 HD
  • Two and a Half Men s8 - Feb 7 at 9pm on Comedy Central HD>
And FX HD is showing the first season of Arrested Development from Feb 6 - hurrah!

Sky adds 343k new HD customers

Sky added 343,000 new HD customers in the last quarter, taking the total number to 3.5m – up 68% year-on-year. The Guardian's full story on Sky's latest results: BSkyB spends £7m on News Corps Bid

Virgin Media TiVo user manual now online

An interesting read: TiVo - The Complete Guide

January 24, 2011

Mad Men season 5 update - updated!

According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with series show runner Matthew Weiner, the return of Mad Men may not be as imminent as Sky Atlantic are suggesting:
[Weiner] told EW exclusively that his new deal has yet to be finalised but he’s “not looking for a new job.” The show’s future is vague because [US cable network] AMC is still negotiating with both Weiner and [production company] Lionsgate, which produces the hit drama starring Jon Hamm.
“I think all of AMC’s decisions about their scheduling and so forth have nothing to do with me, and I don’t have a deal yet,” Weiner told EW, “I have every intention of making the show when they decide to work out their business with Lionsgate. But the truth is I don’t even know what their plans are. We have not started writing. I am not back at work. My contract expired. [...] It would be heartbreaking for me if they don’t work it out, horrifying really. It would be a shame for fans to never get to see what great stuff we have planned for Don and company.”
Hopefully Virgin will have Sky Atlantic HD by the time season five finally airs. But "we have not started writing"? Sounds like it may be quite a long wait.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, those nice BBC schedulers have season four repeating from Monday, Jan 31st at 11.20pm each night (Mon - Thurs) on BBC2. No showings on BBC HD that I've found though.

January 20, 2011

Boardwalk Empire

Just walked passed a massive poster promoting
Boardwalk Empire, directed by Martin Scorsese, free and exclusive to all Sky customers
Not sure if the Advertising Standards Agency need a call - only the pilot episode is directed by Scorsese, the other eleven episodes in the first season are directed by less acclaimed directors. Scorsese's only an Exec Producer on the series, which is mainly the creation of HBO vet Terence Winter. Let's hope the "exclusive" piece of the promotion is similarly inaccurate after episode one - we can dream, anyway...

TiVo veterans to get special deal - UPDATED

An interesting post on Cable Forum has been confirmed as pucca by VM, so I'm repeating it here for anyone who has an original TiVo box:
I started talks with the launch team at VM a few weeks ago asking if we current Series 1 (S1) owners that have supported TiVo for the last 10 or so years in the UK could group together for a special deal. VM, in principle agree and have asked if I could give an indication of numbers. The only way I could think of to do this is to set up a secure registration site where current "registered" S1 owners can input their details. I will then close this site on closes midday on Friday 21st January [updated] and send the information collated to my contact within VM.

So, any current Tivo Series 1 owner in the UK that would like a special deal from VM for the new VM/TiVo.. please can you register your details here:
The site is secure with its own SSL certificate. The registration for is also 128bit encrypted and all data collated, once transferred to VM will be totally deleted.

January 18, 2011

BBC HD channels - picture quality so-so?

You may recall a year or so ago that there was a lot of noise when BBC HD's bit rate on satellite was lowered, new encoding devices were introduced and everyone was up in arms. Us cable customers were eventually told that we should have been affected and were told to get back into our box.
Well, I watch a fair amount of BBC in high def, both on the BBC HD channel and on BBC1 HD, and I still think we are being short changed with picture quality, especially on drama series. Over Christmas I thought that the PQ on Upstairs Downstairs, Eric & Ernie and a number of other programmes was somewhat lacking in definition, and this weekend I watched the final episode of Zen, a programme that should have shown Rome in all its glittering glory but looked to my eyes strangely muted. Some programmes seem to sparkle appropriately - Human Planet had some great photography, even if the narrative felt strangely cobbled together - whilst with others the difference from SD is barely notable (The One Show, for example).
What does everyone else think? US imported drama such as Damages or Mad Men looked great on BBC HD, so why is the UK shot stuff so so-so? Is it production (cameras, tech standards) or transmission?
Or shall I get back in my box?

January 16, 2011

FX HD - the best US imports around?

With all the noise about the launch of Sky Atlantic HD in February it may be that one of the best importers of US programmes is overlooked: FX HD. Currently debuting the third season of True Blood the channel is also currently reshowing the first series of the excellent Breaking Bad and zombie thriller Walking Dead, and on February 6th FX is showing the wonderful Arrested Development from the beginning. NCIS, Better Off Ted, American Dad, Sons of Anarchy, Nip Tuck, Burn Notice, Family Guy...and don't forget this is the channel that first brought us Generation Kill and something called The Wire. Pretty impressive stuff, I think you'll agree.
Unfortunately under the lid FX is another News Corps company, so who knows if it will enjoys such luxuries in the future. Chances are that it will be left slim pickings after Sky Atlantic  has been fed all the best US cable shows, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Hopefully, Five USA will continue to grab the odd gem, although there are rumours that new owner Richard Desmond has that under review.
The future is looking somewhat murky if you appreciate the finer TV dramas and comedies and have Virgin Media, Freeview or Freesat services. Let's hope that Sky doesn't buy every single quality US import and make them exclusive to their platform, otherwise they'll make pirates of us all...

January 12, 2011

Formula 1 in HD this coming season - honest!

After a few false starts and empty promises, F1 fans are finally getting their dearest whish as the BBC has confirmed that it will broadcast Formula 1 in high definition for the first time this coming season.
"We're also delighted to be broadcasting in HD, something we know fans have been waiting for and it will really add something extra to our coverage for 2011" said somebody important in F1 who probably drives a much better car than me.
Full story BBC F1 Coverage Goes High Defintion

January 09, 2011

HBO archive - we have seen it all before

I've been posting a few comments on a Cable Forum thread and thought readers of this blog may be interested:

Incidentally, does anyone else find it odd that some of the folk complaining about Sky Atlantic not being on VM have been dismissive in the past of VM's VoD content, which featured the majority of that Sky Atlantic HBO archive drama and comedy in HD for years?
HBO series formerly on VM VoD (from memory):
Angels in America 
Big Love
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Eastbound & Down
Flight of the Concords
Generation Kill
In Treatment
Sex in the City
Six Feet Under
Tell Me You Love Me
The Sopranos
The Wire
True Blood
When the Levee Breaks
There others too I'm sure.

Many of these aren't listed as coming to Sky Atlantic either. So, whilst we may be aggrieved that Sky is (for now) locking away new HBO content and other US cable exclusives too, let's not forget what we have had, gratis, for the last few years.
One last comment on the Sky Atlantic situation (for now, anyway): by keeping it exclusive on Sky at launch it means that the massive marketing and advertising spend made by Sky for the new channel will be just for its own platform, whereas if it was also showing on VM and BT they would effectively be advertising rival platforms too. Crafty buggers.

January 07, 2011

TiVo at CES

Thanks to the Virgin Media Tivo blog for the link to this press release from TiVo at CES:

TiVo Inc. (NASDAQTIVO), a leader in advanced television services and personal video recorders (PVRs), today announced that Virgin Media Inc. (NASDAQVMED) (LSEVMED) is deploying Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo, its new next-generation TV offering to its customers across the United Kingdom.
This deployment marks the first time a cable provider anywhere in the world has offered its customers an advanced cable solution encompassing linear TV, on-demand content and web-based video with a dedicated broadband connection, rather than having to share bandwidth with other content. As a result Virgin Media customers using the TiVo powered set-top box can enjoy the ultimate television entertainment experience through the award winning TiVo user interface to seamlessly search across all the content sources provided by the UK's number one cable operator.
Cindy Rose, executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media, said, "After laying all the necessary groundwork to bring the exciting TiVo experience to our customers in record time, we are thrilled to have begun rolling out our next-generation entertainment platform. TiVo has implemented a complex solution, which stitches together the full breadth of Virgin Media's content assets and created a television user interface which is second to none. We are the only UK company to provide a true entertainment discovery experience and offer the ultimate digital lifestyle for our customers."
Joshua Danovitz, VP & General Manager, International, TiVo Inc., said, "There is a lot of discussion in the cable industry about the need to provide internet content to the living room. Unlike current offerings which provide 'best efforts' delivery of Internet video, Virgin Media has redefined the term 'over the top' by providing dedicated bandwidth for these services within the cable video plant and by unifying the consumption experience for end users. As a result of Virgin Media's groundbreaking approach, subscribers with a TiVo powered set-top box will have access to the best TiVo technology and features at their fingertips enabling all kinds of interactive content to be searched, discovered, and delivered in a truly elegant way."

Breaking Bad, season one: repeating on FX Wednesday/Sundays

It's the US cable show that beats Mad Men in the Emmys, and it's just started from the beginning on FX HD. Catch it Sunday night with episode two on Wednesday. Seven in the first season.
What's more, subsequent seasons have been snapped up by Five USA, and they're repeating season two also on Wednesday, Jan 12th at 11.40pm, albeit just in SD. Confusing? You bet, but it's a great show and Five USA has also got the rights to subsequent seasons too. Watch season one on FX HD, and series stack the thirteen episodes of season two to watch when it's finished is my advice.

Independent notes Sky Atlantic's exclusivity

Thursday's Independent: Customers of Virgin Media and BT Vision face missing out on the latest top shows from America, including Boardwalk Empire and The Borgias, as the companies have failed to secure a deal for Sky's new drama channel.
The satellite broadcaster yesterday confirmed Sky Atlantic would launch in the UK next month and would be free to its 10 million subscribers. Virgin and BT, which show Sky channels including premium sports through a wholesale arrangement, have held talks over the new channel but have been unable to agree a deal. The broadcasters are hopeful of reaching an agreement, but remain some way apart over terms for the channel that will also show the new seasons of Mad Men and Entourage.
Interesting that there have been some talks already. Presumably, Sky is asking for what the others consider too high a price. There's a Sky Atlantic Twitter feed too - http://twitter.com/#!/sky_atlantic - where there have been a number of Tweets suggesting that negotiations aren't closed, for example:
sky_atlantic Sky Atlantic  "A deal with Virgin Media is not currently in place. We'll let you know if/when we have any updates on this."
I'm still hopeful. Not for launch, but soon after.

TiVo poll results

The poll I ran on this blog over the last fortnight shows that more than half of the 745 respondents feel that the price announced is too high to invest at launch, whilst almost a third are looking to upgrade straight away. Only 51 said that they had no plans to upgrade, so I guess for Virgin Media that's a pretty heartening response.
From various comments made both here and elsewhere, the loss of the third tuner is a factor too (I didn't go that detailed in the poll's categories) although that apparently will be included when the TiVo goes on general release. (If you're wondering why there were more votes than respondents, that's because you could vote for two categories this time around.)
Pricing for existing VIP and TV XL customers is still to be confirmed, but with launch by all accounts imminent we should know more in the next week or two.

January 06, 2011

TiVo content provider announced

Virgin Media has turned to Tribune Media Services (TMS) to provide its recently-launched TiVo-powered proposition with a variety of entertainment content.

Under the deal, TMS will deliver linear TV schedules, images, information on celebrities and details about individual programmes for the cable broadcaster.

The company, which powers TV and film guide products through clients such as Google, Microsoft and Internet Movie Database, will also give Virgin subscribers access to show synopses, pictures of cast members, logos and award histories.

Ian Mecklenburgh, director of consumer platforms at the pay-TV giant, said the TiVo service offers UK viewers a "truly personalised" experience.

"Our agreement with TMS will help them find exactly what they want and discover even more," he remarked.


January 05, 2011

Sky Atlantic not coming to Virgin Media at launch - confirmed

Confirmed in a press release from Sky today:
Sky today confirmed the eagerly awaited launch of Sky Atlantic HD – a brand new channel that will provide the very best in entertainment, drama and films to Sky customers across the UK and Ireland. Bringing together innovative and distinctive original productions from home and abroad, Sky Atlantic will be free and exclusive to all 10 million Sky customers from its launch on 1 st February 2011. [...] Sky Atlantic will also be available in standard definition in non Sky + HD homes, allowing all 10 million Sky homes to enjoy the channel from launch.

There's no ambiguity there to give me any hope of us having even the SD version at launch. Damn you Sky...looks like I'll be watching Mad Men season 5 on the laptop next summer if this doesn't change in the coming months.

January 01, 2011

Samsung V+ settings question

Hmm. Just found that the SCART output to my Panasonic recorder from my new Samsung V+ is outputing the 16:9 image but framed on left and right down to 4:3. No settings have changed on the Panny I archive on to, and the HDMI output from the Sammy direct into the TV is fine. I've swapped SCART leads in case it got damaged in the install, reset everything - not fixed. The Samsung's settings are HDMI 720 (rather than 720 wide - I don't like 4:3 broadcasts stretched) as I only have a 720p TV. I think I've tried every combination now but to no avail. Any ideas?