April 29, 2011

Fringe this week - barely HD, deliberately

Watching this week's episode of Sky1 HD's Fringe I thought I needed my eyes testing; normally one of the best examples of HD picture quality, this week's broadcast (an episode called "Subject 13") looked blurry on my TiVo.
According to the Fringe sites though it was filmed deliberately in this way; not only to reflect the 1985 setting for this flashback episode, but also to assist with the CGI on John Noble's/Walter Bishop's face to make him appear 26 years younger.
And there I was thinking the TiVo's HD PQ had taken a turn for the worse...
(And yes, that's Andre "Bubbles" Royo in the pic, Wire fans!)

April 28, 2011

Sky Sports Red Button: live tonight on non-TiVo boxes

Official from Virgin's website: -
Sky Sports Red Button is now available for Virgin TV Sky Sports customers following the launch of our new interactive application found on Sky Sports channels.

This new interactive service adds to the Red Button features available to customers with a V+HD, VHD or V box.
Sky Sports Red Button kicks off with its first sporting event on Thursday 28th April with International Cricket: West Indies v Pakistan. There is a schedule of events coming up including Masters Tennis and the Rugby Super League in May. (Events are subject to change without notice).  We'll let you know what else is coming up  so watch this space for information on where you will be able to find updates and news.
The interactive Red Button application will be available on the following Sky Sports Channels:

Channel Number
HD Channel
Sky Sports 1
Sky Sports 2
Sky Sports 3
Sky Sports 4
To access Red Button services just press the red button on your remote when you hear an announcement or if a red button icon appears on your screen (usually in the top right hand corner).
The Red Button services are free, but you may incur a charge for entering competitions.

What is the red button service?The red button service allows customers to access extra information for the channel they are currently watching – including news reports, weather and sporting events such as Tennis at Wimbledon.
I have a TiVo box, can I access red button on Sky Sports channels?At the moment you can only access Red Button if you have a V+ HD, V HD or V box.  If you are a TiVo customer, sorry but Red Button is not currently available on your TiVo box.  Don’t worry, we will let you know as soon as it is available.

TiVo and SD channels, part II

I've been posting over on a Cable Forum thread regarding the SD picture quality on the TiVo vs the V+ as there's quite a debate going on there. I'm repeating my posts here for anyone interested:
I have a four-year-old Toshiba WLT68 32in that's "HD Ready" rather than the full 1080p. With both my SA and Samsung V+ boxes I set them to 720p as I found that best handled fast motion and didn't feel like any kind of HD compromise on that size screen. With the V+ SD channels PQ varied very much depending on the quality of the source; the BBC ones were very good, Sky ones notably poor. The further down the EPG you ventured the weaker the SD results.

With my TiVo I found that it had defaulted to 1080i, and the SD channels were softer and the colours looked artificial - for example, I watched Spectacle on Sky Arts 1 in SD over the weekend and it was particularly soft, almost blurry. Eughh.
So I changed the setting to 720p and the SD improved; Rubicon recorded from BBC4 looked very good indeed, on a par if not slightly better than my Freeview BBC4. The few remaining SD menus on the TiVo looked better too. My recording of Spectacle still looked soft to me, but not quite as bad as when the TiVo was set to 1080i. I then did some switching between the SD and HD versions of ESPN and Film4: I'd say that they appeared very similar to what I had on the Samsung V+.
I think it's pretty subjective and very much depends on which SD channels you watch: the SD bitrates are probably as big an influence as the hardware if you ask me. Of course, having a 32in 720p TV is not going to have the same issues as a larger 1080p display, but then unless you've gone plasma I'd suggest SD is always going to be soft on anything above 40in, regardless of upscaling
and more recently
If John's finding more recently filmed SD shows just as bad or has a preference for older material then he may be better off with the V+. The earlier episodes of Friends never looked good to me on the V+ and even the later ones aren't that great in the PQ stakes. I'm surprised they haven't upscaled them to nearer HD quality like they did for the Seinfeld DVDs a few years back - those look very good compared with the original broadcast versions.

The reason there's no consensus is people have different TVs, sizes and viewing habits. As I said in a previous post on this thread I watch very little SD now and only go there for stuff not available in HD - Rubicon on BBC4 (picture quality good); Justified on Five USA (PQ better than Freeview but not great); and BBC News (PQ variable). For me, a couple of hours a week of SD wouldn't be reason to abandon TiVo, especially as the 720p setting improves things a little. And, ideally, Rubicon would be shown on BBC HD and Justified on Five HD - both are quality imports and would be preferable to the constant repeats on the former and much of the SD tosh on the latter.
It's an interesting thread if you are considering TiVo but watch mainly SD channels, well worth a read before placing an order for TiVo.

April 27, 2011

TiVo questions for the VMHD collective

Does anyone know if there's a way to group together items in the My Shows listing such as films? I went a bit 1Tb drive happy at the weekend and now have 20+ HD movies recorded, but they're all listed individually under My Shows whereas ideally I'd have a Movies folder (like the TiVo currently collects episodes on a single show). I'd have thought it was a pretty simple requirement, and without it my My Shows list is already pretty long.
Also, why didn't they put a Search button on the remote? Having to use the Last Channel button is odd. And couldn't Pause have been combined with Play and been a single central button?

April 26, 2011

TiVo's YouTube App - delivering movies soon?

Reported in The Guardian, YouTube is launching a movie rental service in the US. Could this be the future movies on demand platform on VM's TiVo?

[YouTube] will expand into streaming big-name, full-length blockbusters in May, according to reports. With the premium movie-on-demand service, film lovers will be able to stream new releases for as little as $2 (£1.20), though prices will differ for each movie.
Three of the six major film studios – Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros and Universal – have reportedly agreed licensing terms with the Google-owned video giant. Paramount, Fox and Disney have not yet committed to the plan, it is understood. The service is expected to be limited to the US for the foreseeable future.

Sky Art 1 and 2 HD channels arrive on Virgin Media

It's been a while since Virgin Media added to its HD channel line up, so April 26th is the start of some renewed activity on the HD front as we welcome Sky Arts 1 and Sky Arts 2. The channel line up has been juggled around to accommodate:
  • Sky Arts 1 moves to Channel 281
  • Sky Arts 1 HD debuts on Channel 282 
  • Sky Arts 2 moves to Channel 283 
  • Sky Arts 2 HD debuts on Channel 284
I've been watching the repeats of the excellent Spectacle interview series on Sky Arts 1 over Easter and was seriously underwhelmed by the SD picture quality (both on my V+ and TiVo) so these are welcome additions to the HD line up for me, even if they're not to everyone's taste.

April 24, 2011

Sky Sports red button update updated!

According to Media Boy's blog, Sky Sports red button will probably launch on Virgin Media's regular boxes on April 28th and on TiVo sometime in July. In the tradition of Virgin's "coming soon" activities though, those dates are subject to change or delay.

Update: Square Eyes says that the red button on Tivo looks like it will be sometime in October and not before. (He's been speaking with the Tivo development team

April 22, 2011

TiVo: developments for 2011 and beyond

Interesting and informative Q&A thread over on the TiVo Community Forum from Keir at Virgin Media.

Standard Definition channels on the TiVo

Kevin Lloyd comments:
I've just left a comment on the Tivo blog about picture quality on the Tivo service. HD better; SD softer. There also seems to be a slight zoom effect which I think is accentuating the softening on SD. This may just be part of acclimatising to the new service (only installed yesterday)and I'm still playing around with the TV settings to see if I can improve matters but it is a little disappointing (our TV is a fairly high end Sony which does generally provide really sharp definition).
The majority of viewing is now in HD but for those of us who spend quite a lot of time with BBC4 this softening in SD is still significant.
Anyone else picking up the same effect?
I agree with you Kevin: seems to fair bit softer than my V+ (which I still have, albeit now on a different TV). The only non-HD channels I watch regularly are BBC4, More4 and BBC News and I'd say they all look softer on the TiVo. They're perfectly watchable on my modest 32in but anyone with a  48in or larger screen won't be too happy. It's a soft rather than pixelated picture, and some SD channels are better than others (BBC4's Rubicon last night looked okay - but why isn't it on BBC HD?!). I don't think it is as anywhere near as bad as comments on some forums have suggested and it very much depends on the size and general PQ of your TV. On my Toshiba it looks very close to the same channels on the built-in Freeview tuner, whereas when compared with the V+ Freeview was weaker.
Like Kevin I will almost exclusively be watching HD from hereon, which makes the comparison perhaps more jarring.

April 21, 2011

Nialli has TiVo

Successful install this morning.
Now playing (despite the weather and having the day off work) :)

April 20, 2011

Sky Atlantic "not an immediate priority"

Virgin Chief Finance Officer Eamonn O'Hare, commenting on Sky Atlantic today:
"Virgin is no closer to securing a deal to air Sky Atlantic on its service. It is not a must have and it is not a must not have," he said. "It is not something sitting on our immediate priority board."
Well, I know three people who have now quit VM for Sky just for Atlantic. I think, like HD before, Virgin's management are underestimating the value of premium content - let's hope they act on this one a bit quicker than they did with high definition. And Sky's hand in any negotiations over the channel will be strenthened by the strong viewing figures for shows like Game of Thrones.
Personally, I would much prefer them to put money into securing the channel rather than 3D movie deals for video on demand or even faster broadband speeds.

Virgin Q1 2011 results

Press release highlights:

Sustainable revenue growth and operating leverage driving strong free cash flow

  • Revenue growth in all areas; total up 5.7% to £982m
    - Operating income up 58.9% to £111m
    - Net cash provided by operating activities up 34.3% to £272m
Good operational performance through quality customer growth

  • Quality of customer base continues to improve
    - Launch of 30Mb broadband tier has transformed acquisition mix
    - 39% of new broadband customers taking 20Mb tier or higher, up from 15% in Q1-10
    - Broadband revolution gains pace, with world's fastest cable trial of 1.5Gb
    - Premium TV customers increased 22%; HD penetration increased to 41%
    - 65,000 pre-registered for next-generation TiVo TV; now available to new customers
    - Q1 cable ARPU3 up 2.6% to £46.16
  • Cable customers up 1.2% in last twelve months with 20,200 net additions in Q1
Leading in next generation digital entertainment
Our existing TV service stands apart from other services with, advantages such as access to an unparalleled library of on demand programming. Over 2.4m families, representing 64% or our TV base, are now regularly enjoying our on demand TV service. Average monthly views in Q1 were 83m, an increase of 23% from the same period in 2010.
Virgin Media's 3D on demand TV service goes from strength to strength with a growing line-up of movies courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Disney such as 'Jackass 3D' and 'TRON: Legacy'. We continue to work with content creators to source the best programming.
We grew our TV base by 10,100 customers in the quarter to a total of 3.8m. Of these customers, over 1.5m or 41% are able to experience HD after we added a further 66,400 HD customers in the quarter.
At the end of last year, we launched our leading entertainment service powered by TiVo, with its game-changing interface that brings together the best of TV, on demand and the web. In these early stages, demand continues to grow and, having already added thousands of customers, we are in the process of connecting the 65,000 who have pre-registered. The service is now available for all new and existing customers to order.

April 19, 2011

Sky Atlantic's Game of Thrones hits a high point

It looks like Sky Atlantic finally has a big hit on its hands. The new HBO series Game of Thrones pulled an impressive average of 743,000 viewers its debut on Monday evening and that is likely to be over 1m when timeshifted viewing on Sky+ is included.
Much more impressive that the other channel debuts Treme and Boardwalk Empire. I wonder if the fact that it was broadcast less than 24 hours after US broadcasting made a difference to those numbers? Copies were available on the main Torrent sites pretty quickly but Sky's policy of broadcasting ASAP may be paying off to some degree after all. Game of Thrones is unlikely to appear on disc or legit download this year btw ... or Virgin Media come to that.

April 18, 2011

Virgin Media adds new 3D line-up from Disney & Paramount

Virgin Media press release:
Virgin Media’s 3D offering continues to go from strength to strength with an exciting new line-up of 3D movies courtesy of Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Company UK & Ireland. Starting this month 3D films such as Paramount’s Jackass 3D and Disney’s TRON: Legacy will join Virgin Media’s pioneering on demand TV service, which was the first commercial 3D service to be available to millions of homes in the UK*.
These latest deals will bring range of new 3D movies powered by FilmFlex made available for the first time on TV for Virgin Media customers over the coming months.
Aleks Habdank, director of On Demand Television & Strategy at Virgin Media said: “We’re thrilled to be adding this exciting range of new movies to our 3D video on demand service from two of the biggest studios Paramount Pictures and Disney. Virgin Media pioneered 3D on Demand in the home last year, and we’re continuing to deliver a range of 3D content that’s available to all of our customers and now coupled with our new TiVo-powered service we are able to provide viewers with the most compelling TV offering in the UK.”
I'll refrain from comment as my scepticism about 3D TV isn't always appreciated...

April 16, 2011

Let us know how your TiVo install goes

I've put up another poll, as the TiVo install experiences reported so far sound like a mixed bag. Please vote and let us know how it goes for you.
On the last poll there were 482 votes - 86 (17%) had a TiVo install last week, 213 (44%) had arranged for an install this week, 104 (21%) have decided to wait for the 500gb TiVo in May and 79 (16%) said they had no TiVo plans yet.

Coming this summer to FX HD

Good news: Steven Spielberg's Falling Skies has been snapped up by FX rather than Sky Atlantic. The 'Saving Private Ryan with aliens' series is set to air this summer according to TV & Satellite Week.

April 15, 2011

Sky sets its sights on Glee

Another Sky swoop is likely as apparently it is in the bidding for E4's biggest series, Glee. The show is more likely to appear on Sky1 or Sky Living, but it is the same old story: the Beeb or C4 take the risk then Sky's cash moves in and captures the rights at the first opportunity.

TiVo install report

TiVo is new and the installation is not always straightforward. Here's overyourhead's experience of his TiVo install this week: www.overyourhead.co.uk
My install is next Thursday; hopefully by then most engineers will have this down pat and things will go a little smoother than some experiences this week.

April 13, 2011

TiVo installations: order confirmation

I've had a few folk asking if they should have got a confirmation of TiVo installation notification. From what I understand Virgin Media engineers normally send a text message to your mobile to confirm an installation before arriving but there's no email confirmation if you've added or modified your package through the call centre.

April 12, 2011

Updates on TiVo ordering

  • From what I understand, TiVo offer emails have gone to VIP's first, then the triple XL customers, then the XL customers.
  • If you haven't received one yet it may be worth calling 0800 408 2159 but, given the inconsistencies experienced in responses from the call centre staff, there are no guarantees - if you don't succeed in getting an installation on your first call, it may be worth dialling in again.
  • I found I got straight through when calling a couple of times in the afternoon on Monday but had around a 10 minute wait in the morning.
  • Install dates as early as Wednesday this week have been reported.
  • The 500gb box isn't available until May 16th and cannot be pre-ordered.
  • I've put a quick poll up on the blog to see how many folk are getting quick installs - see the right sidebar to vote

April 11, 2011

Sky Sports red button: April 21st...but not for TiVo

Media Boy's blog says:
Virgin Media are set to launch the Red Button on Sky Sports for non-Tivo viewers on April 21st.
Red Button for Sky Sports on TiVo will follow in July or August
So those waiting for Red Button sports but also want TiVo have to decide what they want first

TiVo sign up emails ahoy!

Got mine...got yours?
Also, the 500Gb TiVo is confirmed for May 16th launch: £49.95, £40 install, £3 a month. Existing customers only.

UPDATE: Although the system at VM now seems to be okay and people are reporting that they're getting install dates, I didn't get one ("system problems") and was promised a call back in the next few hours. Anyone else get this? I'm still waiting and I have a horrible feeling I'm now at the back of the queue. If I call them of course, I'll be on hold for a while...

Further Update:
Decided to ring Virgin rather than wait any longer for a call back. I was told that I would not hear back from them UNTIL MONDAY 18th, even though I called first thing this morning. When I told the woman at the call centre that I knew people who had called after me this morning had been given install dates this week she told me MAYBE BY FRIDAY I would get a call back.
Sorry Virgin Media, that is AWFUL. Train your operators. Pathetic.

Update on the further update:
Once I calmed down, I called Virgin again. Straight through to a chap called Chris, who gave me a date straight away for my install (21st - offered me earlier but the Thursday is better for me). What really realy riles me though is that my call just a few minutes earlier was so poorly handled and I was completely misinformed. How many other willing customers are similarly being brushed away???!!

April 08, 2011

Comments on this blog

A few comments have appeared this week that I think are sliding into the kind of personal attacks that spoil some of the forum threads elsewhere. If this continues I will introduce comment moderation. Keep it civil please.

April 07, 2011

More new HD series arrive this spring

Camelot s1 - April on 4HD
Desperate Housewives - s7 returns April 13 at 10pm on 4HD
Dexter s5 - this summer on FXHD
Doctor Who - Sat, Apr 23 on BBC One HD
Justified s2 - April on 5USA (not HD...but still worth catching)
The Chicago Code - May on Sky1 HD
The Defenders - Fri, Apr 8 at 10pm on FX HD
The Reckoning - Mon, Apr 18 at 9pm on ITV1 HD
The Wire s1 - April, FX HD (not HD - but still worth catching if you haven't seen it before)

Sky Arts 1 & 2 HD arriving April 26th

Virgin Media has announced the arrival of two further HD channels - Sky Arts 1 and 2. Free to TV XL customers.
Virgin Media today announced the addition of the award-winning Sky 1 Arts HD and Sky Arts 2 HD channels to its TV service from the 26th April. The company is continuing to broaden the range of content available in stunning high definition with the arrival of these new channels, and Virgin Media customers now have access to over 30 HD channels with up to 19 channels available for no additional monthly fee*.

Sky Arts is the only stable of channels in the UK dedicated solely to the arts, and Virgin Media customers will be able to engage with the some of the best culturally stimulating programming available in spectacular high-definition. Both channels cover the greats of contemporary and classical arts – from iconic rock performances to the best operas, from ballet to books, from theatre to photography.
Virgin Media customers will now be able to watch great programmes including Songbook, The Book Show, In Confidence, Rock and Roll Exposed and Sky Arts Cinema with Mike Figgis in true high-definition, providing them with a crystal clear viewing experience.

April 05, 2011

TiVo pricing update: great news!

TiVo install is free in April for existing customers!

What's more, VIP's (50 & 100 only) are getting the TiVo monthly charge waived. It will appear on the bill, but we will get a bigger discount to cover.
Source: the mighty Digital Fanatic
Thanks to Virgin Media for listening, and a reminder: do not contact VM until the launch email comes out.They cannot process any orders before the launch day.

TechRadar pitches Virgin's Tivo against the Sky+ 1Tb

...and draws a pretty lame conclusion; Sky better for content, Virgin better for on demand. They like the simplicity of Sky's EPG but also impressed by the intelligence of the TiVo's interface. Hardly rocket science and to me it smacked a bit of "let's not piss off Sky". Full feature at TechRadar

April 01, 2011

Nialli's take on the TiVo pricing

Here are my comments on the somewhat passionate response on this blog to yesterday’s “Dear Dean” email from Virgin Media confirming the availability and pricing for the new TiVo 1Tb box.

Personally, I think £50 off for existing customers is not to be sniffed at. However, for us VIP50s and VIP100s out there who are already shelling out £100+ each month it is galling to be charged an additional £40 for installation and another £3 a month for TiVo, on top of £149. I would have thought that one of those should have gone; sub free for a year or no install charge. Both will limit appeal to existing customers methinks.
So, it is an expensive piece of kit but is still cheaper than the inferior and now not-even-in-the-same-breath-mentionable Sky 1Tb box. But for how much longer? Expect Sky to discount that immediately.
What is more, TiVo is not a mandatory upgrade, so if people decide they cannot afford it they don't have to. Smaller capacity boxes will come and the price will fall - early adopter premium for those who cannot wait. I'm a little sceptical that TiVo can be implemented on existing V HD boxes, but if that happens, great.
I don't have a problem with Virgin's two under-the-radar promotions giving free boxes out to 1000 customers or the raffle, but I think it was poorly marketed and has created something on an anti-Virgin sentiment on some forums. Sure, not everyone can win, but the way it was done was poor. Those who got the original free Remote and lifetime sub really did get a bargain.
The date slipping from March to April 4 to April 11 - these things happen, and the more stable the box is when it hits the wider community the better in my book.
I guess one last observation would be that fewer people jumping in straight away will mean installation will be a little quicker for those of us prepared to pay now at this price. That's very self-centred of me, but you know what I mean.