January 29, 2016

Sky Q pricing announced, new Now TV box later in the year

It's always interesting to see what Sky are doing, and Virgin Media's TiVo will start to look even longer in the tooth come February as Sky starts to introduce the new Sky Q service around the country. Pricing details have been announced too and the top priced Sky Q bundle, including Sports, Movies and HD, will be £88.50 per month (the current top priced Sky TV bundle is £75.75, so that's a tenner more).
There's also a one-off charge for the new box too - and it will be cheaper for Sky broadband customers. If you don't have Sky broadband, Sky Movies or Sky Sports, the Q box will be £249 and the Q Silver box will be £299. A Sky Q Silver bundle with the Sky Q Silver box and one Mini box will also be available for £299. The new boxes looks awfully like the Roku 4 box in the US to my eyes.
Hands on reviews for the new Sky tech have been largely positive but the absence of 4k programming at launch has been commented on.
There is also the promise of a 'more advanced' Now TV box later this year. Existing Now TV customers will see a new interface roll out to their boxes from February.
The new Now box will combine Now TV and Freeview channels for the first time and will allow Sky to better compete against BT and TalkTalk’s low priced TV services which are also delivered via broadband and include a mix of pay channels alongside Freeview’s aerial-delivered channels. It's a Roku, too.

Murdoch's back at the helm at Sky

It's like phone hacking never happened...
James Murdoch has been appointed as the Chairman of Sky, increasing the influence of the Murdoch dynasty as the UK's leading pay TV empire. Full story at The Guardian. I'd expect Rupert Murdoch to make another attempt to take over the whole of Sky now, and it's not like a British government is going to stand in his way, is it?
In recent times the relationship between Sky and Virgin Media has been pretty amicable; VM needs the Sky channels and content and, aside from Sky Atlantic, pretty much has it and in HD too, and Sky benefits from the audience of 4m Virgin Media households.
With TV services I don't think Sky has regarded VM as a serious commercial rival for many years, more a partner where they always have the upper hand. Besides, Sky seems to have turned its heavy artillery on BT and Netflix/Amazon these days, which makes Virgin a useful little brother in the content battles ahead.

January 27, 2016

X-Files HD bonanza

If you're impatient for the new X-Files 'event' on Channel Five next month you can get yourself all Scully n Muldered up in HD beforehand. 
H2 HD is currently showing season 2 around midnight. It's upscaled but an improvement on the old DVDs I have. Even better are the 5* repeats showing around the same time, which are a selection of "essential" episodes and the very best from across all 9 seasons. If you want to watch in HD search for X Files in the On Demand listings. Currently up is the disturbing "Home" from season four. Brrrrr

January 23, 2016

Sky Atlantic adds Showtime shows to its 'exclusives' roster

Not content with signing HBO up as exclusive to the channel, Sky Atlantic has now announced it's also tied up Showcase with a similar deal, depriving Virgin Media customers of further US cable hits. 
“This is one of the most important content deals Sky has ever agreed, cementing Sky’s position as the market-leader in Europe for world-class drama,” said Sky Content boss Gary Davey.
“The agreement means our customers can enjoy an incredible slate of upcoming new dramas like Billions, Twin Peaks and also explore hundreds of hours of amazing series such as Dexter, Californication, The Affair and House of Lies on demand from the back catalogue of one of the world’s most exciting pay TV networks.”
The value of the deal was not revealed but Sky is known to have paid at least£55m a year for a UK-only HBO rights agreement, which runs until 2020.
The pan-European Showtime deal is thought to be worth about £75m per year.
 The absence of Sky Atlantic from Virgin has long been a bone of contention for many cable customers, myself included, and for the last few years I've subscribed to Now TV's Entertainment package just to get access to the channel and related Sky Box sets. The downside for Virgin Media is that, as the Now TV platform matures, the money I spend on Virgin's XL TV is increasingly looking like poor value compared with the Sky-powerered alternative and unless something changes soon I may abandon Virgin's TV service simply because I'm paying VM a small fortune each month when almost all the shows I watch are on Freeview, Netflix or Atlantic.

January 21, 2016

New Virgin Media TiVo boxes this year

Nothing confirmed by Virgin Media yet, but I've heard now from several sources that Virgin are currently testing a new TiVo box for introduction in the first half of 2016. I would guess that it will be based on the US TiVo Bolt (pictured above and reviewed already stateside) which means 4k capability and a considerable step up from the TiVo currently supplied.
And, of course, if they keep the name 'Bolt' they already an ad campaign star who they can capitalise on.
Bring it on...

January 18, 2016

Netflix Originals in 2016

Fans of the first season on Netflix of Jessica Jones will be pleased to hear that a second series is already in production, whilst the other Marvel show, the excellent Daredevil, returns for a second season on March 18th.
Netflix has also announced the fourth season of House of Cards will arrive on March 4th whilst the superior Orange is the New Black will return on June 17th. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which for reasons beyond me The Guardian ranked as the number one TV show of 2015 - seriously??) gets its second season on April 15th; the almost unwatchably bad Grace and Frankie returns on May 6th.

New shows are also now scheduled. The Will Arnett comedy Flaked arrives on March 11th, followed by the Ashton Kutcher family drama The Ranch on April 1st. The teen-targeted Lost & Found Music Studios also launches on April 1st, followed by an animated series Kong on April 15th, the French political drama Marseille on May 5th, the Winona Ryder supernatural Stranger Things on July 15th and Baz Luhrmann's The Get Down on August 12th.
The big one for me is the return of Better Call Saul on February 14th. It may not be a 'Netflix Original' is the strictest sense (it's shown on AMC in the US) but it is unique on Netflix in the UK and is one helluva show. 

January 15, 2016

Netflix says it will clamp down on VPN access

As long as the major media companies still hang on to the archaic territory licensing deals of the analogue world, digital companies will continue to have to be forced to work within regional borders in the supply of licensed content.
The sad fact is that the profit-maximising mentality and content restrictions of the analogue media giants will continue despite global distribution being technically commonplace. And by sticking to twentieth century thinking and restricting content to territories piracy will inevitably continue to thrive.
In the UK, Netflix content is severely restricted by the all-encompassing deals Sky has secured with every major film studio and other major US content holders. If you want the newer Hollywood movies via streaming here and you don't want to pirate you have to use Sky's Now TV service, which is £9.99 a month for 720p movies, a notable cost increase and picture quality compromise from the services from Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. So much for customer choice - where's OFCOM on this?
But there was a way around it, to use a VPN service or browser plug in like MediaHint. But that angers the media giants who Netflix and Amazon rely on for the majority of their content, so it's no real surprise to hear that, in the same month Netflix announces expansion to now cover 190 countries worldwide, that it has also posted the following:
If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.
Over time, we anticipate being able to do so. For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.
Some members use proxies or “unblockers” to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies.
How they will actually block VPN/Proxy access is not explained - one can only assume it will be by blocking known IP ranges used by the 3rd party VPN services, a similar Whack-a-Mole game to that used by UK ISPs to block file sharing sites. That can affect legal users as these things often go wrong.
For those who access Netflix solely through TiVo this won't affect you, but if you watch Netflix on a laptop or tablet and access US or other overseas content you may find your access method blocked. One day maybe media companies will wake up and realise that we're now in the twenty first century and there are different ways of doing things, but until then, the customers will continue to be underserved and the pirates will profit.

January 03, 2016

How Sky Q's 4k may impact Virgin Media

My concern regarding this year's launch of Sky Q and 4K content on the platform is that Sky will step down the bitrates of the HD movies and sports feeds we get. I'm pretty sure I didn't imagine it when we saw the picture quality of SD versions fall when we couldn't get the HD versions on Virgin Media, and I wouldn't put it passed Sky to do similar again.
Not that the HD we get from Sky on VM is anything to write home about - I compared two TiVo recordings I had of the movie Hugo, one recorded from Sky Movies, the other from 4HD, and I couldn't believe the difference, the 4HD one was massively superior whereas the Sky picture lacked sharpness and 'sparkle'.

January 01, 2016

Happy 2016

Nothing like A Touch Of Evil to kick off the new year! This and details of a handful of other new arrivals to Netflix this month can be found at Vodzilla