BBC HD Now Official

BBC HD Channel is now official and will launch…today! After trialling for over 18 months it looks to be hastily launched and not that much different from the test channel it’s been running as. It will show more content though, around 9 hours a day starting from 15:00. Programmes like Jools Holland and Planet Earth look stunning in HD – it will be good to see Kill Bill and Sin City at Christmas in HD too.

With Channel 4 rumoured to be launching their HD channel on Dec 10th and ITV in March 08 it looks like HD is finally getting more content. If only Sky would drop their £10 a month HD charge. A lot of people want the HD box and are willing to pay the one off charge but not the monthly fee. The image quality from the HD channels is excellent on Sky, even to the point that I’ll not watch an SD movie as it’s that inferior but I can understand the cost putting people off. Next year may see a TV upgrade!

Sky HD – 1 Month Update

It’s been four weeks since Sky HD was installed – here are my thoughts so far.

Sports
The World Cup in HD looks amazing. I was really impressed with most of the BBC coverage. A couple of the games earlier in the tournament seemed to be of lower bit rate which made the picture look slightly blurred as it moved. Apart from that I have no complaints with the BBC – just a shame ITV showed their HD games on Telewest only as when you swapped to an ITV game you got a pixelly unfocussed mess that rammed home the benefits of HD. Looking forward to Premiership and Ryder Cup.

Wimbledon has also been great. Centre and No 1 courts were displayed in HD and the difference was massive. I saw no blurring of the ball as reported elsewhere but I think some of these issues are down to poor quality tv’s rather than the broadcast itself. One point to note – the BBC suffered from a dead pixel. Well I found it quite funny – wonder if they’ll get a refund on their equipment or did they buy it from a firm that only offers returns for more than five dead pixels?

Movies
HD films + Dolby Digital 5.1 sound = better than upscaled DVD experience. Spiderman 2 and Sin City looked vastly superior to the non upscaled DVD versions and still better even when the DVD was upscaled. The only issue is that some broadcasts are using Dolby Pro Logic II which just isn’t as good as Dolby Digital. Oddly second or third broadcasts of the films (Spiderman for example) did have Dolby Digital unlike their original screenings.

Despite that if you like movies and you’ve got an HD Ready TV then it’s a no brainer – Sky HD really is that good. Will have to wait and see if they are as good as HD-DVD/Blu-Ray although I would have through the new hi-def disks will be better again (less compression I imagine).

Programming
Lack of content is the main issue. Sky One are broadcasting HD repeats through the night which shows just how good the programs will look – the only problem is I’ve seen most of them already. BBC HD is a trial service with repeats and Nat Geog and Discovery aren’t showing much new. The main issue is that many of the US import series have ended and so we’re waiting for them to start. Also there are still few programs shot in HD, especially in the UK which is a situation that will only improve.

Be interesting to see what ITV and Channels 4 & 5 do (if anything) over the coming months with regards HD. However for most channels I’m getting a better image than my Freeview box could offer so I’m still pleased – just need a bit more in HD.

Technology
Sky HD’s achilles heel is the hardware itself. Firstly 160Gb is small when recording HD content. 140 Gb is being reserved by Sky for a future download service – would be nice to have option to use it depending on whether you sign up for the service. Secondly Sky has problems with reliability and glitches. According to the Sunday Herald around 30% of users have had hardware problems. More worrying are reports that TV’s are being damaged by the Sky hardware, most prone being Pioneer models when the HDMI port is used. I’ve had a couple of box freezes but thankfully no missed recordings…yet. Firmware updates will sort out the latter but failing and damaging hardware is a far bigger issue that would only be fixed by repair/recall. Hopefully it won’t end up that way.

Overall I’m really chuffed with Sky HD. The Sky+ functionality is superb (should have got it ages ago) and the picture from HD channels is amazing. However I wouldn’t recommend getting it without looking at what is being broadcast first to avoid any disappointment. Sport and movie fans though will love it.

Sports Saturday

  • Philips HD TV – £1600
  • Sky HD Box – £300
  • Sky Monthly Subscription – £52
  • Watching England get knocked out of the World Cup again on penalties, Terry and Beckham shedding tears and Andy Murray winning magestically all in high definition – priceless

Andy MurrayWhat an amazing day of sport. First Andy Murray. Great performance especially as Roddick was serving so well. Still think it’s too early to be thinking of semi’s or final’s but that performance today was one of the best sport moments of the year so far. As for England they didn’t play well when they had eleven men, they had the better of the game after Rooney was sent off, the substitutions were frankly bizarre (take off wide man and put on Crouch, aka gigantaur, with no one left to cross it?) and to be honest the England team performance throughout the world cup did not merit a semi final place. Bye.

Looking forward to Murray in the 4th round now. Just how far can he go? I hoped that the comments on his website would be a bit more positive after the nasty stuff left over the last week but the one copied below shows that despite a really good post match interview some people just never let up.

If you weren’t such an unbelievably lucky hitter and hoper, so incredibly dull and such a nasty piece of work, it would be easy to look past the fact that you’re so dam ugly.

I thought Mr Burns was a cartoon character. I didn’t realise he was real and had offspring.

So sad.

Sky HD Update

A new firmware update is being pushed out for Sky HD boxes. Details of the fixes can be seen here but include the time loss issue I mentioned and increased stability. Good to see official Sky reps keeping users informed in forums like Digital Spy. Sometimes they do listen.

Sky HD – One Week Later

Still loving it. World Cup has been brilliant and BBC really are showing the way with their broadcasts. Been impressed with the cricket as well so looking good for Premiership next year. Was getting used to the picture quality and switched the TV on for the Brazil game earlier this week. It looked awful – pixelly, low detail, lack of colour. I was so disappointed and thought the BBC were maybe using different settings for their admittedly test HD service. I then realised I was on BBC1, not the BBC HD channel. Switched over and normal service was resumed – moments like that really hit home the difference in quality.

There are however some firmware issues. Had the video stutter twice now after watching a recording which is easily solved by powering the box off and on. No Sky+ failures yet but the time does drift on these boxes – about a minute a day. I’m sure a future firmware update will resolve this but in the meantime…

  • Select Services from remote
  • Then press 4, 0, 1 and then Select to enter the Installers Menu
  • Select the Planner Rebuild menu option (number 7 and NOT number 8 which will wipe your recordings)
  • Housekeeping should then start and once complete power down the box
  • Press Sky or the power button to bring the box back on.

For me not a big deal especially when I look at the picture quality I’ve now got. Loving Sky+ also – so easy to use and totally changes how you use broadcast television. Should have bought it years ago.

HDMI Switchbox

Octava 5 Port HDMI SwitchJust when you though it was safe to throw away scart switchboxes as you move to hi-def you soon realise that most HD TV’s come with only 1 HDMI socket, 1 DVI socket and a component socket (although most new TV’s now come with 2 HDMI’s at least). Not much when you think of the multiple HD sources that you could have. To get round this little issue I plumped for an Octava 5 way HDMI switchbox. This works really well as a pass through device and gives long term expandability for any future HD devices I may add.

It allows for 5 HDMI/DVI sources to be connected and so far with my two sources it’s worked with no issues. Although it auto switches it also supports Infra Red selection of an input which is useful feature to have. If you do want one I can highly recommend The Media Factory who answered all my queries and also delivered promptly. Will definitely use them again. Worth noting that the Octava was pretty cost effective when compared to other HDMI switchboxes on the market at the moment.

Also worth considering is the Octava switchbox that also allows for multiple optical inputs – very handy if your amp is low on capacity. Ultimately the switchbox is more expandable and cost effective than upgrading your amp which looking at today’s market will give you one extra HDMI socket which really isn’t enough.

Sky HD – Initial Thoughts

It finally arrived late yesterday – Sky HD. I’ve only watched a few HD broadcasts so far but I’m very impressed with HD and also the upscaled SD transmissions via the new Sky box. The box itself looks great and is pretty quiet – nothing to trouble you while watching and only a slight noise when recording and the TV is off which is only to be expected.

The BBC HD channel is the most impressive. Clips from Planet Earth are amazing and like others have said the HD adds real depth to whatever you are watching. I’ve not had time to take some photo’s yet but from the others I’ve seen on the web they don’t capture how much of a difference HD can make.

World Cup broadcasts have been superb – no motion blurring and just so much detail compared to the SD channel broadcasting the same game. No Dolby Digital 5.1 which was supposed to be part of the HD broadcasts. I guess it still is a test service for the BBC.

Sky Sports cricket was looking superb in HD also. Sky One HD was a bit iffy – mostly upscaled stuff that wasn’t true HD and it showed. Discovery and National Geographic were also very good.

The box has been reliable so far apart from one instance – I watched a recording and then switched back to normal viewing – the video seemed to stutter every 3 or 4 seconds. Switching the box off and on resolved the problem so it’s probably a firmware fix that’s required to resolve that and other issues that folk have – crashing boxes etc.

Sky+ functionality works like a charm. It’s great to be able to pause, rewind live TV and something I should really have bought in to a long time ago. I also notice a big difference with the upscaled SD channels. Doctor Who looked far superior than it did over Freeview. No macro blocking and a really clean picture which wasn’t something I expected.

If you have an HD television then this is THE broadcast step change you’ve been waiting for. The difference between SD and HD is quite marked and is certainly clearer than DVD. Well done to Sky and Telewest for getting HD out there – I’m still peeved that NTL are stating that it’s 2007 before they will have an HD solution. Poor. My TV is only 32inch and I can see a big difference with HD. Given that larger TV’s highlight the issues with SD material more than a 32 inch box is a no brainer that HD will look great the larger your TV is. Highly recommended although there will be hardware issues (early adopter tax) and a lack of HD material compared to SD. The later will only improve over time (Ryder Cup in HD – woo hoo) and hopefully the former will be resolved with timely firmware updates. Right – back to the World Cup.

HD Stuff

A few bit’s and pieces on HD. Firstly, my TV. Had no real issues with it apart from a bug with the 360 (and maybe hi-def content in general) in that the colour red (and oranges) would cause some ghosting of the image on the screen. Nothing major and certainly nothing that could be spotted in game. You could see it especially on the dashboard and in PGR menu’s although changing the dashboard theme removed the issue.

However I picked up TopSpin last week which looked gorgeous until I played my first tournament on clay. Uggggggghhhhhhhhh. Fugly and difficult to watch – felt the whole image was blurry. Luckily for me the next day saw the latest firmware release for the TV which solved the problem. Good stuff Philips – only took 4 months.

I still don’t know whether providing the facility to upgrade your TV’s firmware is a good idea. In one respect it allows Philips to address issues through the life of he TV. However it also allows them to ship a ‘buggy’ product knowing it can be addressed in the long term. How many users though will:

  • Know about the firmware release
  • Know how to apply it
  • Have the confidence to do it

People I know have issues applying a firmware release to a DVD writer worth about £60 never mind to a TV worth £1800. For me it’s great but I’m a geek. For average users it’s just not good enough.

Other HD news is a rumour – Microsoft will announce their HD-DVD add on at E3 next month and it will be priced at $100. That sounds stupidly cheap. If it’s true then I can see a lot of people picking up the device. Hopefully they’ll add an HDMI socket to the player as well – HDMI is the new scart and I’m still surprised they went with component rather than HDMI on the 360. Time to make amends.

I’m still looking for an HDMI switch box. As I’ve mentioned HDMI has become the standard way of hooking up HD sources yet most screens still only have one socket. If your a switch box manufacturer then the next couple of years is the time to make money. By year end I’ll have the DVD player, Sky HD, PS3 and probably the 360 via the HD-DVD add on all using HDMI. So it’s definitely a five way switch box which looking at those on the market will cost between £150 and £350. Ouch. Octava is my first choice as there is now a UK distributor and it’s the cheapest. Gefen do a 4 way HDMI and audio switch box but it’s over £300. I would rather get a new amp with some HDMI inputs than pay that much. So it looks like Octava unless I turn up a bad review in avforums. I’ll post an update once I have the box and tested it.

World Cup 2006…..Hi-Def

Well done BBC – they are broadcasting the World Cup in Hi-Def. Wimbledon too and also Planet Earth plus more. Available to Sky, Telewest & NTL users who have HD. Freeview will miss out although some trialists in London may get it.

I will be subscribing to a digital service to get this (currently Freeview only)…only question is which one?

Update. Sky announced their pricing yesterday….I’ve now pre-ordered Sky HD. Hopefully installed in May in time for the summers sporting events. Just need to work out how to pay for it.