Sky HD EPG Update

It’s been a couple of weeks since the long awaited new Sky HD EPG made it’s way onto my box. Considering all the fanfare about it I’ve been fairly ambivalent about it, so much so I couldn’t be bothered even posting about it. A tweet tonight about ITV HD has nudged me along though.

The ability to watch ITV HD on Sky is the biggest new feature for me. Before the update, ITV HD was available only on FreeSat and only via the red button service – it’s not an actual channel which when you realise how little is broadcast in HD is understandable. To watch it on Sky (new EPG only) you need to do the following:

  • Press services button > System set up > Add channels
  • Change the Freq to 11427
  • Change polarisation to H
  • Leave symbol rate @ 27.5
  • Leave FEC at 2/3
  • Press select to find channel
  • New channels will appear , TV and radio , scroll to the one marked Channel 10510
  • Press yellow to store it , press select , press select press back up , press back up.
  • Scroll down to other channels , highlight 10510 and press select to view.

Not easy and it’s a few button presses to access the channel each time. Then again, Champions League in HD tonight and FA Cup semi-finals in HD this weekend. Nice. Quality is excellent too which makes a big difference compared to the pixelated mess that ITV usually is on Sky.

Other important changes – the EPG is now in HD and much clearer than the old one. It’s also added a mini display. However it cuts off half the display if enabled and also plays the sound from the currently selected channel. This has caught me out already – last weeks Apprentice was recording while I watched the football. Went into the EPG to select it and start watching and I see the three boys sitting in the boardroom. Even worse, disabling the mini tv doesn’t sound the TV channel sound off so you can still hear spoilers. Bit daft on Sky’s part.

Your series recordings are now displayed in stacks in the EPG. Makes sense for me but another daft feature is that the stack isn’t just per series but per series and channel. Miss a recording on BBC1 and record on BBC3 instead will see two different stacks for the same series. Can’t see this affecting me as I don’t build up a lot of recordings but it is a real pain for some which could have been avoided.

HD programs can now be highlighted in the EPG – handy when browsing what’s on. Speaking of which, now and next is a lot better on the new EPG with full info on each program without going in to the EPG. About time.

Despite these additions though the downside is that it feels a bit slower in use and that’s on my box with not much recorded. Some reports in forums from users with lot’s recorded say it is way slower than before. I’m also convinced that to watch recordings it takes more button presses than before. If it doesn’t it certainly feels that way. Considering it’s been in development for so long it’s a shame that usability seems to have suffered. Overall it’s a benefit having the new EPG but still feels like a missed opportunity.

Olympic Thoughts

Day six of the Beijing games are over…my thoughts so far? Dramatic, enthralling, fantastic. When I can I’ve watched, well, any sport really. No matter the sport or the country taking part I’ve been interested. British interest always increases the tension and as Gordon said so well, the BBC add’s to the coverage by framing events so well. But first – that opening ceremony.

It looked and sounded amazing and watching it in HD was pretty special. So many memorable moments and images – The Big Picture photoset captures it beautifully. The manpower and cost, never mind the passion shown during the ceremony makes it almost impossible for London to match but that’s four years away and a different games. During the ceremony the miming and footstep’s in the sky were pretty obvious to spot but took nothing away from the show. That’s all it is – an entertainment show to get the games going. Acts around the world have mimed for years so I was surprised to see so much coverage for this.

I also got annoyed with the BBC emphasising that China had been selective with choosing moments from their past to highlight at the ceremony. What do you expect? In 2012 will we see slavery scenes in London? Pretty silly. Thank goodness Eurosport HD has launched – I watched the majority of the ceremony on Eurosport which even looked slightly better and their surround sound worked unlike the BBC.

As for the sport itself, Nicole Cook was magnificent as was David Florence although the in your face reporting from Garry Richardson was way over the top. It was like David Brent doing the reporting. Favourite events so far have to be from the swimming pool. Rebecca Adlington’s swim was so good as she hauled back a large lead with just metres to go. The most amazing race so far though was the 4x100m mens freestyle. How America pulled back that lead and the reaction from Phelps – image of the games so far. Athlete of the games so far too. In fact, athlete of the games. Can’t think of anyone form track and field that can compete.

From archery to boxing the range of sports covered well on TV has never been better. So sad to see Gail Emms go out today – the interview afterwards was heartbreaking. From BBC HD to the main BBC channels with the fantastic red button service you can see Olympic sports 24/7. Couple that with a great website – I’m like a pig in mud.

Track and field kick off tomorrow and Saturday looks like being the day of the games – so many medals decided and many include potential golds for Britain. One niggle remains though. Should China be hosting the games? For me, absolutely. I don’t agree with how the country is run, the human rights issues, the lack of freedom of speech etc etc etc. How many governments around the world are squeeky clean though? Considering Iraq and Afghanistan should London have been in the running if Beijing is so controversial? There’s a lot of hypocrisy surrounding these games and lot’s of negativity around the blogs. Ultimately the Olympics is about sport but as usual people want to politicalise the games and tell everyone how terrible it is that China are hosting the games and how oppressed the country is. Watch some sport, see the passion from the athletes involved and enjoy it for what it is. You’ll also get to see classic TV moments like this.

Sir Steve gets soaked

More HD

After a quite spell there have been some significant HD announcements for the UK. ITV HD channel will launch next spring, BBC HD has been recommended to start as a full time channel as soon as possible, MTV HD is due to land next year and Channel 4 have announced a C4 HD to launch from December. Great news and about time that there is more commitment from providers other than Sky and BBC.

Big Brother Tuppenceworth

From the most dull UK Big Brother ever this years celeb version has now picked up a massive amount of news coverage, is the most complained about TV show ever and is now causing international tensions between India and the UK. How bizarre. I’ve not watched it all but I’ve seen and read enough to form some opinions.

I do think there is a hint of racism in some of the comments that are being made in the house but I do not believe that the three housemates (Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd, Jo O’Meara) are racist. There is however a class divide between the three and their ‘victim’ Shilpa Shetty and that is now manifested in ongoing arguments between Shilpa and the three. The fact that the three seem to know each other outside the house hasn’t helped – there’s a bond there and due to their background and age they were always likely to stick together. Bullying…yes. Racism…no. The three also seem to be from very similar backgrounds – three hairies (great work John) was the best description I heard today. I couldn’t disagree.

Why the arguments – Gordon’s nailed it for me. Lack of education. As soon as Jade starts to talk back to Shilpa you know where it’s going. Two minutes later its rage, arguments, slagging and then her two mates chip in to form the gang. Game over.

Channel 4 could have easily nipped this in the bud, but no. Media hype followed by some good editing means ratings gold. Then a climb on to moral high ground with this statement – “it is unquestionably a good thing that the programme has raised these issues and provoked such a debate. These attitudes, however distasteful, do persist – we need to confront that truth.” Couple that with an eviction vote between Jade and Shipla so that the public can decide on who’s right. Makes me sick.

I hope this is the last Big Brother. Never thought I’d say that as I usually end up enjoying it for all the wrong reasons – trash TV at it’s best. It’s gone to far though and thats with a list of ‘celebs’ who are no more known than the ‘normal’ folk who entered last summer. Normal – who am I kidding!

At least there’s a bit of a backlash. Carphone Warehouse have withdrawn sponsership from this series but potentially not the next one. Shop’s have also withdrawn Jade’s perfume from shelves. Hopefully Channel 4 get hammered for this at some point too. As for me I’ll probably still catch tomorrows nights show. I want it to end but while it’s on…as I said…guilty pleasures.

Oh, one last thing. Jade Goody. Can you just fuck off now?

Film 4

Well done Channel 4 – Film Four went free from 9PM tonight and is now viewable on all digital platforms including Freeview. Unbelievably people are complaining that it now sucks as the films contain adverts. I just wish for those people Channel 4 had a pay option so they could still have there advert free movies but at a cost…I wonder how many would pay. I wonder how many ever paid as it is so much easier to complain than complement.

Sky introduces Remote Record

Sky launched a new feature for Sky+ (and HD) users today – Remote Record. This allows users to set-up Sky+ recordings via:

  • Text message
  • Sky by Mobile
  • Sky.com

Text Message
You first need to register your mobile to your phone. Then you can simply send a text to 61759 in the format Programme title. Channel Number. Day/Month. Time. i.e.

24. Sky 1. 02/07. 21:00.

You will get a confirmation message if the details are correct. If they aren’t you will get a text message with four options that are the nearest match to your request. Select which option and the recording is added. If you are unsure of the time send Programme title to the above number and again you will get a text returned with a list of the next available programs. All very smart but the text request will cost 25p plus normal text charges. I can also see problems in entering the program titles correctly. Still, there are easier ways to use this service.

Sky by Mobile
Sky by Mobile has been around for a while allowing you to get news and video’s via your mobile. From today you can also set Sky+ recordings. For this to work you need a compatible handset, to have linked your Sky box to your mobile and then download a java app to your phone. Once downloaded, installed and run it is very easy to view the full Sky tv guide, select programs to record and also search for a program by keying in a title and letting the app find it for you. Key for me is that this service is free – you only pay for the data you’ve downloaded as per your normal service provider charges. It also doesn’t download much data meaning this is by far the cheapest way of remotely using your Sky box. Another reason for looking at T-Mobiles great web surfing deals.

Sky.com
Not available yet (August is the rumour) but hopefully this will be the easiest way of remote recording. Login to Sky.com, browse the channel list and select a program to record it. Sounds simple and hopefully the interface will be quick and easy to use.

Nice to see these features being added. Always handy in case you forget to set a recording.

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.

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.