December 21, 2015

Sky Broadband Porn Filters 'on by default' for new customers

Sky will block "adult content" by default for all new customers, the company has announced.
Sky said the move would result in "much greater use of home filters", but customers could still opt-out if they wanted to.
35% of existing Sky Broadband households have the porn filters on already, compared to 12% of Virgin, 14% of TalkTalk and 6% of BT. 

The broadcast giant said it will now email all existing customers, asking them if they would like the filter to be switched on.

If the email is ignored, Sky’s policy is to turn on the filter automatically, as it did following a similar email sent in January, when all customers who joined prior to November 2013 were contacted.

December 19, 2015

Not so super Superhubs

I recently took a call from Virgin offering a 'free broadband assessment' at my home. I said yes as I was a little disappointed with the reliability of the wifi around our house. The engineer was great; he identified the problem (my Superhub 1 was broadcasting on a congested channel in the area) and fixed it by configuring a Superhub 2 to use a less populated channel on 2.4Ghz and also activating the 5Ghz signal too. Instantly I was seeing speeds, during daytime at least, of 150mbps on all devices.
Sadly though, the wifi on the Superhub 2 proved unreliable, and a glance through various forums suggested that it's a very common and known problem with the Superhub 2 that the signals can drop for no reason. The solution is to either ask Virgin for the newer Superhub 2ac if you have devices that can take advantage of 802.11ac (ie from the last 18 months or so) or to add a 3rd party router.
I've now added the Apple Time Capsule, which centralises backups for my whole house (we're exclusively Apple) and the wi-fi has been super reliable and blisteringly fast across the board.
I post this as it may prove useful to others struggling with Virgin's wifi, but also to ask a question: why do Virgin undermine the promise of their class leading broadband by dishing out sub-standard hardware? Surely that's self defeating, and good routers are cheap as chips these days.

December 16, 2015

Netflix to tweak compression algorithms in 2016

Am I the only one who is a little sceptical about compression advances? Despite Netflixes assurances that their tweaking of the bitrate won't be perceptible I'm more of the opinion that these changes can diminish the quality of picture and sound for the sake of economy.
Large patches of color, like the kind found in children's cartoons, don't actually need a very high bitrate to look really good. What Netflix will do in 2016 and beyond is create specific recipes on a per show basis that will enable some shows with less visual data to use lower bitrates but still come through at 1080p quality. That means going back through its entire backlog of shows and creating new rules for every individual show.
In an example provided by Netflix, the company said that in order to get a crystal-clear 1080p stream in the past might require a bitrate of 5800 kbps. Using the new algorithm, Netflix can achieve the same quality with around a 4640 kbps file, effectively reducing the overall bandwidth needed by 20%. 
[more details on TechRadar]

December 09, 2015

Virgin Media London outage

I'm not sure how widespread this is (Virgin won't tell me) but in SE London we have had no broadband or TV services now for over 24 hours and still no definite fix time. 
My 'compensation' for the loss of a day's work (and pay)? £4.13. 
Also yesterday morning VM customers in the area received notification of the price rises in February. Nice one, marketing dept. 
Does anyone else in London have issues?

December 06, 2015

Interesting comment on EE TV

A comment from 'Griff' on the blog about the next price rises makes interesting reading. As it's an older post he's referring to I'm repeating it here:
"I've been loyal to VM for 15 years (NTL onward) despite moving house. Word for word I agree, finally with some comfort that I'm not alone and there better things - with the main poster of this thread. I agree so much that I thought I'd written the post myself and in a moment of advancing seniority forgotten that I'd written it myself! I even pay the same. So with a TiVo box that regularly has 3 red lights lit, with an advancing broadband speed heading over 200mb, with a router that just about services 4 people, Hive, Sonos, Apple TV, power lines, FIFA 16 and CofC on every available 'ageing device', even a xmas tree that turns itself on at sunset - with an 'ecosystem' that now prepares itself for the ever growing IoT, I felt prepared with VM to battle it out with whatever comes next. 
"Until yesterday. 
"On a shopping break, I headed into EE to discover that with EE TV, I can record 4 shows in HD. I can walk from 1 room to the kitchen, to have Michael Buerk on the BBC news follow me. I can upgrade to Sky Sports for only the months that I'll actually use it. And record sky sports / movies from Now TV. They'll even as a deal get supersize my already too much 10gb phone data allowance to 20gb so I can move my wife onto a shared data plan. Take all these savings (less the admittedly extra phone incentive) and I'm £1000 a year better off. Time to spend £500 each on 2 new smart TVs that offer even more capability to stream room to room and I'm quickly talking myself into moving away from a company that is rewarding loyalty with additional costs for no additional benefit. 
"Why shouldn't I move from VM to EE? I've got 2 reasons : both of which I already have an answer for : they can only offer 80gb speed not 150 or more that's coming. But do I really need this anyway? And so far there isn't a second EE TV box available but there is one in the pipeline. And if I can stream to a second smart tv anyway from the 1tb EE TV box there is no need for a second box anyway"

December 01, 2015

Netflix highlights for December

Worth having Netflix for this future classic alone...
Full details of new Christmas arrivals on Netflix can be found on VODzilla.

November 26, 2015

Exclusive content on Virgin Media? Apparently so

Press Release:
The Evil Dead franchise is being resurrected, and it’s landing exclusively on Virgin Media next week. That means only you can watch Bruce Campbell’s bulldozer chin and chainsaw hand make a comeback, and we are very excited.
Whether you’re already a fan of this cult favourite, are partial to hilarious horror comedies or simply on the lookout for a new show to get stuck into, you won’t want to miss this Virgin exclusive. And what’s more, you’ll have supreme bragging rights among your mates as Ash Vs Evil Dead isn’t available to watch anywhere else in the UK!
The only place you’re going to be able to watch this awesome new horror comedy series is exclusively with Virgin Media in TV On Demand. The first five episodes are arriving on 1 December and will be available to watch on TV Anywhere from 9 December, with further episodes released weekly. And why not go the whole hog and watch the entire film series, too? We’ve got The Evil Dead (Cert 18), Evil Dead II (Cert 15), Army Of Darkness (Cert 15) and even the 2013 reboot Evil Dead (Cert 18), for your eyes only all on Virgin Movies!

November 24, 2015

Virgin price rise poll confirms level of discontent

The poll I've run on this blog over the last ten days illustrates the level of unhappiness in Virgin Media's customer base with the news of yet another price rise in early 2016.
Only a quarter of the 349 respondents think they will stick with their current package, considering it good value. Half of those who voted will be looking to downsize the package at the first contractual opportunity, whilst the remaining quarter will leave Virgin Media for good.
That should make extremely worrying reading for Virgin management. Sure, the poll's 349 voters may not be an accurate representation of the overall customer base, but if anything we are the people who care about and use the service the most and we probably pay the biggest monthly subs as a result.
I've been a Virgin/NTL customer for almost 15 years, but the TV service is no longer good value and our TiVo boxes seem to get slower every time I turn them on. I have a mandatory phone line I never use and over 200 channels I never watch, and broadband that is way faster than my family's needs, served by a flakey "super" hub which needs rebooting daily. My bill is currently £124 a month.
I will be seriously considering my options when my contract is up in February. Now TV, coupled with our Smart TV's Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, will cut our monthly bill by more than half and give me all the TV programming we need.
And they're putting prices up? Again?
Not happy.

November 19, 2015

Considering BT YouView? Like your sport? Maybe think again

BT YouView may not be as attractive an option for sports fans as previously thought, and sometimes it feels like the sole role of Ofcom is to maintain Sky's dominance of the UK market.
Ofcom has just announced its decision to remove the regulation requiring Sky to offer Sky Sports on a wholesale basis. Sky Sports on BT YouView is the only supply arrangement for Sky Sports under Ofcom's wholesale must-offer regulation (Virgin Media's carriage of Sky Sports is different and unaffected by this ruling). Ofcom says that it
"expects all providers to engage willingly, constructively and in a timely manner to ensure sports continues to be made widely available to viewers. Ofcom continues to monitor the pay TV market closely. Should evidence emerge of practices which we consider to be prejudicial to fair and effective competition, we will quickly reassess the need for regulation."
In other words Ofcom is expecting Sky to play fair (stop sniggering at the back of the class, Murdoch Jnr) and give BT it's Sports channels at a commercially sensible price. That's the same BT Sky has been at loggerheads with for the last few years over sports rights. It doesn't take a genius to see that all the power is now in Sky's hands, who can fall into a convenient commercial dispute with BT that would remove Sky Sports from the BT service whilst everyone waits for Ofcom to "quickly reassess the need for regulation". Ofcom has never done anything "quickly", and those months, possibly years, could kill BT as an option for sports fans stone dead.
Oh, and don't expect the Government to intervene: it's too busy dismantling the BBC and Channel 4 for Rupert to pay attention to this one.

November 18, 2015

Sky Q announced

Whilst all Virgin Media customers have to look forward to in 2016 is yet another price hike for a broadband turbo boost few need, Sky customers can anticipate a new premium TV service called Sky Q early in the new year.
Sky Q is a new brand from Sky and is a complete family of devices that promises to change how Sky provides television services around the home. New hardware includes the Sky Q or Sky Q Silver set-top box that's the heart of the setup, a Sky Q mini box along with supporting apps and a new Sky Q remote. Sky is proposing Sky Q as a premium TV service no doubt at a premium price, too. Hmm.
More details on Pocket Lint and The Telegraph and many others.

November 16, 2015

That price rise - vote now!

Sorry about the delay in adding the poll to gauge reaction to the announcement of yet another price hike due early in 2016 - you can vote now.

November 13, 2015

Time to get angry - yet another Virgin Media price hike announced

I've just about had enough of this - anyone else feel the same? A poll top right to assess the customer reaction to yet another price hike. Here's the story:
Virgin Media customers who are signed up to one of the company's "Big Bundles" will soon see their monthly bill get an inflation-busting price increase. The cable provider says "the vast majority" of subscribers will see their packages rise by up to 5.4 percent (between £3.49 and £3.99 a month), which will include a £1 line rental increase. The changes won't happen right away -- they'll come into effect next February.
The pricing breaks down as follows: customers on a Big Connection or Big Easy package will have an extra £3.49 bolted on to their monthly bill. Those on the Big Bang, Big Kahuna, Big Daddy plans will get the slightly larger £3.99 increase. Broadband-only customers who were lumped with a bigger bill in November are exempt from Virgin Media's latest price review.
The timing of the hike has prompted many Virgin Media customers to voice their displeasure on social media. When the company bumped its top broadband speed up to 200Mbps at the end of September, it said the boost would incur no extra charge. However, just six weeks later, many of those customers are now receiving notice of a price increase.

New in November on Netflix UK

(Stuff I'd recommend is highlighted in bold, and the links are to a site I've just found called The List which looks pretty neat.

1 November 
Awake: The Life Of Yogananda
The Captains
Chaos on the Bridge
Chicken Run
Dominion Creek: Season 1
The Duchess
Enemy at the Gates
Laid: Seasons 1 and 2
Home Alone
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Moving Art: Underwater
Moving Art: Waterfalls
The Seven Deadly Sins: Season 1
Still Game: Seasons 1, 2, 3
The Thread
Urban Legends: Season 3
Velvet: Seasons 1 and 2
4 November
Big Momma's House
6 November
Master of None: Season 1
10 November
Big Eden
11 November
The French Connection
That Thing You Do!
13 November
Call Me Lucky
John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid
Jungle Book 2
Some Kind Of Wonderful
With Bob & David: Season 1 (what Bob Odenkirk did before Breaking Bad)
14 November
15 November
Bad Blood
The Brittany Murphy Story
Don't Look Back
Mandie and the Forgotten Christmas
Meet My Valentine
Nanny Cam
The Voices
16 November
Happily N'Ever After
Testament of Youth
18 November
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Life Without Dick
Lords of Dogtown
Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List
Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild
20 November
Marvel’s Jessica Jones (looks promising: in the same space as the excellent Daredevil series)
22 November
Love is Strange
Pound Of Flesh
23 November
Mortdecai (it's that Johnnie Depp movie that bombed. Approach with caution but it might be fun)
24 November
The Haunted Hathaways
25 November
Beavis and Butt-head Do America
King Solomon's Mines
Red Riding Hood
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Some Kind of Wonderful
28 November
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Best of Enemies
29 November
Force Majeure
I've been watching almost exclusively Netflix in recent weeks, catching up with The Bridge and Line of Duty. Still great value for the £5.99 I pay each month (early adopter) and it does make me wonder why I pay so much for the hundreds of channels I never watch. Anyone else feel like that?

TiVo passes four million customers

TiVo announced this week that it has passed four million customers, mainly thanks to its success at overseas cable companies:
Tivo today announced that the company has surpassed 4 million international subscriptions through its traditional TiVo offering. This announcement represents an important milestone in TiVo's international growth and comes as the result of accelerated subscription growth in Europe through customers such as Virgin Media/Liberty Global in the United Kingdom, ONO/Vodafone in Spain, and Com Hem in Sweden -- each respectively the largest cable company in their country.
"TiVo continues to offer one of the most compelling experiences for international television operators through the ability to integrate traditional linear content, video on demand and internet streaming services, such as Netflix, all in one interface on the television or on mobile devices such as the tablet or smartphone," said David Sandford, Vice President, General Manager, International at TiVo. "Our recent acquisition of Cubiware has expanded our ability to service international markets allowing us to offer products to almost every television operator regardless of size or ARPU in a given market. We now offer a portfolio of products to large, medium and small sized operators seeking a diverse array of products and features to serve a wide spectrum of subscribers."
More on CNN Money.

November 06, 2015

Lifetime and H2 in HD, arriving December 1st 2015

Be still my beating heart.
Dateline Hollywood has reported that;
John Malone’s Liberty Global [owner of Virgin Media] has extended its distribution deal with A+E Networks and is also launching two new HD channels in the UK. The long-term pan-European carriage deal covers A+E Networks’ UK channels on Liberty Global platforms in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Lifetime and H2 will be also now be available in HD in both the UK and Ireland for the first time. 
But still no History Channel HD on Virgin Media? Surely that would have been the obvious one to add? After all, according to A&E:
“H2 allows us to expand on the quality content available on our flagship History channel by representing the very heart of the History brand as well as offering viewers more information, more facts and even more entertainment.”
Sounds a bit like having ITV2 without ITV. Even odder it's reported that H2 is closing down and being replaced by new channel Viceland.
In other news on the VM channel lineup...oh, there isn't any. No more rumours of Sky Atlantic or Universal HD or AMC or an Amazon Instant Video app or anything. Been a dull year, notable only for price hikes and broadband speed promises.

UPDATE: Lifetime HD has arrived early (9th November) on 209 (thanks for the tip, Media Boy)

US TiVo Bolt reviews

TiVo Bolt commercial :-)

October 25, 2015

Blogger delays on VMHD

Apologies to a number of guys who attempted to post comments on a number of recent posts - Spam filters on Blogger have been a little over enthusiastic of late. All comments incorrectly quarantined have now been published.

October 19, 2015

4k TV inevitable?

"No," says a broadcasting pro in this interesting piece from TechRadar: The TV industry wants you to go 4K, but the professionals won't be joining you. Are we in danger of falling for the manufacturers hype again?
"In 2013 the average UK screen size in the UK was 36.8 inches (diagonal). At this time Sharp was predicting that by 2015 the average screen size would be 60". Here we are in 2015 and the latest BARB research suggests that the majority of UK homes own a main screen in the 35-50" range. Only some 3% of homes have a 51"+ size screen."
For me that's the hard reality of the dimensions of the average UK home. As I walked the other night around the streets where I live I was amazed to see how many large panels are bolted (too) high on living room walls, but I reckon few if any are over 50 inches.  Living rooms just aren't big enough, and no-one really likes sitting in the front row of the cinema, do they? Worst seat in the house.
So 4K to my mind will only become dominant if it comes with a telly whether you want it or not. Much like 3D, broadcasters will struggle with the bandwidth requirements and lack of content, and in a market where DVDs still outsell Blu-Ray discs the appetite for greater than 1080p resolution is questionable, especially if it comes at a premium.
There's more to 4K than just packing in the pixels, but I can't see people upgrading solely to get the upscaled content and odd BT or Sky channel.

October 04, 2015

New on Netflix UK in October

Here are some of this month's Netflix new arrivals, courtesy of Vodzilla:

Scream: Season 1 – 1st October
Stewart Lee: 41st Best Stand Up Ever – TBC
Atlantis: Season 1 – 1st October
About Time – 3rd October
A time travel rom-com from Richard Curtis
What We Do in the Shadows – 10th October
Brilliant comedy from the Flight of the Concords guys
The Pirates! Band of Misfits – 10th October
Better known in the UK as "Pirates in Adventures with Scientists". From Aardman Animation and top stuff.
The Muppets – Sunday 11th October
The 2011 movie
Homeland: Season 4 – 12th October
Season 4 of the spy thriller arrives just in time for Season 5’s broadcast on Channel 4
Archer: Season 6 – 15th October
Super – 15th October
Beasts of No Nation – 16th October
Idris Elba stars in Netflix’s first ever original feature film. 
All Hail King Julien: Season 2 – 16th October
Netflix’s Madagascar spin-off
Alfie (2004) – 17th October
Jude Law remake
American Horror Story: Freak Show – 21st October
Just disturbing...
Kung Fury – 22nd October
How to Get Away with Murder: Season 1 – 22nd October
Hit US show stars Emmy winning Viola Davis 
Saving Mr. Banks – 24th October

September 30, 2015

4k TiVo unveiled in the US

TiVo in the US has announced the latest addition to its Series 6 lineup of players with the arrival of the TiVo BOLT (pictured above). Breaking with TiVo's customary black finish, this white player offers 4K support as well as a revamped user interface that introduces new features like the ability to skip commercial breaks on recorded content as well as the ability to speed up playback 30 percent faster while listening to pitch-corrected audio. Four tuners, too.
Here's the tech breakdown:
  • Cable + OTA support 
  • CPU Cores/DMIPS: 2/11,000 
  • DDR memory: 3 GB 
  • HDMI Output: 4K/HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 
  • 4K decode: Yes – HEVC/VP9 
  • HDD: 500 GB or 1 TB 
  • Transcode/#Streams: On-Chip/1-2 
  • Wired Networks: Gigabit Ethernet 
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11ac/n 2×2 
  • MoCA: MOCA 2.0 
  • No. of tuners: 4 
  • Control Input: IP/RF4CE/Bluetooth (future) 
  • 11.4″ W x 7.3″ D x 1.8″ H 1.9 lbs. 
  • Smaller footprint with modern design 
  • 4K/Ultra High Def Platform 
  • Upgraded software 
  • Better performance 
  • New features including “QuickMode” and “SkipMode” 
  • In-home and out-of-home streaming (out-of-home in 2016)
That odd design isn't just to make the box distinct: TiVo claims that the gentle curve that lifts part of the player up also helps with heat dissipation. That’s useful given the hardware’s upgraded internals, which include a CPU that’s three and half times as fast as the previous (Roamio) model and three times the memory.
I see the disc storage hasn't been increased to accommodate 4K recordings: as this model is actually described as "entry-level" by TiVo it is perhaps an indication of where the next generation of TiVo hardware and software is heading. However, that probably is the box we are likely to see in the UK if Virgin Media continues to provide TiVo hardware beyond the current generation of DVRs.
More information can be found on TechCrunch and I'll post more on the new HTML5-based UI shortly.

September 21, 2015

September news thin on the ground

I just realised that I haven't made a single post on this blog during September. This isn't due to time constraints on my part (I've had plenty of time to be honest), more a reflection of the lack of news on Virgin Media services, Netflix UK and the other areas covered by this blog. Not much going on out there I'm afraid. All I've got of late is a story regarding a 4K TiVo rumour in the US I picked up:
Personally, I am as excited about the arrival of 4K in the home as I was about 3D (i.e. not at all) - you need a TV at least 55in to really see the full benefit (I think Sony do one at 43in but I can't really see the point) and the amount of genuine 4k content available is minimal. Sure, it may become a standard with new sets even if people don't watch much 4K on it (3D was similar) but as long as they don't degrade HD streams to sell it, I won't be interested. Views?
And, whilst you're kindly reading this, does anyone else think the picture quality on Sky Movies has taken a dip of late? I watched a recording from Film 4 HD the other day and thought it was so superior to another from Sky Movies Premiere HD I had to check the latter hadn't been recorded from SD by mistake. Similarly, BT Sports HD footie coverage looks sharper and handles motion better than the games on Sky Sports HD. The studio footage is fine and suitably sparkly, but the games themselves look, at best, average PQ.

August 29, 2015

Lifetime HD to launch on Virgin Media

Apparently. It used to the Biography channel, then got re-named Bio (like some kind of washing powder) and then Lifetime. Not sure how much of the programming will be actual high definition, but just because it's not a channel I watch doesn't mean it won't have an audience of course.

Coming to Netflix UK

(Nialli recommendations in BOLD)
1st September
The Reconstruction Of William Zero (film, 2014)
Banshee Chapter (film, 2013)
Dark Summer (film, 2015)
The One (film, 2001)
Badults (TV, season 1)
Still Game (TV, season 4 and 5)
1971 (documentary, 2014)
Capital C (documentary, 2014)
Aliens On The Moon: The Truth Exposed (documentary, 2014)
Living On One Dollar (documentary, 2013)
4th September
Bad Night (film, 2015)
Entertainment (film, 2014)
Nas: Time Is Illmatic (documentary, 2014)
I Dream of Wires (documentary, 2014)
5th September
Left Behind (film, 2014)
6th September
All Things to All Men (film, 2013)
9th September
Starry Eyes (film, 2014)
11th September
Monsters University (film, 2013)
Toy Story (film, 1995)
13th September
Still Life (film, 2013)
Promised Land (film, 2012)
The Wise Kids (film, 2011)
15th September
Only Fools and Horses (TV, seasons 1 and 2)
16th September
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (film, 2014)
Swing Vote (film, 2008)
The Odessa File (film, 1974)
18th September
Return to Oz (film, 1985)
Toy Story 2 (film, 1999)
Keith Richards: Under The Influence (documentary, 2015)
20th September
R.I.P.D. (film, 2013)
23rd September
From Beyond (film, 1986)
Night of the Comet (film, 1984)
Stargate: The Ark of Truth (film, 2008)
Stephen King's Thinner (film, 1996)
The Kite Runner (film, 2007)
24th September
Thor: The Dark World (film, 2013)
Iris (documentary, 2015)
28th September
Planes (film, 2013)
Housebound (film, 2014)
Spring (film, 2014)

August 13, 2015

Curzon Home Cinema App launched on Virgin Media TiVo

If you're tired if the constant overloud battering of Hollywood's blockbusters, you may be pleased to hear that Curzon Home Cinema has launched a new App on Virgin Media's TiVo.
The pay-per-view VOD platform, which offers independent and art house films to rent, is operated by the Curzon Cinemas chain and offers smaller titles that may not receive a wide theatrical release in UK.
David Bouchier, Chief Digital Entertainment Officer at Virgin Media, says: “We’re delighted to bring Curzon Home Cinema’s films and curated selections to our customers across the country. We’re passionate about keeping people entertained with an ever increasing movie offering which is why TiVo is the perfect home for Curzon’s app.”
A quick look at the Curzon Home Cinema site will give you an idea if this is for you. Current cinema releases are £10, older releases £2. Streams are usually in 720p.

August 12, 2015

AMC Global heading to Virgin Media?

There's a rumour over on Cable Forum that Virgin Media will be getting the new AMC Global channel this  month, in time for the launch of the Fear The Walking Dead first season. Nothing official yet, but the source is pretty well connected. No word if it will be SD or HD. BT were touting the channel as a BT "exclusive", so let's see what happens.

August 11, 2015

When TiVo die

I knew it was coming, but the failure of all my attempted recordings this weekend and the noises from within my TiVo not dissimilar to a washing machine going into the spin cycle were the final death throes of my original TiVo.
VM have quickly replaced the ailing relic from 2010 with a new box (Samsung, for those who keep notes on these things). Very efficient, all done within 24 hours of me calling 150.
But (and it's a big but) I've lost over 500gb of recordings as they couldn't be copied over to the new box, including some series I was halfway through watching (notably Humans and Wayward Pines) and others I hadn't started yet. Frustrating.
Now I'm somewhat naive about the technology inside a TiVo, but presumably it's not too dissimilar from a computer, so surely in this day and age copying data from one disc to another is not that difficult? Or am I missing something? Sure, it would take a while, but couldn't an engineer do this whilst he's filling in the paperwork (that seems to take an age)?
As it is, I will finish watching series using the 4 and Fox catch up services, but it is strange that in this day and age when 1Tb isn't a massive amount of data any more that a transfer process still isn't on offer.

August 07, 2015

New Now TV box: 1080p capable, but the service remains at 720p for now

There's a new, £14.99 Now TV box launched this month that boasts a faster processor, ethernet port  (if you find that more reliable) and is 1080p capable. (There are also USB and MicroSD slots, but apparently these aren't active at launch according to the Now online help.)
It's price leaps up 50% to £15, but I'm not sure if it's worth it as Sky is keeping the service at 720p for now. Still no Netflix on it either of course. Here are a couple of reviews:
Pocket Lint
Trusted Reviews
And thanks to Stephen Young for directing me to this review of the new box on TNW.
The v1 white box appears to be no more: the Now website is only offering the new model (which is black):

Virgin Media Q2 results: TV subscribers take a tumble but overall numbers are up

First the good news: more people are signing up to Virgin Media’s broadband and mobile phone bundles, helping the company makes its highest number of customers in five years, with an extra 19,000 taken out.
Now the bad: the number of its TV subscribers continued to fall in the UK (and Ireland) down 19,400 in the second quarter. Whilst the broadband service grows the TV service appears to be floundering, with the imminent XL price hike in September likely to further the customer drift to Sky or other services. I'm probably not alone in questioning the value I'm getting for my £119 a month cost, especially as Now TV seems to have sorted out its act and is a viable service at last for a reasonable cost. If the new Now TV full HD box launches this month then I will weigh up my options come the autumn.
Back to the results: the rate of people deserting Virgin Media fell to 14.1 per cent in the second quarter, down from 15.3 per cent a year earlier. Overall VM added another 106,000 customers on a net basis - those joining less those leaving - in the second quarter, giving it a total of 5.02 million UK customers. Overall UK revenues of £2.1billion for the first half of 2015 were reported, up 3.1 per cent on a year earlier.
Sky last month reported an 18 per cent jump in profits and an extra half a million customers in the UK and Ireland over the past year.

July 29, 2015

All change

Media Boy has posted the full list of channel number changes on Cable Forum. Here are the HD movers.

-Sky1 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 110 to Virgin Channel 109.
-Sky Living HD has moved from Virgin Channel 112 to Virgin Channel 111.
-Sky Arts HD has moved from Virgin Channel 282 to Virgin Channel 206.
-Eden HD has moved from Virgin Channel 210 to Virgin Channel 249.
-Discovery HD has moved from Virgin Channel 212 to Virgin Channel 251.
-Animal Planet HD has moved from Virgin Channel 217 to Virgin Channel 257.
-Nat Geo WILD HD has moved from Virgin Channel 229 to Virgin Channel 265.
-Nat Geo HD has moved from Virgin Channel 232 to Virgin Channel 268.
-Good Food HD has moved from Virgin Channel 262 to Virgin Channel 280.
-Sky Sports News HQ HD has moved from Virgin Channel 511 to Virgin Channel 501.
-Sky Sports 1 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 512 to Virgin Channel 502.
-Sky Sports 2 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 513 to Virgin Channel 503.
-Sky Sports 3 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 514 to Virgin Channel 504.
-Sky Sports 4 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 515 to Virgin Channel 505.
-Sky Sports 5 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 516 to Virgin Channel 506.
-Sky Sports F1 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 517 to Virgin Channel 507.
-British Eurosport HD has moved from Virgin Channel 522 to Virgin Channel 521.
-British Eurosport 2 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 526 to Virgin Channel 522.
-BT Sport 1 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 549 to Virgin Channel 527.
-BT Sport 2 HD has moved from Virgin Channel 550 to Virgin Channel 528.
-BT Sport ESPN HD has moved from Virgin Channel 530 to Virgin Channel 548.

July 25, 2015

The BT Sports Europe verdict

The mighty readership of this blog has voted on the addition of BT Sports Europe to the XL TV package for a mandatory £3 for ALL customers - and you are most definitely not happy.
394 votes were cast in the poll I ran after it was announced that another sports channel was arriving but it was going to cost all customers on Virgin's top telly tier more, regardless of whether they wanted it or not. 68% said they were unhappy, 9% weren't particularly bothered one way or the other and less than a quarter were happy.
I don't think anyone's unhappy to see additional HD channels on cable, but clearly it's prospect of yet another price increase, and this one for a specialist (albeit probably popular) channel, that is the problem. And it sets a dangerous precedent: if Virgin starts bundling other specialist channels into its bundles and charging for the privilege, many customers will vote with their wallets and quit.
I like the Champions League and for me the new deal is good value. But if had been, say Sky Sports F1 I was being charged for I would have been seriously unhappy. I have no interest in F1 so why should I pay for it?
Virgin has most likely done the deal so that it can market the cost of BT's Europe channel as cheaper than Sky (simply by making sure all top tier customers fund it, not just those that sign up specifically for it) but that's not fair to many, many customers.
I think the days of channel bundling are numbered, especially as the noise of cord cutting gets louder, so is this is the latest evolution of the principle of bundling (i.e. us paying through the nose for channels we don't watch) or is the start of the desperate death throes of an outdmoded pricing model?

July 23, 2015

Is your TiVo box rebooting itself? UPDATED

I've got two TiVo boxes and they both have been rebooting like crazy this morning. I went on to the VM Community pages and found that I wasn't the only one - it appears to be widespread. Anyone else seen this?
UPDATE: VM employee Spiderplant reports on Cable Forum that it's a national fault and under investigation, problem F003809631 

Outage reported on The Register but by the time they published it had been resolved. Spiderplant tells me that it was rectified mid-afternoon.

July 20, 2015

If you're unhappy... the prospect of having to pay £3 more a month for XL TV for a sports channel you don't want, check out the footnote note of the email Virgin is sending to all XL customers:
We really hope you want to continue enjoying all the unmissable sport and top TV heading your way in your bigger, better TV XL package. But if you wish to, you can cancel or change your package at any time before 31 August 2015 without paying any cancellation fees, by visiting for more information.
Some VMHD readers have reported that they've been told they don't have to pay the £3 if they don't want the Sports Europe channel, but when I asked VM about this I got the following response:

"Do XL customers have to pay £3 extra if Sept if they don't want more BT Sport?" 
"That is the case I'm afraid. We did our research and we know our XL customers enjoy watching sports, we’ve worked hard to keep costs down. If your price is impacted you’ll receive a letter or email explaining any contract terms. It depends on your package. You can also give us a call on 150/0345 454 1111 and we'll look at what we can do to help."

July 17, 2015

Happy with BT Sports Europe HD for an extra £3?

The immediate reaction to the news that VM will increase the price of the XL TV package in September by £3 and will include the new channel BT Sports Europe HD has resulted in a number of complaints to this blog. I can see why: even as a football fan myself, this should have been an option for customers rather than a mandatory increase for all customers on the top end TV package. How do you feel? There's a poll top right to voice your opinion, and feel free to post a Comment on this post, too.

July 15, 2015

UPDATE: BT Sports Europe HD confirmed for XL TV customers, but...

Virgin Media has announced it is set to add BT Sport Europe to its XL TV bundle, but the package will rise by £3 a month.
Virgin claims the move means it is now the only provider in the UK to offer BT Sport as part of one subscription.
Virgin claims the £3 price rise for XL packages, which will take effect from September 1st, comes on the back of work done to help minimise the rising cost of sports subscriptions and adding the BT Sport Europe channel. While any price rise may seem at odds with the idea of minimising costs, the increase is less than those soon to be implemented by BT (+£6) and Sky (+£7.49). 
BT Sport Europe in SD and HD will also be included in the bolt-on package for non-XL customers - the cost of which has risen from £15 to £18 a month with no activation fee.  
Update: here's the Virgin Media Press Release, which strangely doesn't mention the price rise.
BT Sport Europe HD will join BT Sport channels - 1 HD, 2HD and BT Sport ESPN HD - on the Virgin Media platform from launch on 1st August and will be available to all TV XL customers and TV customers taking BT Sport as a bolt on. 
In addition to BT Sport Europe HD, we have added more HD channels including Nat Geo Wild HD and Lifestyle HD.

Our TV Anywhere service offers 100 live channels to enjoy over WiFi and is currently the UK’s most comprehensive TV on-the-go service.

Our extended contract with BT means that in addition to the Uefa Champions League and Europa League matches, TV XL customers can enjoy a wide variety of sports content including: English Premier League Football (38 matches), FA Cup (25 matches), Aviva Premiership Rugby (69 matches), up to 500 matches from across the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1, UFC, NBA (basketball), MLB (Baseball) and Moto GP.

Subscribers will be able to stream matches live on TV Anywhere via tablets, mobiles, laptops and PCs.

You’ll also get access to BT Sport Extra (which is BT’s interactive red button content), allowing you to watch all eight matches during the UEFA Champions League group stages.

July 07, 2015

More on that Virgin Movies quality drop

Our correspondent Jay has followed up his investigation into the drop of quality in picture quality and has found some interesting background information: 
I just found out that Filmflex (Sony + Disney owned) were the provider, but were taken over by a company called Vubiquity last year.  
Reading the Vubiquity site, they claim to encode films more efficiently and therefore reduce bandwidth requirements. 
Jay believes that this will lower the quality of any content. (Personally, I think this is the kind of optimisation work that takes a while to fine tune, but agree with him that if VM have started using this and there is an unacceptable drop in quality then Virgin should address this.) Here's what Jay concludes:
This is most likely the reason for the recent substantial drop in quality from the video on demand content, they must be using a lower bitrate to encode the premium movie content.  I would say that for about five weeks now the picture quality for their SD movies have been so bad they are now considered unviewable.  Even the quality of the HD movies has dropped, although they are still of viewable quality but not what some may consider true HD. Virgin Media are currently investigating this matters but let's see how long Vubiquity keep pushing this high cost and low quality junk!
I myself don't use Virgin Movies much these days and have alternatives providers (Amazon, Sony, Now TV) if I want on demand movies. I'd be interested to hear from any Virgin Media staff regarding what's actually happening with Virgin Movies and why this is seemingly going awry.

July 03, 2015

Virgin confirms BT Sports Europe

No pricing yet though. Here's the press release:
"Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up, already the most comprehensive available for UK sports fans in one place.

The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive, said: “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it.  Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.”

Virgin Media customers will have access to live televised matches from English Premier League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, at home or on the go.  For sports fans who want more than football, Virgin Media offers over 30 sports channels showing all the major live sporting action in HD or on the go. They include Sky Sports, BT Sport, British Eurosport, Premier Sport, BoxNation and Racing TV.  Virgin Media is the home of all the major live sports in the UK, in HD or on the go."

BT Sports Europe coming to Virgin Media?

Not a source I've seen before, but according to IP TV News:
Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up. “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it,” explains Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive. “Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.” The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.
No word as to if it will cost customers more or whether we will get the channel in HD. Stay tuned.

Virgin Movies - quality drop but still a premium price

It looks like Virgin Media are playing around with Virgin Movies On Demand content. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed but I received an email this week from one unhappy VM customer, which I'm posting here in the hope that someone at Virgin Media will take note and perhaps explain what's going on and what they're going to do about it. (Thanks to Jay for bringing this to my attention.)
“We have been virgin customers for the past 5 years and have been quite satisfied with the service up until this point.  We have been using the Virgin Movies on Demand service extensively for some time now, watching as many as 4 movies a week from the "Out This Week" section at an approx cost of £3.99 per Standard Definition rental.“Prior to around four weeks ago everything was fine with the service, movies streamed fine and were clear, decent quality and had no problems such as pixelation.  We first noticed there was a problem when we rented a film called "The Mule" on 5th June and since then all of the Standard Definition films that have been added, have been of extremely poor quality, so bad in fact that we consider them unviewable. The picture quality is very pixelated, dark, grainy and out of focus, it's just awful to try and watch and is far below the acceptable level for standard definition as used for normal channels.“We have a 50 inch Plasma TV and have compared standard definition channels available through our TiVo Box, they are all vastly superior in quality compared with what we can now receive through Virgin Movies.  “We know that the problem is not with our TV or the TiVo box, because all the standard channels are okay and the same as before, it's only the Virgin Movies service. This can't be a streaming problem either, as all the movies that were made available prior to that bunch of "Out This Week" Movies, are all still available in a clear and decent viewing quality.“We reported this a few weeks back and specifically mentioned that it was relating to Movies on Demand. An engineer came out a couple of days later and said that there was not really anything that could be done about the problem with quality.  “Yesterday i spent a difficult two hours in a Livechat with a Virgin Media agent who was at time very argumentative instead of trying resolve the situation.  “It took a lot of effort and explaining for him to actually understand the problem. He did do comparisons in their office using the TV available, in the end he admitted that there was in fact a quality issue with the new movies available. After confirming the issue, he simply said that there was nothing that he could do about the matter.“When a customer is paying for a premium service such as a movie rental, they would expect at least the same quality as on the normal channels being broadcast, not the terrible quality material now being provided.  In order to get around this we have resorted to renting the HD versions, paying an extra pound per movie.  However, in the "Out Now Movies" there are maybe 30 rentals available and only about 5 are in HD.  “It used to be that around 80 - 90% of the films were available in SD and HD, but that's simply not the case anymore.  Not only are we unable to watch the majority of the content, and having to paying more when HD is available, the HD content is no longer as sharp and detailed as the HD movies used to be and we don't believe that they can be accurately described as high definition.“Having ruled out the TV, The TiVo Box and Streaming as being the cause of the problem, it can only be that the movies themselves have been encoded into much lower file sizes in order to cut down on bandwidth usage. We are surprised that this would be done for a premium rental service.“We are very disappointed in the situation, not only with the new low quality content, but also by the way this was dealt with by the engineer and the customer services agent.”.

July 02, 2015

New in July on Netflix

The Guardian has a useful summary of what's in the pipeline for Netflix this month: It includes new TV series and added films, but sadly doesn't say what's leaving (often important to know - check MAFT's blog for that info).
For those who have Amazon's Prime, the Guardian covers that too

Now TV boxes get an app refresh

Details and screenshots can be found on the NowTV community blog.
A shame though that didn't refresh the awful green Now TV logo that looks like something from a junior school art class playing with their first computer programme.

June 17, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead - a BT exclusive not coming to Virgin Media soon

Now this is an interesting development in the battle for the great British couch potatoes. Determined to take its battle with the almighty Sky into new territory, BT announced a deal to exclusively bring American network AMC to the UK. In recent years, AMC has elevated itself from being a so-so US cable channel to an HBO-rivaling home of award-winning drama, with shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mad Men and the biggest cable show of them all, The Walking Dead.
The new UK channel Awill launch in September with a particular ace up it's sleeve: the Walking Dead spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead.
The channel will also show long-running hits Breaking Bad and Mad Men. It's been announced that it is being made available for the first time in the UK to BT customers via its YouView pay-TV platform. 

Delia Bushell, managing director of BT TV and BT Sport, said: “AMC has showcased some of the biggest and most celebrated series on US television in recent years, including Breaking Bad and Mad Men. We’re confident our viewers will enjoy AMC’s cinematic approach to storytelling and look forward to offering them an outstanding selection of TV series and films in the months ahead.”
The question for Virgin Media (and Sky) customers is will this be a BT YouView exclusive? According to BT's own announcement, AMC will be a "BT Exclusive". So, much like Sky doesn't wholesale the Sky Atlantic channel to other platforms, it looks like BT is planning to keep this just for its own customers. That's a game changer, and it looks likely to leave Virgin Media the premium-priced platform with neither HBO nor AMC content. Of course, existing show deals with FX and Netflix may mean we still get AMC content (I recall Better Call Saul  being a Netflix exclusive for the commissioned two seasons and I think FX have Walking Dead for another series at least), but again Virgin Media are losing out by the company not playing in the content market itself.