Another affordable option — though only if you live in an area that can receive the service — is the Virgin TV cable service. The V+ box that Virgin provides to its customers costs £150 and is capable of receiving both standard-definition and HD channels. However, when we rang them they offered to let us have it for £75 — obviously an attempt to lure us away from Sky and Freesat.
Virgin offers three packages of channels, called Small (free), Medium (£9 per month) and Large (£9.75), and for another £5 per month you can get the BBC HD channel added to the Small and Medium packages — there’s no additional cost for the Large package. Virgin also has an ‘on demand’ option that includes pay-per-view films, some of which are in HD. However, Virgin were a bit vague about the HD films that are currently available, so Freesat looks like a better deal if you’re looking for an affordable entry into the world of HD.
iTunes will sell and rent HD movies — but only to AppleTV owners
The final option that’s worth mentioning is Apple’s iTunes and AppleTV. After a long wait, the iTunes Store in the UK now sells and rents a range of films and TV programmes — some of which are available in HD. The HD films in the iTunes Store are only available for rent — you can’t buy them and keep them — and can only be downloaded onto the AppleTV box, which costs £199 or £269 depending on the size of the built-in hard disk: 40GB or 160GB.
Unfortunately, the range of HD movies is pretty limited at the moment, and the recent price cut that Apple announced for the AppleTV in the US hasn’t been passed on to UK customers, so AppleTV remains something of an underachiever here in the UK.
All these HD services will continue to expand in the future — though none of them has made any specific announcements about new content or channels that are likely to appear in the near term. You can also expect other services, such as BT’s on-demand Vision service, to move into HD as well — “some point this year”, they told us. Prices for the SD version currently available start at £6 a month and there’s a one-off £30 connection fee, but the set-top box and installation are free.
The UK is still about five years behind the US in its adoption of HD technology, but we’re hoping that the arrival of Freesat will finally kickstart HD over here, providing more choice and lower prices for the millions of people who have already invested in HD TV sets that are currently not being used to their full potential.
Thanks to Register Hardware readers who reminded us that Xbox 360 owners can download HD movies. The service operates through Xbox Live!, though according to the website only 28 hi-def movies are currently available for download.
HD TV in the UK
BBC HD FTA
Sayeth the article: "However, Freesat From Sky doesn’t offer any HD channels".
Fail. BBC HD is broadcast FTA, or in the clear, and can be picked up by any compatible HD receiver, including a Sky HD box with either a Freesat by Sky card, or no card at all.
"With the exception of the BBC's Living Planet (I think it was that series) which purported to be 1080i, not one of the Blu-Ray discs in my local HMV had any resolution or encoding info on the packaging whatsoever."
Utter rubbish. I've picked up the first 10 from my tv stand, titles including Superman, Blood Diamond, Pirates of the Caribbean and Casino Royale (all titles I'm sure you'll find in HMV) and all bar one of them has a specifications table on the back, and in it clearly states "Video : 1080p High Definition".
The only film without this box was "the Departed" and it has a gold logo saying "Full HD 1080" clearly stamped on the back of the case.
With the exception of the BBC's Living Planet (I think it was that series) which purported to be 1080i, not one of the Blu-Ray discs in my local HMV had any resolution or encoding info on the packaging whatsoever.
Don't mind the AC
Just about every Blu-ray disc is in full 1080p (as is HD-DVD). In fact the few that aren't are 1080i, not 720p. As stated on the boxes.
The previous AC claimed that HD movie downloads for the 360 "won't happen in the UK". Which is rather odd, since they DID happen last year. Not that I've bothered with it, since I have a HD-DVD player, and the vast majority of the 360's HD film selection were also released on the format.
"Mark" asked "why not use the new compression algorithm and create a HD movie that fits on ONE DVD?" - to which the answer is "because while a 720p film would fit if you dial down the bitrate enough, Blu-ray and HD-DVD already used those new compression algorithms and yet decided that 20+Gb for the video alone was necessary to give the best quality at 1080p". Squeezing a whole HD film onto a single DVD is the HD equivalent of VideoCD when it comes to being covered in a swathe of artifacts and mess.
What's the point?
As people keep subtely pointing towards, there is no such thing as HD.
If you buy a 1080 set, any 720 "HD" (ie most) will be upscaled by a non-integer factor. If you get a 720 set, hopefully any 1080 content will be downscaled... or will it just not be watchable?
With SD you get to watch the native resolution. With HD you don't. So we've introduced extra resolution in order to *decrease* picture quality. Until there's a shared common standard between TVs and media players, HD will remain a well-executed con.
(Of course, so was DVD. The strategy of employing point-sampling for video encoding produced "sharp images" (stills) but crap movement due to strobing. I'm I being cynical in thinking that this may just have been done to introduce a flaw that they could later sell us the solution to...?)