Sunday, March 18, 2007

Living with HD TV!

As I have a HD ready TV and Hi-Fi system I have been unable to resist getting a HD input source to test it :).

The early versions of the two HD DVD systems were awful according to all the reviews. Rebuying all my favourite films on HD disk would be expensive, if indeed they were available.

My media PC is no-where near powerful enough to play HD content downloaded from the net (It's a Pentium 3, 1Ghz - Great for music and normal def video playback). I can't get cable so my only possibility was Sky. I have stated my opinion about them in one of my first articles on my blog.

Basically I have switched my ADSL to Sky. I now get twice the speed (16Mb) for £10 a month, saving me about £12 by cancelling my old deal. Add to this the fact Sky now give away Sky+ free with Sky HD, that means we can get both products for £10 - it used to be £20. Therefore I get HD, recording and better broadband and still save £2 a month! I also got a good deal on my Sky HD hardware. Before christmas Curry's did an offer that you got the system installed for £200 (normally £360) when you made a certain purchase. This included my Sky HD set top box with full recording abilities. My opinion of Sky is improving!!

Before I continue with TV, my Sky broadband has been good. The free hardware is shipped completely configured, so once my old kit stopped logging in I plugged in the Sky router and it all worked. I have tested their technical support and was not impressed, but as its working at the moment I am very happy with it! The free Sky router is better than my old 3com one!

All the mags who reviewed Sky HD when it was launched concluded you need hi-def and once you see the picture, you'll never look back. I was scepticle. Was it really that good?

The first thing that hit me was the audio! All of a sudden a normal program like Planet Earth broadcast on BBC had stunning top-quality surround sound. During a filmed thunder storm I could hear rainfall all around me. And the HD pictures when Sky decides to broadcast them at full quality are breathtaking.

The new series of Last of the Summer Wine has been made in high def. When the men are chatting over a drink in Ivy's cafe the picture appears nearly 3D. The picture is so clear, your eyes can pick out the background and the subjects as if they are on different planes. Barry was sitting on his stairs chatting and I could inspect the wall paper and see what a bad job had been done of hanging it and how dirty it really was.

I do enjoy it. I now want more and more programmes in HD! As with most normal channels on Sky the HD channels have around 10% new content in a week, the rest is repeated episodes that were broadcast last week. Even the HD box office channels have very few new movies in a month. No need to repeat them so often Sky because we can all record them!

However, not all the material broadcast on the 10 Sky HD channels is made in HD. Some is up-converted, and most on Sky One HD is broadcast as-is eg, the Simpsons. The picture is no better than the quality from a normal Sky box and upconverted.

That brings me nicely onto my next point. Upconversion. All TVs have a 'native resolution' which is basically the number of rows of dots its display is made with. Normal TVs have 576 lines, and the two forms of HD are 720 and 1080 lines. When a 720 line display receives a picture in 576 it has to 'interpolate' the picture, which means converting the picture and making up the extra 150 lines with the goal of making the end result look better.

The market is awash with cheap DVD players that offer upconversion. I can't see the point as I already have an upconversion system inside my projector? Reviews of early HD ready TVs from a few years back concluded that a standard resolution LCD TV with good processing technology produced better results than a cheap HD-ready equivalent with poor processing.

How does a proper HD input compare to a decent standard definiton input for example, my progressive scan DVD player? In my opinion it actually does compare. The upconverter inside my cinema projector, the Hitachi PJ-TX200 really works well. The quality of the picture from a normal DVD of computer animated Disney films like Ice Age is almost as breath-taking.

As with normal resolution broadcasts, not all HD programmes that are broadcast are the same quality. Not all programmes have surround sound audio. I wish there was a proper labelling system made public that stated how hi-def each programme actually is. Fast motion on DVDs and the better quality HD broadcasts is fine. However some programmes the motion is decidedly dodgy. As the connection out of my Sky receiver is always 1080i then processed by my projector the issue must be at the Sky end.

I do like Sky+ (Sky's personal recording system). When I see something in a TV guide I want to watch, I switch the tele on and program it to record. Then when I have time I flick through the list of stuff that is recorded and pick what I want to watch. If my mood changes or I am interrupted I can stop it and come back to it. If I leave a live programme to check my cooking and take longer tending to something than a minute, when I get back to the TV I can rewind it, without needing to remember to ask it to record! You can now also set bookmarks within your recordings - very handy when you get to the best bit in a really good hi-def programme. I did have an accident that deleted everything from my Sky+ disk. Luckily within 2 weeks I had re-recorded most of the programmes I lost!!

To sum up, could I live without HD now I have had it for 2 months? Yes, but I'd rather not!! The picture is good, but a standard definition input to my HD projector still more than holds it's ground. I really enjoy full-quality 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound when a TV programme supports it, though not all do yet. I'm also very happy with the combined deal on offer from Sky!