Tag Archives: Sky

Sky Anytime – Wasting Time and Money for you at Any Time

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Over the past week or so, we’ve been noticing that the drive in our Sky+ box has been running rather a lot whilst in standby mode. In general we do ensure that we keep the box switched to standby whenever we’re not actively watching as whenever it is on, the hard drive is running recording whatever is on the currently active channel in order to support the live pause feature. As such it is a total waste of energy, and to be honest I don’t think it does the hard drive much good having it running at full tilt all the time anyway – at least whilst it’s off the whole box can cool down.

Whilst it is normal for the drive in the box to occasionally spin up for a few minutes, for long periods over the past few days it has been running continually, despite there being nothing to set up and record. Yesterday we discovered why, with the appearance of a new option on the menu, Anytime TV.

Sky Anytime is the response of BSkyB to the rise of Video on Demand services such as the Virgin Media service, and BT Vision. The service has three elements a PC only internet service, a 3G mobile phone service, and the final element which rolled out onto SkyHD boxes and some Sky+ boxes.

Whilst the PC and 3G service are Video on Demand, the Sky+ version is push Video on Demand, which is really just smoke and mirrors. All it is doing is recording a Sky defined list of programmes during the periods when the Sky+ box is not recording your choice of programmes. You have absolutely no control over what programmes are recorded, as they are defined by an editor at Sky. Looking at the selection of programmes that it presented us with initially, there was a movie off one of the movie channels for which we would have to pay a subscription upgrade to see, and the episode of Lost that we recorded last week anyway. The rest of the 35 or so hours that it had downloaded were programmes we weren’t interested in, so essentially it had wasted about thirty-five hours of time and money downloading stuff we weren’t interested in watching.

There are some advantages though, they will apparently pre-download some popular programmes such as Lost in advance, which would be useful for situations such as Sunday nights when even with the ability of the box to record two channels at once we have been running into problems on occasions with clashes, however since there is no way to select only those shows we’re interested in from the other stuff it is a total waste of time. It would be much better if the service gave us a list in advance of what was available, allowing us to choose only to download what we wanted that would be great. Even if it didn’t bother to download things from channels we weren’t subscribed to that would be an improvement, but neither of those options are available.

Anyway, flipping through the menus I found the setting I was looking for, under Anytime TV settings, the option to turn it off. Not surprisingly the menu option remains, and comes up with a message about how the service is off when you select it, but at least BSkyB isn’t running up my electricity bill downloading stuff we’re not going to watch any more…

There is one final irony though. At the same time, in response to comments in the media about the power consumption of Sky+ boxes left on overnight introduced an automatic standby mode – check out the positive comments from Greenpeace and the Energy Saving Trust in the press release. The point to bear in mind is that at the same time they are rolling out Sky Anytime that is intended to download at least part of the content overnight – running the boxes that they are claiming will be put into automatic standby…

Slinging Sky+

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On Sunday night, I got round to setting up the remainder of the Slingbox setup. Up to now the unit has only been hooked up to our regular aerial, and I’ve been using the built in digital tuner, which thanks to our location sometimes produces a watch-able picture.

However, this time I got all the rest of the cables connected up, hooking the S-Video and audio inputs on the box up to the relevant outputs on our Sky+ box. I’ve also set up the pair of IR emitters in a suitable spot to allow the Slingbox to control the Sky+ box.

Slingbox and Sky+

It was amazingly easy to configure the player, essentially once I’d told the software it was hooked up to a Sky+ box, it merely gives you a screen to power on the box, and then some configuration to measure the response speed of the box compared to the speed of the emitter, and away you go.

What is fantastic is that it really does give you complete control of the box, even from X-Series mobile player – although with the delay it is slightly tortuous controlling the box from the phone. However, on the desktop versions of the player it gives you a software version of the regular Sky+ remote, and it works in much the same way. You can even watch back recorded programmes over the link, and programme in new ones, and power the box on and off remotely too.

So for a business traveller for example, you can set the Sky+ up to record all you favourite programmes, and then sit in a hotel room on the other side of the world, watching the programmes back. If you forget to programme something in, then no problem, just hook up to the box across the internet and you can programme it remotely.

The main downside of course is that, as with video recording off a regular set-top box the Slingbox has full control – so someone at home can’t watch something different. However in that situation, it is a single click to flip the Slingbox back over to the built in tuner, and the person watching the Slingbox has their own pictures. Now if only someone could integrate the Slingbox and Sky+ into one unit that could stream a recording across the internet whilst someone was watching something else locally, now that would be really fantastic!

Sky+ Weirdness

Sky+ Weirdness

Take a look at this picture of a bit of Sky+ weirdness…

We had got it to record the second episode of Commander in Chief the short-lived drama starring Geena Davis as the first woman President of the United States. Whilst the technical details of the recording, and the recording itself are fine, the information is quite clearly the Jeremy Irons episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that was next in the planner. Interestingly the information for that was correct…

I have to say, whilst we wouldn’t be without the Sky+ now, it is decidedly buggy. It has periodic problems where it looses all the programme listings and needs to be powered off, and very occasionally really messes up. On one occasion I’ve actually had to pull the plug whilst it has been recording as the UI has totally seized up. Beth has also had a problem where she could get no picture out of the box, but it was quite happily recording – very strange. Maybe one day they’ll sort out all the bugs…

Getting Used to Sky+

Sky+ Box with Anti-Vibration Measures

It’s surprising how quickly we’ve got used to having the Sky+ around. Certainly we’ve recorded a lot more stuff than we ever did before, mainly because it is so easy to do. We’ve also programmed in the programmes we watch regularly using the series link feature, which, combined with the ability to watch a programme from the beginning whilst it is still recording has allowed me to forget that a programme has started without missing anything! We’ve also made pretty extensive use of it on evenings like the current Saturday nights where both Strictly Dance Fever and Doctor Who which air one after the other on BBC1, and both have companion shows that directly follow the main programme on BBC3. Time wise we’re able to watch both Strictly Dance Fever and Doctor Who and their companion shows, and then the Strictly Dance Fever results show.

Having said that, programming a sequence of recordings as we have done on a Saturday does highlight some of the limitations of the box. Firstly, by default the box adds some extra minutes to the beginning and end of a recording, however it doesn’t take these into account when looking for clashes. The box has two satellite decoders, so if one programme finishes at 10pm on one channel, and another begins on a second channel at 10pm, the box will use the two decoders to put the extra time on each recording. This is fine unless you’re taking advantage of the feature that allows you to record two programmes simultaneously, as the software doesn’t highlight that the changeover at 10pm can’t be performed if a second programme is being recorded. Indeed, it doesn’t spot the problem until it tries to do it, at which point you get a message pop up on screen asking whoever is watching at the time to choose! What is slightly more annoying is that it seems to not be clever enough to spot when adjacent recordings are on the same channel, for example the arrangement we have on a Saturday night with recording successive programmes on both BBC1 and BBC3 usually produces a warning that one of the programmes has only been partly recorded, implying that it is trying to use both decoders to overlap the recording of successive programmes on a single channel, rather than being able to record the same channel to two separate recordings.

Despite the annoyances, it still is a great purchase, and a lot more flexible than the humble video recorder. It’s popularity is certainly indicated by the decision by Sky to only supply Sky+ boxes for their new High Definition service Sky HD.

First Impressions of Sky+

Sky+ Box with Anti-Vibration Measures

Yesterday, after a good deal of pontificating, we finally had Sky+ installed, having only ordered it on Sunday afternoon. We also took the multi-room option, where they relocate your existing box to another room, and give you an additional card programmed with the same channels as your subscription – mainly because if you took the multi-room option the Sky+ box was subsidised down to £89, and they didn’t charge the £60 installation fee, working out at half the price.

In terms of the installation, the Sky+ and multi-room option is quite involved, as in addition to the obvious new cable needed for the new room, the existing cable from the dish to the box needs to be replaced as the Sky+ box uses twin tuners so needs two connections to the dish. As a result the installer had to take out the current cable that runs from the dish at the front of the house, through the garage and round to the back wall of the house where the TV is located, and replace this with a new dual core cable, and then put in a new cable into our bedroom where we have the other TV in the house.

The cable into our room proved to be the more complicated though. When the installer arrived, his initial suggestion was just to take the cable in the back wall of the house into our bedroom – and run it through the back of the fitted wardrobe to the alcove with the TV. He then looked into the wardrobe and changed his mind… This then threw up a different problem, as although the wall behind the TV in our room is theoretically an outside wall, the garage is alongside – specifically, the roof line runs diagonally across the wall. Working out exactly where the roof line sits is pretty difficult, but I was fairly certain by following the line from the window sill in the bathroom along, that putting the cable through at just above baseboard level, and close to the wardrobe in the bedroom would come out under the roof-line in the garage. When I left for work, the installer was just debating whether there was any other way to do it, although in the end he did drill out from the bedroom – although apparently it comes out pretty high up the wall in the garage (I haven’t been up into the rafters of the garage to take a look though.

So first impressions. Firstly we have a much better picture upstairs now, and also the right local news bulletins. Because of the location of the house, the only transmitter we can clearly pick up is Crystal Palace, so we get London local news, with the box upstairs, we now get a good picture, plus the local news for the South. With the Sky+ we gave it a good workout on our first go as we were out at Church all evening. It recorded Eastenders, and Grand Designs for us, and I was even able to watch back Eastenders whilst it was still recording Grand Designs. As it is all integrated, there wasn’t the risk of messing up the recording either as there is with a standalone video recorder.

In fact the main criticism we have of the box currently is nothing to do with the operation, but with the noise. It uses a hard drive for recording, which will make some noise, however on top of that the top cover of the box vibrates. As all of this is sitting on a hard floor it was really noticeable. My solution was just to stick a box on top, but as you can see from the picture above, Beth has gone for an altogether more visually appealing solution…

24 Day 5 Gets Started

So last night we kicked off the fifth day of 24, with Jack living incognito and working on oil rigs, Tony and Michelle back together and running their own business, and President Palmer writing his memoirs. As you can see, unlike last year when there was an almost totally new cast, we had a lot of familiar faces.

However it doesn’t last. Within the first ten minutes three of the familiar faces are taken out of the story. Palmer is shot and killed, and Michelle is killed by a car bomb that leaves Tony unconscious in a hospital bed and fighting for life. Chloe, the one remaining person involved in faking Jack‘s death quickly realises the connection, and gets in contact with Jack. The evidence at the scene of Palmers shooting quickly shows her hunch to be right as the CCTV footage appears to show Jack going in to the building.

Jack of course needs little encouragement to get back into action, and within minutes is rushing back to LA to help Chloe, although matters are complicated by him having to bring his new girlfriends teenage son along for the ride.

Of course Jack is just being used to divert attention – Palmer being the true target as he had found out about a planned terrorist attack designed to coincide with the visit of the Russian President. With the staff at CTU distracted and confused they are left playing catch-up as Jack puts some of the puzzle together and ends up in an airport terminal when it is taken over by an armed gang.

Certainly the first two episodes shown yesterday were the usual hectic start. As in previous series the need to resolve the end of the previous season and get Jack back on the move results in the believability with regards to the realtime element being subject to a good deal of artistic licence, with one or two noticeable timing goofs within the first hour. However as before I expect it will settle down. The CTU team is largely familiar, as are the politicians, both being basically the ones left at the end of last year. Of course quite who will make it to the end nobody knows, and of course since Jack ‘died’ to escape the Chinese last year, I’m sure that plotline will resurface before the end of series five.

In terms of the equipment tallies, in the first two hours Jack has picked up and lost three different vehicles, and a helicopter, however he is still on his first mobile phone.

Sky showed the first two hours last night, however they also appear to be showing two hours back to back next week too. So we should be well and truly hooked by then!

24 24: Series 4 24: Series 3