Tag Archives: Sky

The Sky+ HD Experience

We now have Sky TV in glorious HD, no thanks to Sky themselves – this song from the Simpsons seems appropriate to describe the quality of the install… (words here)

In the past I’ve had one or two issues with Sky installers, generally a drawn out discussion getting them to run cables where I want them, but I was fairly confident this time since all that was required was to replace our existing Sky+ box with a new Sky+ HD box – not much to do for the flat rate £60 installation fee. I’d already measured the slot for the box to go into in the cabinet – it fitted although it was tight, all the cables were there, simple you might think.

When I came home, the first thing was that the Sky+ HD was placed at a jaunty angle because “it didn’t fit” – thirty seconds of shuffling solved that. Then I turned on the box. BBC HD worked fine, but none of the subscription HD channels did – so he hadn’t actually activated the card for HD.

Okay, phone up Sky and go through the process.

This proved to be slightly confusing as the techie originally tried to guide me through the HD settings pages, whilst the box had the old style Sky Guide – despite the yellow sticker on the front asking the installer to do the over the air download, he’d not bothered with that either.

The techie quickly activated the remaining channels, so we sat back and waited for a programme to record, only to be presented with an error again asking us to call Sky – another few minutes on hold whilst a different techie activated the recording facilities.

Once that recording had finished I went through the over the air download procedure myself, and we now have the latest Sky Guide, plus ITV HD set up.

And then the final icing on the cake, when I sat down to try and make this blog posting, I discovered that despite not needing to touch it at all, the installer had pulled the network cable out.

So of all the tasks the Sky installer had to do today, the only one he actually did was deliver the box, all the rest I ended up doing, and I paid a grand total of £60 for this…

Having said that, the HD picture is really good…

Gladiators Ready

If you’ve got Sky, you cannot fail to have noticed all the hype surrounding the return of Gladiators, which in it’s previous incarnation was a staple of the ITV Saturday evening schedules throughout the nineties. The re-launch follows the successful return of American Gladiators, the series on which the UK programme was based.

As it was on after Lost last night, we took a look to see what it was like.

Interestingly in the run up to the launch of the new show, Sky showed a number of programmes with celebrity fans of the old series commenting on aspects they remembered. Ironic really that a number of the aspects mentioned on those shows by the fans as being essential were missing from the new programme.

First off, the music has entirely changed. Gone is the slightly cheesy rock/pop title song, and now there is a not overly memorable title song, also missing are the Queen songs that were such a staple of the previous show, and which all the audience would sing along with. Indeed that brings us on to another change, in that whilst the old series was filmed in the National Indoor Arena with a seating capacity of thirteen thousand, the new show is on a much smaller scale with a relatively small audience, and with very limited space due to much of the equipment for each game being permanently set-up rather than the way it was cleared in and out on the the old series. This reduced scale also impacts on the final eliminator where the eliminator course actually crosses over itself with the crash mat at the end of the zip line also being the crash mat for the finish – surely a health and safety issue. Certainly the scale of the arena is such that I suspect we’re not going to be seeing games like Pendulum or Skytrak.

The one final aspect was the characters of the Gladiators themselves. By the end of the old series most of them had pretty clear personalities, and after one show with the new team, we haven’t seen much aside from a rather cringe making attempt at the villain role that Wolf used to fill from Oblivion – hopefully those aspects will come with time.

In terms of the ratings, it is reported that the programme pulled in 1.5 million viewers, a big total for Sky on a hot summer early evening – however the real test will be whether it maintains the same level, as the reviews have been rather mixed to say the least. Of course it was never really high-brow entertainment in the first place, so what the reviewers think will probably have little effect. Perhaps the main competition though will come from the old series itself which still airs over on Challenge – certainly any perceived flaws in the revival will be magnified by the ease with which people can compare old with new.

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…