Sky+ HD: is it worth the money?

Despite my ongoing cynicism about high definition TV, I’ve just upgraded my Sky box to a shiny new HD one – not for the HD content, but because I wanted more storage space (series-linking Waybuloo and Timmy Time takes up more space than you’d think) and the ability to record two things while watching something else. Going through the schedules has been interesting, because I can’t make up my mind whether HD’s any cop or not.

The good: picture quality and sound are superb, if you can get them.

The bad: you can’t get them very often.

That’s partly because of my HD box – it’s one of the models that doesn’t have the new electronic programme guide yet, so ITV HD is absent for another month – but it’s more because there’s an HD chicken and egg thing going on. There’s not much HD content because there aren’t very many HD viewers; there aren’t many HD viewers because there’s not much HD content.

Assuming you’re a cheapskate like me and don’t pay extra for the HD movie channels, there’s not a lot: a best of the beeb (which seems rather heavy on Torchwood and repeats of Wallander), Sky One, FX and Channel 4 (which broadcasts everything in HD, although not everything is filmed in HD). There are a few other channels that I won’t watch and neither will you, and there are some surprising omissions – so for example you can get In The Night Garden in HD, but not Top Gear. I’m not sure toddlers really give a shit whether something’s SD or HD, whereas the cinematography (is that the right word for telly?) in Top Gear’s car features would look superb with more pixels.

The other thing about HD is that when you have it, switching to normal channels is jarring. Everything looks blurry, and the over-compressed stuff on the more obscure channels becomes completely unwatchable. It’s like going to the cinema and seeing a YouTube clip. It’s even worse when the HD channel you’re watching actually shows a YouTube clip – such as Rude Tube on Channel 4. Not that I’d watch that crap, but you know what I mean.

The money? It’s £9 per month extra for basic HD, over and above the cost of the HD box and installation. The box itself is nice (horrible dated interface aside), but unless you’re desperate to see 8 out of 10 Cats in HD – and who is? – then that works out as about a pound per programme: four episodes of House in HD and five other things per month. It’s a lot of cash for not a lot of programming.

One way to reduce that cost, incidentally, is to have a look at the Sky packs you’re getting. Turns out I was paying for a bunch of packs – the news and events pack, the lifestyle pack, the something else pack – that I don’t watch, and bumping them cut the Sky bill by £3 per month. So upgrading to HD means I’m paying about 80p per programme.

Don’t get me wrong, HD is lovely. The installer tells me that demand has recently gone through the roof due to price cuts and supermarket promotions, so perhaps things will change quite quickly, but right now it’s a bit like the Xbox 360 movie service in the UK: a great idea that desperately needs more content.

Do any of you have HD? Am I talking out of my arse?