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?






0 responses to “Sky+ HD: is it worth the money?”

  1. mupwangle

    I’ve got sky HD (and used to have Virgin HD) and I’m still finding it hard to see a difference on a 42″ 720p plasma from across the room. Close up, there is a huge difference, but where mine is – not so much.

    SciFi (soon to become SyFy for no apparent reason) is HD and Living HD is launching soon. As far as BBC HD is concerned – I won’t watch it. I’d rather watch in SD with no logo than have the picture spoilt by the BBCHD logo in the corner.

    The new EPG on the Samsung and Amstrad boxes has been delayed. Rumour has it that either they’ve found too many glitches on the Thomson and Pace boxes or the current version is unstable on these boxes. Current estimates are for the end of august.

  2. Gary

    I’m on a 37″ 1080, and I can actually see the difference from across the room. But I sit nearer my telly than you do :) I’d heard August for the EPG too.

  3. clmac

    I’ve been thinking about upgrading since I got my new telly, so any advise is useful. I don’t think Sky are being very friar charging an extra subscription fee just for HD, I know they do this with Sky+ but an extra 10 quid for a few more channels that I probably wont watch on top and is it really necessary for the +one channels

  4. Gary

    I’d do two things: one, have a look at it in somebody’s front room and see if the quality’s worth the extra money; and two, have a really long look at the HD channel schedules. No point paying for it if there’s nothing you’ll be watching.

  5. clmac

    Here’s a daft question though. If have a 1080p HD TV with DVB-T built in, when they start broadcasting HD programmes over the terrestrial signal, will the tuner be able to receive in HD or will that mean yet another set to box?

  6. mupwangle

    >>will the tuner be able to receive in HD or will that mean yet another set to box?

    Unless you have a very unusual one – a new box will be required.

  7. We have the documentary channels on our Sky HD package and you can really see the difference there, and we’ve only got a 32″ 720p telly.

    ‘Normal’ programmes don’t tend to look that impressive until you get up close but nature/science programmes and sport do look much, much better. It’s worth it, for me.

  8. Gary

    Yeah, I think it’s at its best with docs and sport. A lot of it depends on the source, too, so if it’s crap it’s crap in HD.

  9. mupwangle

    The resizing to 4:3 of non-HD programs on HD channels bugs me.

  10. Gary

    I’ve only encountered that a few times so far, but then I don’t watch a lot of TV.

  11. guru24

    I recently got hooked up with Sky+ HD after many years with a great twin tuner Freeview PVR. As I’m used to the benefits of hard disk video recorders – which you cannot live without – the + element of the Sky system has no novelty value and turns out to be remarkably poor compared to my old PVR .

    HD, however, looks fantastic on my Panasonic plasma. The difference is smack in the face night and day. HD is badly needed; viewing SD on any big flat screen is an awful experience unless you have a very large room and view your TV from a distance.

    What is disappointing about Sky HD, as Gary mentioned, is that if you are a tight-wad and don’t get the sports and movies extras, the standard set of HD channels is quite disappointing. Even worse, it seems like only a fraction of what is broadcast on the ‘HD’ channels is actually true HD. Much of it is SD, or slightly better than SD, or half-arsed HD at best.

    – Sky+ UI and menu system is piss poor; they need to do a decent job of the new one.
    – Storage capacity on the Sky+ boxes is still too small: even with the recent 320GB boxes, you get less than half that for your own recordings.
    – True HD is fantastic when you can find it, but the lack of full HD content on the HD channels is grossly misleading.

  12. Gary

    Oh, I’d forgotten about storage capacity. You can fill a Sky+HD box in about ten seconds, which makes the hard disk connector on the back even more annoying (as far as I can tell, you can’t just plug in an external drive).

    I don’t think any current PC TV tuner cards work with it either, which is a shame: I’ve got a media pc sitting here with a terabyte of storage, which is probably enough for about 3 HD movies :)

    > Even worse, it seems like only a fraction of what is broadcast on the ‘HD’ channels is actually true HD. Much of it is SD, or slightly better than SD, or half-arsed HD at best.

    Absolutely. Which makes the storage space thing even more annoying – you’re taking up HD space for what turns out to be an SD picture. Aaaaagh.