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Sky+ HD First Impressions

October 20, 2010

Previously I have been of the opinion that there is no point in upgrading to Sky+ HD from regular Sky+, the main reason being that I just didn’t see the point of paying that extra £10 a month. In many ways I still don’t.

My reasons for upgrading are simply because my existing Sky+ box died and the most cost effective and least hassle option seemed to be to take up Sky on their offer of a free upgrade to Sky+ HD. Free being the box is free, a £15 self install fee and a commitment to 1 year HD subscription is the condition of getting the box free.

Install and Setup

Installation was simple enough and the supplied instructions are clear. Unplug the cables from the old box and fit them to the new box. Sky provide an HDMI cable in the box, which is nice, but I had already assumed they would not so bought one in advance. Still at £5 its not exactly going to break the bank so it can go in my box of stuff I will use one day, maybe.

My main concern was the wireless TV sender that is used for watching TV in the bedroom. This was plugged into the scart socket on the old box and the TV scart lead plugged into the back of the senders scart repeater. With the Sky+ HD box, the TV would now receive its signal from the HDMI port via the Samsung HT-C5500 Blu Ray surround sound system. How would this affect the sender?

It turns out that my concerns were invalid as the Sky+ HD box sends its output to the scart and HDMI sockets simultaneously.

The install leaflet gives instruction on configuring for a new install. The instructions are simple and easy to follow. Though there is no heads up warning to ensure the phone lead is connected or what to do about activating the box with no phone lead connected. I ran through without the phone lead connected and while it all went okay, the end point where activation is required was skipped, due to the phone lead not being connected. I had to press backup to acknowledge this and then got a message to call a number to manually activate.

Activation is important because on first view post setup I was not able to get any of the HD channels.

I quickly realised that activation was the key so connect the phone cable and ran through the new install instructions again. This time the auto activation happened and the HD channels became available.

Over Air Update

The biggest cause of concern was a yellow warning sticker on the front of the box instructing the engineer to perform an over air update on the box as part of the installation. The instructions on how to do this were not on the setup leaflet and nor could they be found in the detailed operations manual.

I had to resort to an internet search to find the very simple answer. Turn the box off at the socket, hold down the backup button on the top of the box and then turn it on at the socket again while still holding down the backup button. Keep holding the button for about 30 seconds, by which time the TV will have displayed a message to say updating being performed, please wait; or the lights on the front of the box will all light up. After 30 seconds or either of the aforementioned events, you can release the button. Leave for 10 minutes, or when you get a message to say complete, and operate as normal.

First Use

The Remote

The new remote is considerably heavier than the old one, for no obvious reason. The buttons are all the same and in the same place. In fact, as far as I can tell, the layout is identical, but the remote is subtly redesigned and the sleeker shape fits better in the hand. The same sixe and number of batteries are required, 2 AAs, so no obvious reason for the increased weight.

As expected operation is pretty much the same as well, though there are some major changes to the menus and the information displayed.

On screen information

Using the up/down buttons to scroll through what the channels are currently offering brings up more information. The current and upcoming shows are displayed side by side rather than one above the other, this leaves room for a third show to be displayed as well so more information is available. Also displayed is how long ago the current show started, a very useful indicator.

While scrolling through these programmes, if you press i you now get information on the programme highlighted and not the programme currently being played. This is a major improvement and was always a source of annoyance for me with the old Sky+ box. With the information pane showing, you can continue to scroll through the schedule and it will change to display the information for the currently highlighted show.

The text used to display the information is slightly smaller, not a problem for my Samsung HD TV (even though it is a small 28” 720p TV) but when viewed on my standard def TV via the sender the smallness is more obvious and the orange highlight with blue text is not the most clear combination as the edges looked very fuzzy. Still readable but noticeably less clear.

Planner Menus

With everything working it was time setup the recording of all the desired programmes. The display of this has changed significantly with the top half of the screen dedicated to parent menu and information and the bottom half to planner listing. The result is that you see fewer channels represented on screen. A nice touch is the display the current programme in the top right along with the audio from that programme; far better than random the elevator music of before. Though I dare say that this could be a problem if the programme in question is halfway through and being recorded and you don’t want any spoilers while you select something else.

The scrolling through the channels and jumping ahead through the week looking for the programme you want to record all works the same as before. Another improvement is when you hit R to record you get an option to record once or to series link. A helpful red R appears next to programmes that are already marked to record. Having the information text already at the top of the screen is good too, no more hitting i and wondering if the information will actually load. Again, a big improvement over the old system.

Its not all roses though; the channel list does insist on paging when you try to scroll past the bottom. This is frustrating when there are two adjacent channels you want to search for a listing but one is the bottom of page and the next is the top of the next page. Using the up/down buttons should scroll the channel listing while the channel +/- buttons continue to page. This little tweak would have increased my delight in the new menu programming even more.

Searching for a programme by name is such an improvement. I got so tired of looking for programmes on the old A-Z listing that I gave up using it. If I wanted to know when or if a certain programme was on, I would use the internet to find out what I wanted and then find it in the planner to record.

The new search puts paid to that nonsense and you can now enter in a partial name and get a list of matches to scroll through and take your pick. At long last! Having multiple showings of the same programme listed is good too and it means you can more easily avoid clashes and select an alternative showing. I can see myself using this feature a lot more.

Oh no! Not a bug!

As if to prove that all is not quite perfect I managed to stumble over a bug in the planner software. Its not a major one and its certainly not a show stopper. I would have been happy (if I were in charge of software) to release the product with this particular bug, on the proviso that its fixed in the next software update. However, bugs should be addressed and finding one so soon after getting a new device does dent confidence a little, so lets hope its not an indication of more to be found, and certainly not of more serious ones to be discovered. Given that Sky+ HD has been around for a few years now and I doubt that I am not the first to discover it, I am surprised that a small bug like this had not been fixed.

To demonstrate, have two programmes specified to record at the same time. Search for a programme that clashes with this time slot and try to record it. You will get a prompt for which programme to cancel. Move between the programmes displayed and note that the information section at the top of the screen displays the information for each programme. Now press backup so that neither programme is cancelled. You will be returned to the list of programmes that matched your search. Not that the information section still displayed the description of the last highlighted selection from the cancel choice, it does not match the programme that is currently highlighted. Change selection and the description now matches.

As I said, not a major issue, and hardly damaging to functionality; its also not likely to be a difficult fix, so should have been resolved by now.

HD vs SD

Since my TV is only a modest sized 720p model, I was not expecting to be wowed by any HD picture. However, I was still impressed by the difference I saw. Faces particularly are clearer. Edges of objects, especially foreground objects, are sharper. Colour seems to be better but that could just be because of the overall better clarity of the image. Going back to a standard definition channel suddenly makes it look like there is a sheet of Clingfilm over the camera lens.

Worth it?

Its definitely worth getting the Sky+ HD box for the better features it offers. Of that I am in not doubt at all.

I am still not sure I want to pay £10 a month for a small selection of HD channels, the vast majority of whose programmes I shall either not watch or not want to watch. I am not a Sky Movies or Sky Sports subscriber so that rules out a huge chunk of the HD channels available. I guess I’ll have to see in 12 months time weather I want to keep up with that or not.

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From → Reviews, Technology

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