Courtesy of HDTVUK, here’s part five of their guide to getting the best home cinema experience…
Of course, you can buy a number of HD DVD or Blu-ray discs, though choice is still fairly limited.
Sky HD: What’s on offer?
The most common way to watch a variety of high definition programmes is to subscribe to the Sky HD service. Just as, in reality, Sky dominates UK pay TV, they’re currently the only significant high definition broadcasters in Britain.
Sky HD launched in May 2006. It now offers a reasonable selection of films, sport, arts, and documentaries. The current full list of channels is:
* Sky Movies HD 1 & 2: offering a variety of high definition films from across the Sky Movies channels
* Sky Box Office HD: Offering a weekly selection of up to ten of the latest blockbuster movies, in high definition.
* Sky Sports HD: offering a variety of live and highlighted sporting action including Premiership, FA Cup, and international football, rugby, cricket, and more.
* Sky One HD: Sky’s flagship channel in high definition, offering a lot of hit US shows plus home grown entertainment.
* Sky Arts HD: Offering programmes about art, fashion, music, books, and more.
* National Geographic Channel HD: offering stunning high definition footage of the natural world and its people
* The History Channel HD: a range of history programming in high definition
* Discovery HD: The Discovery Channel in high definition, covering a range of subjects including culture, science, technology, nature, travel, and lifestyle.
* BBC HD: Offering a selection of the BBC’s programming, in high definition.
Sky HD: What does it cost?
Not surprisingly, Sky HD doesn’t come cheap, and there’s no definitive, single price for services. Here’s the basics as at November 2007.
Generally, whether you’re a new or existing customer, you have to pay between £199 and £299 for the Sky HD box (£399 if you don’t subscribe to a Sky HD). You can’t simply use your existing Sky+ box (just as you can’t play high definition discs on a standard DVD player) because the technology to receive HD is different.
You also have to subscribe to a regular Sky package, from £16 per month. Sky HD costs an additional £10 per month, but you’ll only get access to the HD channels that are equivalent to what’s in your standard package (so don’t expect Sky One HD if you don’t get Sky One, or Sky Sports HD if you don’t get Sky Sports)
There’s also a £30 set up fee. Discounts might apply if you take one of the bundle offers (such as “See Speak Surf”)
Sky HD: How good is it?
That’s quite a subjective question.
Technically, Sky HD broadcasts in either 720p or 1080i, depending on the source programme. 1080p isn’t an option, and probably won’t be for some time.
Audio is generally Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, the benefit of which will be fully realised with a compatible sound system.
Some programmes on the HD channels are not actually high definition, but upscaled standard definition programmes (Sky do the scaling). However, Sky believes that there is enough native HD content to make a Sky HD subscription worthwhile. Your TV can automatically upscale existing standard definition content from Sky, though the quality won’t be as good as genuine HD.
As for content, you’ll have to make your own mind up as to whether it’s worth the subscription. If you like movies and sport, you’ll probably get the benefit. Other genres of programme are catching up.
Sky HD: What are the alternatives?
Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a lot of alternative to Sky for high definition content.
We had hoped that Virgin Media would expand their high definition offering over time, but now it seems that they’re cutting back on their TV offerings altogether. That’s a shame as they are currently the only serious contenders.
In 2008, we hope to see the Freesat joint venture coming online, which is touted to include HD content. However, a free service is unlikely to ever compete with a paid service for choice and the latest releases.
In the next few years, we could also see some high definition content appearing on Freeview, but this is likely to be fairly limited.
So, at least for now, shelling out a significant amount of cash to Sky seems to be the only way of getting a decent amount of broadcast HD in the UK.