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SKY+ HD Information

Sky+ HD is the brand name of the HDTV service launched by BSkyB on 22 May 2006 in the United Kingdom and Ireland to enable high definition channels on Sky to be viewed. For the first 2 years after launch, the service was branded Sky HD. The service requires the user to have a Sky+ HD Digibox and an HD ready TV. Customers who pre-ordered by paying a deposit before 6 April 2006 were the first to receive the service, with installations starting on 21 May 2006.

On 30 June 2010, Sky announced that the total number of homes with Sky+HD currently stands at 2.939m.

Subscriptions

A subscription to the HD Mix carries an extra fee on top of the standard Sky subscription. This fee allows customers to view all non-premium HD channels even if their chosen mix does not include the SD versions. Thus someone without the Knowledge Pack cannot view the Standard Definition Discovery or National Geographic but they can view the High Definition versions. To receive all HD channels, a customer must subscribe to the Sky Movies and Sky Sports packages. Without a subscription to Sky Movies or Sky Sports, Sky Movies HD and Sky Sports HD respectively, will not be available.

From September 2010, Sky+ HD customers will only see the HD channels that correspond to the mixes they subscribe to. Thus, Discovery HD and National Geographic HD will only be available if you have the Knowledge mix in addition to HD. Customers who have subscribed before August 2010 can continue to receive all HD channels as before by contacting Sky until the end of the 1 year HD mix.

The HD mix, unlike the entertainment mixes has a one year minimum subscription and a 31 day cancellation period so cannot be added and dropped in the same way.

Sky+ recording facilities are included at no cost if a customer subscribes to any Sky package. Viewers who do not take a subscription channel package will still receive all free channels, but cannot use the recording facilities, although they can be subscribed to standalone for a monthly payment.

Additional Pay-Per-View events on Sky Box Office HD are not available to customers unless they subscribe to the Sky HD mix.

From Jan 2010, customers will be offered the Sky+ HD box as standard, and it is now optional to take the HD package. The HD package still remains at the same subscription price. The Sky+ box is no longer listed for purchase on the Sky website, and the Sky+HD is now classed as the standard box installation.

Free channels

A number of FTA HD channels are available which do not require a subscription, only an HD capable digibox such as the Sky+ HD box. BBC HD, BBC One HD and Channel 4 HD are broadcast free to air. ITV1 HD launched on 2 April 2010 in England and Wales, and can also be viewed without an HD subscription, although viewers in some regions may require a viewing card. (Viewers in Scotland and Ireland, or viewers without viewing cards, can manually tune in the channel via the 'Other Channels' function.) Five announced on 17 March 2010 that Five HD would be added to the Sky platform in July 2010, however it requires a viewing card.

Technical information

The Sky+ HD Digibox (V.1) backpanel.

The first generation of Sky+ HD Digibox were produced by Thomson. Sky have since added Samsung, Pace and Amstrad as manufacturers. The Thomson box has been discontinued and is no longer available as an A-grade/refurbished item due to its inclusion of YPbPr component video. A manufacturing fault led to a batch of up to 90,000 units manufactured by Pace / Sky starting to replace boxes, commencing in February 2009 and still ongoing in spring 2009.

For connectivity with HD ready televisions, the box outputs via a HDMI connector (adapters to Digital Visual Interface are available). The box is High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) compliant. Sky boxes manufactured prior to January 2008 also had analogue component connections (YPbPr), but as the HDCP copy protection cannot be applied to this type of output it is no longer included. Traditional standard-definition (SD) connections are available via SCART and S-Video. All programming is currently output from both HDMI and SD connections, although individual broadcasters have the option to require HDCP (and therefore HDMI) in the future. The digibox also comes with a new slimline version of the Sky+ remote control.

All HD channels are broadcast in 1080i format (though the box can be set to scale this to 720p if the user wishes), using the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression standard, from Astra 2A, Astra 2B and Eurobird 1 satellites at 28.2°E and 28.5E in a new DVB transmission standard, DVB-S2. BBC HD is however DVB-S.

The Version 5 EPG (electronic program guide) is almost identical to the one found on Sky+, with the exception being that by pressing TV Guide and then number 2 on the remote control, listings for only the HD channels are shown. An update was sent to the HD boxes early on March 20, 2007, which also included code for Sky Anytime. Sky Anytime TV is accessed by pressing "TV Guide" and then the red button. Version 8 of the Sky Guide, dubbed the Sky+ HD guide, has been gradually released throughout 2009 in phases based on the equipment manufacturer. This version boasts a Mini TV (similar to that in version 5's Sky Anytime), improved search functions and a completely new look. Further information can be found in the 'Sky+ HD Guide' section below.

On 1 October 2010, Sky began the process of downloading open-source software to Sky+ HD receivers. Unlike the majority of software upgrades made by Sky, the open source licences require Sky to notify customers that the download has taken place. Subscribers are notified with an on-screen message that refers them to a dedicated section of the Sky website. The website also includes a download of the open source components including the building environment. Sky says that it has found a number of Open Source Software developments that provide capabilities that benefit the software used in the Sky+ HD box.

Channels

The launch line-up consisted of Sky1 HD, Artsworld HD (now Sky Arts), Sky Movies 9 HD, Sky Movies 10 HD, Sky Sports HD, Discovery HD, National Geographic Channel HD, Sky Box Office HD 1 and Sky Box Office HD 2 (now Sky Movies Box Office).

Currently, there are 55 HD Channels available on the Sky+ HD EPG.

Sky Anytime

Main article: Sky Anytime

On 27 March 2007, Sky launched its Sky Anytime on TV Push-Video on Demand service for owners of Sky+ HD set top boxes. Programmes in high definition and standard definition are recorded overnight to a reserved 140GB of disk space, to give the effect of video on demand.

This has also been used to bring viewers high definition programmes from channels that do not currently broadcast in HD. These have included Sky News (Technofile, Diana: The Last Word), The Disney Channel (High School Musical 2) and Nickelodeon (iCarly)

Developments

Increase in HD channels

In over three years since launch, the number of HD channels available has increased significantly, thus Sky+ HD is the world’s largest HD offering outside North America.

The Sky+ HD Guide

Since the launch, the Sky+ HD EPG has been based upon the Sky Guide, which has changed little since the launch of Sky in 1998. For two years, Sky have been working on a completely new EPG exclusively for Sky+ HD boxes. This was first made available to customers with Thomson boxes in March 2009. As of December 9, 2009 all Thomson, Pace, Samsung and Amstrad models have been upgraded to the new EPG. Further information and details about the EPG are available on the Sky+HD Guide website, with a user guide on how to use the EPG and new instruction manuals for the boxes.

The channel listings will now be cached on the hard drive, freeing up the tuner so that users can continue to view programmes in a small Mini TV while browsing the TV Guide. The data being stored on the hard drive also means that loading times decrease and synopsis information can be displayed for channels other than the one you are watching. Other features include a significantly improved programme search system, A Series Stack which groups episodes of the same series together in the planner, and the ability to highlight HD programmes in the TV guide. The new EPG is also presented in 1080i, rather than the previous upscaled version.

As of 9 December 2009, All boxes have been updated to the new Guide.

The current EPG Software Version for Thomson boxes is Sky+ 8.3.2. Amstrad 780 boxes are on Sky+ 9.10.14v or 42.0.0.1_3. The latest version available for the Amstrad 1Tb and 500Gb, Samsung and Pace boxes is 40.0.14.11

New Sky+ HD boxes have a green outline on their Ethernet ports, matching the green ports on the new Sky Broadband Routers

On 30 July 2009, Sky confirmed the launch of a ‘pull’ video-on-demand (VOD) service for 2010, adding to the current Sky Anytime ‘push’ VOD service. The service, delivered by broadband internet, will utilise the Ethernet port of existing Sky+ HD boxes. Sky's Anytime+ will only be available to Sky broadband at launch but sky say it will be on all service providers in the near future. Although the service may be similar to DirecTV's VOD offering that also uses an operating system built by NDS Group, a Permira/News Corporation company. Sky have started the phased roll-out of the new guide software for this service. On 29 April 2010, BSkyB revealed that it will name its video-on-demand service Sky Anytime+. “It will be a broad offering at launch with a large range of content across the range of content that we show,” CEO Jeremy Darroch said. “ (It will feature) progressive download using the broadband return pathway and the hard disc in a combined way. All of the boxes are VOD-ready, so we’ll be able to roll it out to all of the box population.” Sky Anytime+ began a staggered roll out from 26 October 2010. In march 2011 it was confirmed by sky that the Thomson sky hd boxes would not be suitable for the new anytime+ service. Customers with Thomson boxes are being offerd New boxes.

It was announced in January 2011, BSkyB announced that they are planning a new EPG for Sky HD subscribers which will switch the standard definition channel with the High Definition simulcast. For example, Sky1 HD, currently on channel 170, will switch to channel 106, which is currently occupied by Sky1. Similar moves will happen for other non-regional HD channels, including Channel 4 HD, Five HD, Syfy_UK, Comedy Central, and Sky News.

3D

Following demonstrations in December 2008, Sky announced on 30 July 2009 its intention to launch a 3D channel during 2010, featuring a broad selection of 3D programming, which is expected to include movies, entertainment and sport. Existing Sky+ HD receivers will automatically be compatible with the new 3D service, although customers will require a new 3D compatible HDTV set to view in 3D. A 3D trailer has been in circulation in UK cinemas for the new service. It is thought that it will use the new MVC video codec. The first programme that was broadcast by Sky in 3D was the Arsenal vs Manchester United football match on Sunday 31 January 2010. The 3D match was available in nine hand-picked pubs in England and in Ireland.[13] On Monday 29 March 2010, Sky 3D appeared on the EPG at number 217, showing "Programs Start on Saturday". Sky launched its 3D services on 3 April with the Manchester United vs Chelsea football match being broadcast in over a thousand pubs across England in 3D.

1TB Storage

A new model Set Top Box introduced in late 2009/early 2010, offers a new storage capacity of 1TB for Personal Storage. The new box allows for up to 240 hours of recording. The original Sky+ HD Box has one 300GB Hard Drive or 500GB hard drive depending on the model. All the Sky HD boxes use SATA to connect to the hard drive. The 1TB box, currently made by Amstrad, is being marketed by Sky as "Sky+ HD 1TB" and the hardware is significantly different to the original Sky HD receiver.

 

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