Sky+ HD is the only real option currently available in the U.K to deliver HD programming, to get the very best from your HDTV. Sky HD is also the largest HD provider in Europe, and is continuing to add new HD channels all the time. HD quality simply looks amazing, with details, color and depth looking so much more true to life and engaging.
The Sky HD service will provide you with the same features and functions of a Sky+ box and subscription, meaning that you can pause, rewind live TV, while also recording up to two channels at one time, while playing back a previously recorded program.
Sky TV currently offers hundreds of standard channels along with 16 HD channels currently offering over 5,000 hours of HD content a month. HD Channels include, BBC HD, Channel 4 HD, Sky One HD, five HD Movie channels, three HD Sports channels, Discovery HD, National Geographic Channel HD and others. Sky are currently planning launching more HD channels.
Sky HD Box
I will kick off this Sky HD review with an overview of the Sky HD box. The box it’s self is roughly the same size as a standard VCR, and a little bigger than the new Sky+ boxes. As you can see, the box is of a mat black finish, and looks very sleek, and should go very well with todays modern HDTVs. On the front of the HD box is a cool blue circular light, which lights to show playback, pause and other functions.
Inside the Sky+ HD box is a huge 300Gb hard disk, 160Gb which can be used for personal recording, and the rest is used for Sky Anytime, which is a bonus service offering on-demand viewing of a top mix of the current weeks programmes.
The important part of the Sky HD box is the back. As you can see from the photo below, there are number of connections available, only some of which will be used. On the very left are the two satellite feed inputs, these will need to be connected along with the power and telephone line.
Now for the important connections. There are a number of video and audio outputs, you will want to make sure you are using the correct outputs to receive the best quality, and to ensure you are providing your HDTV with a true HD signal.
Outputs include: HDMI, Component, Scart x2, S-Video, standard audio out, digital optical audio out, and also SATA, USB and Ethernet connections, which are currently not enabled, but might be in later sky box updates.
Optimal setup: Your HDTV will more than likely have an HDMI input, if so you will want to make use of that. The HDMI is a digital video and audio output which will provide your HDTV with the very best (HD) quality. (If your HDTV does not have a HDMI input, but has a DVI input, you should use a HDMI -> DVI adapter) If you have no HDMI or DVI, then use the component outputs. This is not digital but will provide a HD quality output to your HDTV. You will want to avoid the scart and s-video outputs, as these can not output an HD signal.
If you have a dedicated home theater sound system, you can use the optical audio output on the box, and set it to output a high quality Dolby 5.1 digital surround sound.
Under the “Picture Settings” menu, you can select your “HD output resolution” the default is “Automatic”. As well as “Automatic” you can select 576, 720P, or 1080i. The number represents the number of lines of pixels on the screen, and the “i” in 1080i stands for interlaced. However, I believe it best to set it to 1080i for the best quality, as this is the resolution and format (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC) that Sky HD broadcasts it’s HD channels in. No current providers broadcast in full 1080p as it would use too much bandwidth.
Click on the images for full size.
Similar to the Sky+ box, the Sky HD box is a PVR (Personal video recorder) with two tuners, allowing you to receive two sky channels at one time, which enables you to both watch and record two separate channels / programs at once, or even record two channels, and playback a previously recorded programme. The 160Gb of storage space allows you to record roughly 80 hours of standard definition, or 30 hours of high definition programmes for playback whenever you want.
As well as recording, you can also pause and rewind live TV, which is great if you need to answer the phone, door etc, or even rewind back in case you missed something. The EPG (electronic programme guide) displays all the channel and programme information, there is also a dedicated section for all the HD channels for easy access.
Sky HD Quality
Now for the interesting part, the HD quality, just how good is it? To put it simply, very good indeed! I have my Sky HD box set upto my 40-inch Sony KDL-40W3000 (Full HD 1080p) HDTV via HDMI, with the Sky HD box set to output at 1080i. As my HDTV is 1080p it will de-interlace the signal, which it does very well.
To do a “real” demonstration, I have taken the best sample images from Sky+ HD on my HDTV with a digital Camera (Canon EOS400D), so you can see exactly how Sky HD look when viewed on a HDTV.
I very much feel that the photos demonstrate very well the difference between a SD (standard definition) and a HD programme, and the viewing benefits the HD brings. Below are some photos from one of my favorite shows “Lost” from Sky One HD, and also from Discovery HD.
The HD photos show an amazing amount of detail, not normally visible in a SD broadcast, and the colors and contrast are a lot more vivid. Take a look at the shot of Jack, where you can see fine details on his skin and hair.
Click the images for full size.
Sky HD Vs SD Quality
The supreme quality of the HD signal is even more noticeable when compared the the standard quality signal. I recorded the same episode of Lost from both “Sky One”, and “Sky One HD” simultaneously so I could compare HD to SD directly, on the same HDTV over the same HDMI connection. The top image below shows the HD recording, and the lower, the SD signal. You will notice that the SD image almost appears blurry, which much less detail than the HD one.
HD Above, SD Below.
To further demonstrate the true undeniable difference in quality, I have joined together (as best I can) the same frame from both the HD and SD recording onto one image so you can easily compare the difference in quality, and the benefits HD brings.
I don’t need to tell you, but it’s SD on the left, and HD on the right. If you view the full size image you will notice how much detail is lost in the SD (standard definition) side of the image. Definition and fine colours in the hair, details of the stubble and skin texture. The colours are also a lot more natural, and vibrant on the HD side. To view the full size comparison, click on the image, or to view the original HD image, click here.
Sky HD Test Card
As a last bonus, I thought I would throw a photo of the Sky HD Test card which features Myleene Klass, who talks through users how to set up their HDTV, Sky HD and sound systems optimally. The static test card allows you to adjust the sharpness, brightness, contrast, lip sync and colour setup to get the best results. The static test card also shows us the supreme and pixel perfect output the Sky HD box has. Below is a shot of the test card, and an extreme closeup of the “frequency” lines (left, center of the test card) is shown here, showing that the output is perfect to the very last pixel.
If you own a HDTV and want to use it for what it was designed for, I would highly recommend signing up for Sky+ HD, you will never look at normal TV in the same way!
Click here to sign up, upgrade, or for more information.