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Thankfully the BT Vision system tried to get back on my good side with its HD AV performance - its HD picture quality is credible. Not quite as good as a Blu-ray, inevitably, but certainly slightly better than the Xbox 360's somewhat gritty HD video, and more consistent than Sky's HD pictures - even if it doesn't quite reach the same highs Sky can when it puts its mind to it.
For instance, with The Duchess, Love Actually and Mamma Mia!, the V-Box HD downloads displayed consistently high levels of sharpness and detail, having no problem resolving, for instance, the ripples on the sea during any of Mamma Mia!'s many seashore shots. And the usual clothing weave detailing that's so apparent with HD is also clear to see, albeit not quite so pronounced as it on the Blu-ray discs of The Duchess and Mamma Mia!
HD pictures also show consistent polish, without the slight dot crawl noted with Xbox 360 HD films and the overt MPEG artefacting occasionally noted with some - though certainly not all - Sky+HD film broadcasts.
You can occasionally see some very low-level blocking and softness over notoriously tricky stuff like expanses of blue or grey sky, and the occasional low-lit skin tone. But even these rare moments don't leave the picture looking anything less than impeccably HD.
The 1080i output from the box also arrived on our reference Pioneer TV and JVC projector with impressively little judder to mar motion, even during camera pans.
In fact, my only serious complaints with BT Vision's HD movies are that their colours are a bit over-saturated (though you should be able to correct for this via your TV's colour settings), and that there just aren't enough of them!
Sonically the BT Vision proposition is absolutely on a par with both the Xbox 360 and Sky+HD boxes. In other words, nearly all HD films download with full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mixes. When output to a suitable receiver via the V-Box's digital audio output these sound seemingly identically decent to the Dolby Digital tracks experienced on the Xbox 360 and Sky+HD platforms.
As usual, I'm duty bound to point out that you can often get a higher-resolution audio track from a Blu-ray version of a film. For instance, the Mamma Mia! Blu-ray carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that really does add an extra dimension to all those, ahem, 'classic' Abba tracks when listened to through a suitably high-end home cinema sound system. It is wholly unreasonable at the moment to expect broadcasters and, especially, download services to cater for data-intensive higher-resolution audio formats.
There are some things about the BT Vision package I really like. For instance, the way it seamlessly integrates ordinary Freeview TV viewing/recording with a true on-demand download service, complete with some HD options and ‘catch up' channels, makes it a really tempting one-stop home entertainment solution. It does a nice job with HD material, too, and there's plenty of potential for future development of the platform.
However, as we stand today, the severe lack of HD material currently on offer, together with the extraordinary amount of time it takes to download HD films, in makes BT Vision a borderline non-starter for the HD-loving fraternity we know make up the majority of our readership.
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