With Blu-ray and HD DVD hardware and software yet to launch in the UK, the only widely available source for HD content is Skyâ€™s new HD service. Like every new technology, Skyâ€™s latest box of tricks doesnâ€™t come cheap, but the big question is whether itâ€™s worth the money.
Just getting up and running with Sky HD is going to set you back Â£299, because thatâ€™s how much youâ€™re going to have to pay for the box. The Sky HD box is manufactured by Thomson, a company with a pretty decent heritage when it comes to AV equipment. The box definitely looks good, finished in black and silver, and should complement your current AV line up.
The rear of the Sky HD box has an impressive array of connectors, including both HDMI and component video. Interestingly, the engineer who installed my box said that the second generation of devices would not have component video, leaving HDMI as the only HD connection option. I also found it very interesting that thereâ€™s a SATA port, allowing for external hard disks to be connected to the box â€“ unlike external drives connected via USB, a SATA connected external drive should run as fast as an internal unit.
Like all Sky Digital boxes, the Sky HD box is supposed to be connected to your phone line at all times so that it can receive updates from Sky HQ. I have to say that Iâ€™m very surprised that Sky doesnâ€™t allow its boxes to communicate over the Internet instead, since so many households have broadband these days. That said, the inclusion of an Ethernet port at the rear points to Sky adopting this method in the near future, especially since the company is now touting its own broadband service.
Thereâ€™s also an optical digital output, in case you want to pump your surround sound to an external amplifier that doesnâ€™t have an HDMI pass-through. And finally there are a couple of SCART connections for outputting to a video recorder or second TV.
The Sky HD box has Sky+ functionality built into it, so you can pause live TV, rewind something that you may have missed, or schedule recordings of an entire series so you never miss an episode. Thereâ€™s 160GB of hard disk space to facilitate recording, but the installation engineer told me that there is almost that much space again but Sky hasn't made it accessible to the customer.