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It’s TV Jim, But Not As We Know It

Interestingly the BBC is using the iMP to trial its High Definition content - the first time I’ve ever had access to any HD, and ahead of Sky’s planned launch this spring. However, it took an absolute age to download the one HD programme I found, about the Voyager probe to the planets and then I never got a chance to watch the bleedin’ thing as it timed out on me.

Quality wise, the clips are encoded at a resolution of 720 x 576, which is PAL resolution, but widescreen material is essentially lower resolution as it includes black bars at the top and bottom. The bit-rate is only 784Kbps, which means that picture quality is far below what you’d get from a DVD. However, it’s acceptable considering the forced disposability of the material.
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Though the BBC was trialling first, Sky has stolen a march on them as Sky By Broadband is already available to the public. Anyone who subscribes to either Sky Sports or Sky Movies has free access to the service. Like the BBC, you need to download and install an application; though unlike the iMP it’s limited to only one PC. At launch 200 movies are available for download, and highlights are available in the Sports channel. I don’t subscribe to the movies but in Sports you can see highlights of actual Premiership games and the babes from Soccer AM. Result. Surprisingly, the clips from the Premiership weren't in widescreen, which is odd considering the games are broadcast in widescreen.

Quality wise the Sky clips are lower that the BBCs, at 540 x 432 pixels, while the bit-rate can be up to 860Kbps. However, this wasn’t really high enough for the football clips I viewed – the grass looked like mush - but again it’s fine for casual viewing. The issue with Sky By Broadband is that it doesn’t offer any facility to move content to a portable device. There are rumours that Sky is thinking of adding this, with iPods in mind, but nothing was announced at time of writing. One can also hope that HD downloads will be available once Sky launches its HDTV package, with DRM taking the place of HDCP. It would certainly be a bonus feature on what initially is sure to be a fairly expense offering.
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The good news is that it’s becoming easier to get video content onto portable devices such as the iPod and the PSP. The latest version of iTunes, 6.02, for the first time, transcodes MPEG, and MP4 into iPod compatible H.264 files, though not AVIs, which is a shame. Sony’s Media Manager, only released a few months ago, will do the same for the PSP.

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