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The Beautiful Game

Luckily I have a very understanding wife, which meant that I got to watch both the Liverpool vs. Sheffield United match on Saturday and the Chelsea vs. Man City match on Sunday – obviously for research purposes, although I can envisage pretty regular research sessions every weekend. Both matches looked crisp, clear, vivid and amazingly lifelike – it really is the closest thing to being there, honestly.

Sky is also being pretty smart when it comes to the bit-rate of high definition content. It allocates a higher bit-rate to sports, than it would to say a movie or a TV programme. This is because sport is very dynamic and there’s always a lot of movement and often very vibrant, bright images. Obviously all the bit-rates are variable, so in a movie when there’s not a lot going on, the bit-rate can be lower, thus reducing the bandwidth necessary, but with sport and especially football, you’re going to need a consistently high bit-rate and that seems to be exactly what Sky is giving us.

The movies look pretty damn good too and having recently watched some high definition content on both Blu-ray and HD DVD, I’d say that the movies on Sky’s HD channels compare favourably. Of course as with any movie, the ultimate quality depends on the original print. I recently watched The Bourne Supremacy on Sky HD and then watched it on HD DVD – both versions looked decidedly grainy and muted, which could mean that this is the way the director wanted it.

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But despite the fact that HD really does look great, whether you’re watching a movie, a football match or an episode of Planet Earth for the umpteenth time, it doesn’t change the fact that we need more content. In total there are eight high definition channels available (not counting the BBC HD Preview channel and the pay per view Sky Box Office channels) and that’s just not enough. Once you’ve been watching high definition TV, you just don’t want to watch standard definition anymore, and I find it immensely frustrating that so many of my favourite programmes are being shown on non-HD channels.

Pretty soon there will be new seasons of House and Lost hitting the airwaves, but in the UK these are shown on Channel 5 and Channel 4 respectively. Now, I want to watch these programmes in HD, just like our US cousins do, but I’ll have to wait until Channel 5 and 4 get their acts together as far as HD broadcasting goes. On the plus side, come January I’ll be witnessing Jack Bauer’s escape from a Chinese prison in pristine high definition – what better way to kick off the new year.

Just like always, early adopters like myself have to be content with limited choice – that’s life at the bleeding edge. I know that things will improve, and Sky will increase the amount of HD content over the coming months, but like every big kid I want everything now. That said, now that the footie season has started at least I can justify my Sky HD installation every single weekend – watching live Premiership action in glorious high definition really does redefine football as the beautiful game.

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