Visual quality varies from programme to programme, but where it’s good, it's fantastic. Supernatural season 5 on Living HD, Life (the cop show) on FX HD and Doctor Who on the BBC all proved great examples, with masses of fine detail as we've come to expect from HD broadcasts. Some older content doesn't have quite the same sparkle and crispness to it, but even so the improvement over standard definition is palpable.
It's a testament to the wonders of HD that I survived sitting through a full game of football on ITV HD ooh-ing and aah-ing at what I'll begrudgingly admit can be, at times, a fine-looking, if not beautiful, game. I've no doubt I'll be fighting off requests to host viewings of the World Cup games, which will be broadcast across BBC HD and ITV HD this summer.
Switching back and forth between Freesat (built into my TV) and V HD, I can't say I noticed any difference in quality relating to the broadcast medium. I do think that the V HD box seems to do a better job of up-scaling standard definition video than my television, though. Unsurprisingly you'll still want to watch HD whenever possible, but SD content is definitely improved enough to make it watchable.
Disappointment comes from channels that mix standard definition programmes in with their high definition content. E4 HD is particularly guilty of this, with transitions from the brilliant Scrubs in glorious high definition to Friends in Ye Olde 4:3 proving particularly jarring. Obviously, that's not down to Virgin Media.
However, what is down to Virgin Media is its decision to group all the HD channels into its XL package only - the one we've been set up with for this feature. Except that with the XL package, Virgin Media provides a V+ HD box, which would be £5 per month on its M+ and L packages. In other words: with a V HD box, you'll only have the free HD channels (BBC HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD at the time of writing).
We should also add here that the pricing structure is actually rather confusing and we urge you to study the packages, options and fine print carefully in order to find one that suits your needs and budget. You can find out more about the box and the available channels from here.
Dividing the majority of HD channels into the most expensive package could be considered a major failing, except that Virgin Media doesn't rely purely on its broadcast content. There's a huge library of on-demand content available, including programmes from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Virgin itself available free to all subscribers under the TV On Demand banner.
It's this increasingly comprehensive on-demand archive that makes V HD shine. The breadth of this content library is only going to increase and as such having access to a large amount of linear broadcast content will surely become less important. Being restricted to just those shows you have capacity to record on your local hard drive isn't particularly appealing when you know your TV provider has all of those programmes stored itself, available to re-watch at your wont.