Our resident gadget expert looks at the latest in HDTV, and offers some tips for budding film-makers.

Separated at birth

Sky HD, Virgin Media HD, Freesat HD

It appears that television broadcasters have been playing catch-up with the high-definition (HD) television industry in the UK, but the sector is quickly catching up and, if you have an HDTV but still yearn for your favourite shows to be received in HD, now is the time to shop around.


British Sky Broadcasting, with its Sky Plus HD service, is the company best known for providing multiple channels in HD. While its terrestrial competitors were just commencing digital switch-over of standard-definition (SD) programming and the two main cable companies were mulling a merger, Rupert Murdoch stole a march and launched the first high-definition channels in the UK. The punt has paid off handsomely.

Sky Plus HD is the brand name of the HDTV service, which was launched on 22 May 2006 in the UK and the Republic of Ireland to enable high-definition channels on Sky Digital. The service requires the user to have a Sky+ HD Digibox, costing upwards of £75.

The Sky Plus 80GB set top box and PVR (personal video recorder) is the third generation of PVR. Launched in September 2005, it has an average of 40 hours recording time. There is a 160GB hard drive installed, although half of this is reserved for use by the Sky Anytime TV service.

Sky Anytime is a TV Push Video-On-Demand service for subscribers who own a Sky+ HD set top box. Programmes in HD and SD are recorded overnight to the reserved area of disk space, to give the effect of video-on-demand.

This service has also been used to bring viewers high-definition programmes from channels that do not currently broadcast in HD, as well as programmes from the 30 HD channels that it currently offers.


Virgin Media's V+ provides PVR and HD functionality to subscribers. The sole surviving UK cable company has taken a different approach to rival Sky's HD service, by implementing a rental scheme for the V+ set top box.

When Virgin Media was launched, there was an installation charge of £100 and a monthly charge of £15 for TV M and L (Virgin's money-saving TV, broadband and phone bundle) customers or £10 for XL (their extra-large TV, broadband and phone package) customers.

Pricing was revised on 1 June 2007 so that now all customers pay a one-off £150 setup fee and only TV M and L customers pay a £5 monthly charge, while TV XL customers have no extra charges. Between November and December 2007 the installation fee was halved to £75, with the same £5 fee applying to TV M and L customers.

The box is technically on lease and still owned by Virgin Media, who in return will provide technical support free of charge for the life of the contract.

An all new V+ set top box is currently in development.


In 2009 we will all be feeling the pinch financially. Therefore, it may be a battle for the subscription broadcasters to hold on to existing customers let alone pull in new ones because, with the launch of Freesat, multiple HD will finally be available on a subscription free basis.

Freesat is a British free-to-air digital satellite television service developed by the BBC and ITV plc. The service began broadcasting on 6 May 2008 and offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a selection of channels available without subscription for those users who have purchased a receiver.

The service makes use of the additional capacity available on digital satellite broadcasting to offer high-definition channels.

Its 320GB hard drive can hold a maximum of 80 hours of HD content or 200 hours of standard-definition TV. It is capable of outputting at a maximum resolution of 720p/1080i via the HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connection. It also has the added bonus of allowing you to record a programme's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, if available. All you require is a suitable sound system to play it.

The box has a very impressive electronic programme guide (EPG) which will give you alternatives if two or more recordings clash or if a particular programme is available in both HD and SD.

If the Humax PVR is anything to go by, Freesat is going to be a sure winner with HD-hungry viewers.

Technology clinic

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Five years ago, our household had one desktop PC between the entire family. That has all changed now that my three children are in their teens and have their own laptop computers. My wife mainly uses the desktop PC and she would like to relocate it to the study. The only problem is that it doesn't have any inbuilt wireless networking capabilities.

Also, the entire family shares our two printers - an HP Photosmart colour inkjet printer and a Brother laser printer. Both are connected to the desktop PC, which means that this computer has to be left on all the time to allow the other laptops to access these devices on the wireless network.

I appreciate that we're terribly out-of-date with our technology, but what would be the best way for us to network our printers and allow us to move the desktop away from the router in the living room?

A Donaldson (by email)

To summarise, you need to make your desktop PC and two printers operate on the wireless local area network and allow them to work independently from each other.
You can do this with the WGPS606 4 Port Print Server from Netgear. This device has two USB ports to attach each of your printers and four ethernet ports. Setting up this device is fairly straightforward.
The only notable drawback is that your printers and the desktop PC will have to be located next to the print server.

Out of sync

My daughter has bought several albums from iTunes using her boyfriend's computer and subsequently downloaded them to her iPod. However, we are now having difficulty syncing her choices with our family computer. Is this a DRM issue?

Name and email supplied

Yes, it is. Apple's digital rights management system is called FairPlay and is built into Quicktime software, the iPhone, iPod, iTunes and iTunes Store, and the App Store. Any protected song or other form of media purchased from the iTunes Store with iTunes is encrypted, which prevents users from playing these files on unauthorised computers.

The majority of FairPlay-encrypted content is purchased through the iTunes Store, using the iTunes software. The iTunes software relies on Apple's Quicktime multimedia software for decoding and playback of the encrypted files.

I'm assuming that your daughter has used her boyfriend's username and password to make these purchases and transfer them to her own iPod. In which case, these details would be required to authorise your computer to play these files.

Once this has been done, you should be able to burn these files to a recordable CD and rip them back to MP3 on your computer. This process may sound cumbersome, but at least you will be rid of all DRM issues once it is completed.

Picking blackberries

I am fed up with paying to send text messages and still being limited to 120 characters per message. Therefore, I am going to take the plunge and get a smart phone with emailing capabilities. I'd like to get a Blackberry, but I've been told that I won't be able to receive and send from my Hotmail account. Is this true? If so, is there a workaround?

P Fletcher (by email)

I'm glad to say that your friend isn't quite accurate. You can receive your emails on a Blackberry, as long as you have subscribed to the paid-for version of Hotmail. Follow the prompts from your phone. You will also have to register your Hotmail username and password on the mobile service provider's Blackberry portal.

Five tips for using camcorders

Create a narrative 

Try to drive the story forward with each scene. Avoid jump cuts (two similarly framed shots spliced together) as these often break continuity. Even a child's birthday party can tell a story that you'll enjoy for years to come.

Avoid excessive zoom

You want to limit the amount of time you zoom in and out as it may make your audience nauseous. Try to only use the feature when it is strictly needed. A slow, steady zoom into a subject is easier on the eye than a quick zoom.

Use a tripod

Shaky-cam may be trendy at the moment, but as you get tired the video starts to look worse. You naturally move up and down slightly when you breathe, if you are holding a camcorder then that motion is exaggerated on video and can make it look like you were jumping up and down.

White balancing

White balancing your camcorder can also help you to record in different lighting conditions. The simplest method is to hold up a white piece of paper and allow the camera to adjust to it for a few seconds.

Get a microphone

Most built-in microphones are quite poor. Consider purchasing a small lavaliere microphone that can clip on to your subject's clothing. This will make your audio sound much better.

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