Hands-on with Sky HD

Sky’s HD installations finally start next Monday, but what can you expect from the box beyond the crystal clear bulging of World Cup onion bags? We’ve

Sky’s HD installations finally start next Monday, but what can you expect from the box beyond the crystal clear bulging of World Cup onion bags? We’ve been prodding and probing it to see what it’ll be like to live with.

Firstly, the image quality is, in the words of our home cinema expert, ‘bloody good’. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars III and Sky’s own programming looked far better than last year’s test transmissions, although the Beeb’s content had a few artifacting issues that should, we hope, get ironed out soon.

A couple of other features impressed too: the remote handset features an instant-access ‘HD’ button that takes you straight to all the high-def channels, and you can record HD progs (except encrypted films) onto DVD, but obviously only in standard-def.

One slightly complex niggle, though, is caused by the variation between different HD signals. To explain – whatever you’re watching (standard-def, 720p or 1080i) will automatically be converted to 1080i, which will mean the picture won’t always be at its optimum quality, but merely amazing.

You can change it to ‘automatic’ mode – the purists’ choice – which means the box switches to the relevant resolution, but there is a little pause while the TV tries to work out the change.

It’s far from a disaster as the box supports both 720p and 1080i, but with Sky now preferring 1080i for all of its own content – a change in stance from last year – this may mean that 1920x1080 resolution TVs will start to flood the market and become the norm.

Whatever your TV of choice, you’ll be set for days of endless watching – the box has 160GB of recording space (enough for about 80 hours of standard-def or 30 hours of HD), with another 140GB set aside for ‘future applications’, which translated means video-on-demand.

Look out for a head-to-head test between Sky HD and Telewest’s TVDrive in our August issue, out on 3rd July.