Sky HD set-top box

With the launch of Sky HD, television promises to be crisper, cleaner and better all around, but does the hype live up to its promise? Pocket-lint has been living with one of the new Sky HD boxes to find out.

The shinny new box, which has more home entertainment feel to it over the previous dull white Sky+ box does well to hide its interior. The front of the panel boasts a blue glowing light in a similar style to that of the Sky+ box and rather annoyingly the box controls have been moved to the top of the unit meaning you won't be able to stack anything else on top.

The box itself offers 160GB of storage space for recording television shows meaning you can record up to 80 hours of television before you start worrying about not being able to save any more.

Interestingly, hidden away in the box is a further 140GB worth of hard drive which Sky has decided to not let you use. The move of course has spurred rumours of a push television service or other features still on the cards that will be launched at a later date.

At the back of the unit is a host of connections including the all important HDMI socket to connect to your HDTV, Component video out, Scart and optical audio, for not digital connections the unit also comes with RF in and out sockets and phono audio connectors to connect it to an older Dolby Pro Logic rather than Dobly Digital amplifier if you wish.

The box isn't the only thing that has been given an update. The remote, based on the regular Sky+ remote has been slimmed down. It hasn't got any new buttons, however Sky has added a shortcut in the software on screen, that means pressing red in the TV Guide takes you directly to the HD Channel listings.

With the tech specs out of the way, what of the service? Fans hoping that the picture and sound quality will be better than the current offering won't be disappointed. Both are visibly and audibly better.

At first our only gripe we've had is that transferring from a HD channel to SD channel does cause our television to get confused and rather than the millisecond that it takes to change channels from an SD channel to another SD channel there is around a 2 second delay.

When we asked our installer about this, he said "it is something that Sky is aware of and working on". It's not the end of the world, but it is a tad annoying.

However having got Sky to come out and have a second look at the install it appears our box had been set up wrong for after the second visit everything works perfectly, so make sure you are happy with the installation before you let the installer go.

Gripes aside, the technology is a success and it is the way of the future. In fact we believe that just like Widescreen 10 years ago, HDTV will be the norm not within the next 10, but most likely the next 5 years.

So what's the catch, why the hesitation? Well it comes down to programming. In the same way Sky broadcast Widescreen programmes and films 10 years ago, although it makes viewing a more pleasurable business, it isn't for the time being, going to change the way you watch television.

And here lies the disappointment; actually finding something to watch to show off to your mates.

Okay so when the cricket starts and the World Cup kicks off they will all be around your house like a shot, but for the time being, its mostly dull American dramas like Jake2.0 or nature programmes on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. There are only so many programmes that you can watch about the African Bullfrog for example.

Verdict

So should you invest? If you are a die hard TV fan who hasn't already got Sky+ then you might as well, because Sky+, which we rate highly at Pocket-lint, will change the way you watch television.

As for the HDTV element, The difference is here to see, however, the lack of HD channels currently on offer means that unless you are a big sports or nature fan then there isn't really enough here currently to recommend you go out and buy it straight away.

That isn't to say that we aren't recommending it, far from it, this is the future of television and you should get involved, however we would urge you to weigh up what sort of channels you want to watch the most and then wait until Sky services those interests before stumping up the £300 and the extra tenner a month.

So does it live up to the promise? Yes, however like widescreen, it only adds to the experience rather than making poor shows and movies any better.


>