Some updates..

Odeon Limitless – I’ve not been to the cinema in months, so this has become a money waster rather than a saver.  I’ve preferred to either watch movies on Sky Cinema, or buy movies on iTunes.

Virgin Media – The HomeWorks 300Mbs package has proven itself a most worthy purchase.  It’s quite amazing to watch things download over 200Mbs.  A 5Gb movie is downloaded in a matter of minutes.  Good Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house.

What’s less impressive is Virgin’s presentation of Sky Cinema.  There are titles that aren’t available in HD, and watching them on the Tivo V6 in SD is probably like watching a very badly pirated movie.  Additionally, Virgin doesn’t update their What’s New This Week movie section daily with each new movie Sky Cinema adds each day.  So I’ve removed Sky Cinema from my package, and upgraded my landline package to Talk More Anytime.

I’ve added Sky Cinema to my NOW TV subscription which costs half of what I’d be paying with Virgin.  The downside is that the LG app only offers 720p resolution, but upscales far better than Virgin’s offerings – and to be honest, you won’t see much difference in quality between 720 and 1080p.  In short – if you want the proper Sky Cinema experience, you’ll really need to take out a Sky satellite package.  But with Sky Q allegedly going broadband only next year, I’d be interested in checking out again then (but keeping the VM broadband).

BT8160 Call Filtering phones – Working like a treat.  VIP numbers won’t be filtered, but everybody else has to announce themselves before the phone even rings.  That’ll stop a lot of automated diallers for starters.   I do find the blue status light on the base station is a bit too bright at night on the handset I have in my bedroom.  Nothing a bit of gaffer tape can’t fix, though.

Virgin on ludicrous speed..

On Saturday Virgin Media came and installed their new kit.

This included the Superhub 3 (powered by Intel’s Puma 6 SoC which also contains an Atom x86 CPU), a chunky beast with considerably more ports than the Sky Q Hub.  They (for there were three of them) also installed the Tivo V6, a box that’s considerably smaller than the Sky Q Silver box and old Tivo combined.

It’s titchy! But yes, it does have an external PSU..

Superhub 3.0 and HomeWorks (up to 300Mbs broadband)

There are many reports of performance issues with the Superhub 3, all thanks to the Intel chipset.  It mainly affects gamers, so I haven’t had a chance to properly reproduce it – all I know is that I downloaded a 52Gb game file on the Xbox One in super quick time – I was up and running within 10-15 minutes.  More testing is needed when playing multi-player games.  I’ll report back soon.

A speed test after installation resulted in 330Mbs download, 21Mbs upload.  A speed test during the day when things are bit busier yielded a result around 278-286Mbs down, 19Mbs up, which is very reasonable.  A 5am speed test shows great results again.  I’m very happy.  With Sky Broadband Fibre Pro, downloads maxed out at 71Mbs (uploads 19Mbs).

HomeWorks offers a number of benefits to the user – the up to 300Mbs download being one.  The other is non-traffic managed uploads.  I’m currently uploading 275Gb worth of data from my MacBook Pro to Crashplan and it averages around 15Mbs – which is very reasonable given the distances involved (to my knowledge, Crashplan has no European datacentres).  The other benefits of HomeWorks includes next business day engineer visits if things go wrong, access to a general IT support desk, and F-Secure’s internet security suite.

The Superhub 3’s admin interface leaves a lot to be desired, however.  Passwords are shown in the clear when entered, and the whole UI is exceptionally sluggish. Changing the client password was a bit of a pain – the unit enforces a specific password policy which cannot be overridden.  It meant that even though I changed the SSID to match that of my old broadband Wi-Fi, the password had to be changed.  So I had to reset all my gadgets Wi-Fi settings.

Oh, 802.11ac wireless coverage is good in my little place.  Upstairs is covered adequately and there is no need for any extenders.

Tivo V6

Xbox One S (and through the pass-through HDMI port, a Google Chromecast), an Apple TV, a Tivo V6, and an LG smart TV – all you need to stream anything from anywhere. If not, it’s not worth knowing about.

Back when I originally had a Tivo from Virgin Media many moons ago (we’re talking about 3 years ago, just when I was going through the divorce), I found it to be the most sluggish thing ever.  And that’s why I moved to Sky.  Four years later and I’m back with Virgin, and the Tivo V6 fixes all the sluggishness.  It’s now super, super fast.  Navigating anywhere is a pleasure.  With Sky Q, it was the biggest pain in the arse imaginable.  Nothing has changed in 12 months – shame on Sky.  Even Sky’s internet based NOW TV (which I use to pick up Sky Atlantic stuff now) has a better UI than it’s premium satellite sister.  Madness.

The Tivo V6’s UI is the same UI as seen on the older Tivo.  Coming from Sky Q, it’s all a bit strange and new, but as I say, it’s about 65,000 times better than Sky’s offering.  With the Tivo, it’s not a case of downloading on-demand content – it’s streamed in real time via the Superhub 3 (live TV comes in via the co-ax cable).  Older Tivos had a dedicated 10Mbs cable modem connection for on-demand stuff – this one doesn’t need it other than for live TV.  10Mbs these days means nothing in the 4K / UHD world, so it makes sense to get on-demand and internet related stuff from the Superhub.  I am interested to see where Virgin takes 4K TV, however.  Will it be live via co-ax?  Will it be live streamed over the internet?

The Tivo V6 does come with a few problems, however.  I’ve come across a couple of super scrambly, artefact-laden picture quality issues which tend to go away if you pause/unpause playback.  It seems to affect on-demand – I haven’t come across it on live TV yet.  It’s not happened often, but I’ve definitely experienced it. A few others have noticed it on the Virgin community forums, so we’ll see what Virgin has to say about it.  Not a big issue for me as yet – but I’m keeping an eye on it.

The second problem is video output.  By default the unit will attempt figure out what modes your TV supports.  In my case, it knows its a 4K TV and sets it to 2160 resolution.  However, some content (notably standard definition (SD)) appears blockier than usual, and some 4K content (under Tivo’s Netflix app) looks to add weird motion oddness that’s not present on the TV’s own Netflix app.

Tivo V6 offers a number of pass through modes that forces the TV to do any upscaling and other fancy video doodads, but I’ve found that occasionally – especially when using YouTube which can offer 4K, HD or SD content depending on the uploader – the TV loses the signal and I have to turn the TV off and on to get the picture back.  Again, I mentioned this on the forums – it seems that it is a bug, and the Tivo is due a 4K firmware update at some point.  I’ve left the unit in 2160 mode, no pass through and will just use the TV Netflix and YouTube apps which work perfectly.

The Tivo V6 is still new, and there are gremlins.  Just as there were (and still are) gremlins in the Sky Q system.  They aren’t bad gremlins, as it so happens, and doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the device.  My favourite thing about the Tivo is the remote.  It makes the Sky Q remote look like a simpleton’s plaything.  I had to stop using the Sky Q touch remote because I found my thumb was aching a lot, and it was too responsive, resulting in too many mistakes.  So I gave up and went for the more sensible remote.  But even the Sky Q sensible remote wasn’t that sensible.  The Tivo remote has a proper home button like the Sky Q, but more importantly, has a Guide button that takes you to the TV guide.  And it’s so easy to filter the guide from the remote.

In short: the Tivo V6 is everything Sky Q should be, but isn’t.  Better UI, better remote, super quick access to everything, and super fast.  It lends itself better to discovering content more than Sky Q does.  With Sky Q the Top Picks were just not relevant to my tastes.  I can find and discover stuff much faster with Tivo.

Phone Line

I’ve gone for a Virgin phone line.  So far, my experience is better than my previous Virgin phone line in that whoever had the number last was the target of phone spammers galore.  Fingers crossed his new number (which I love, BTW – they did a good job in picking it) will be spam free.

Virgin Mobile

As my contract with EE is at an end in April, I thought about consolidating everything with Virgin.  But the ordering process for Virgin Mobile when signed in as a Virgin Media customer is the biggest pain in the arse in the universe.  It told me that I had no Virgin Media kit installed (I do) and refused to give me the offer of 20Gb for £15/month (better than my £19 for 16Gb with EE, which runs out in April and goes up to £34.99).  So I try to call, but end up running around in circles with the operator.  This clip from the cartoon, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, sums up my experience:

Just as well I didn’t go through with my Virgin Mobile order, however.  It turns out that they don’t allow mobile tethering – something vital for my job.  So I’ve found a great deal with Three (30Gb tethering – unlimited data on phone) and will be moving to them soon – I’ll be porting my number from EE, so that number will not change.  For my iPad SIM, I’m considering pay as you go.  I don’t use anywhere near the data I’m currently paying monthly for, so it seems a bit of a waste.

Downloading ALL the things! Switching from Sky to Virgin.. part one

For the past year, I’ve been pretty happy with Sky Fibre Broadband Pro with its static IP and IPv6 address.  But with anything that works well, I get restless. Actually, what I’m not so happy about is Sky Q, and Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox wanting to buy Sky.  But I can’t do anything about Sky Q until the end of August/early September.

So I’m intending to move to Virgin Media in small increments, starting with broadband and finishing with their TV service – albeit with a few changes.

The first is that I’m not going to have the Sky Cinema channels.  I find it’s better to rent (or in most cases, buy) movies on iTunes.  I’m also not as keen on the numerous TV channels out there – I barely watch more than 1% of them, so I don’t need the full TV package anymore.  My viewing mainly consists of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube (there are some surprisingly good vloggers out there).  So I’ll probably take out the basic Tivo 6 package come September.  For watching Sky Atlantic shows, I’ll probably just buy them on iTunes (Westworld, Game of Thrones) – cheaper than a subscription in most cases.

So I’ve ordered the Virgin Media HomeWorks package that delivers up to 300Mbs download and 20Mbs upload, with no traffic management.  The additional feature is that if things go wrong with the broadband connection, there’s next day engineer on-site call out available.  Plus a 24/7 helpline. Designed to cater for home workers, it seems the perfect package for my needs (I usually work from home at least once a month – plus there are all the times I’m on-call).

I’m switching my landline back to Virgin too (since Sky have increase line rental). While the vast majority of calls are made and received on my mobile phone, I find it’s still handy to have a landline.

So we’ll see how things go.  In particularly, I’ll be interested to see how well the Sky Q kit works with Virgin Media broadband.  I’ll write up my experiences, as always.

Sky’s Pie in the Eye

After nearly a full year of Sky Q, I’m almost ready to give up.  Except I can’t – not until August (blasted 18-month contracts).

The biggest problem with Sky Q for me is the user interface – requiring far too many actions to get to where you want to go.  I’ve barely used the Sky Q minibox. I’ve had to power cycle the minibox a couple of times as there are a few Wi-Fi devices upstairs that rely on it and stopped working after the box went a bit wonky (technical term).

I detest Sky’s series record.  It doesn’t work very well at all.  I often find it records new episodes and repeats of the same episodes, completely stops after a series ends and never picks up the next series, and all manner of silly things.  I use Sky’s web-based Never Miss to fill in the blanks, but honestly, this just isn’t good enough.

I gave up using the fancy pants Sky touch remote a while back.  Scrubbing through adverts is too sensitive – often going way beyond where I want to end up. The IR remote also supplied works well enough.

UHD 4K content is still sadly lacking too.

I also find that adding/removing packages is horribly inconsistent too.  Sometimes you can use the web interface to manage this, other times you need to speak to somebody by phone.   Why can’t we manage our account entirely online?

The only good thing about the whole package has been Sky Broadband Fibre Pro. Rock solid, with static IP and IPv6 address and everything.

But I think that come August I’ll be switching to Virgin Media.  Now they offer upload speeds up to 20Mbs and download speeds up to 200Mbs, with IPv6 coming later this year (apparently) – and a new, faster (and tiny) Tivo box that offers even more simultaneous live channel recording than Sky Q, albeit with a smaller capacity hard drive (doesn’t bother me – I’ve barely filled the Sky Q box HD).  I’d be happy to get rid of the Movie channels.  I don’t watch them as often as I used to – I find these days Netflix & Amazon take up most of my viewing time.

Forrest Gump UHD – Pixels UHD – Liverpool vs. Barcelona UHD – Anomalisa – Trumbo – High Rise – The Good Dinosaur – Hail, Caesar!

It was a weekend at the movies.  At home.

Sky had kindly stuck a copy of Forrest Gump and Pixels in 4K UHD on their service for us 4K folk to try before they official launch their UHD services.  I’ve always loved Forrest Gump, but seeing it in UHD was like watching it in the cinema again.  A 35mm film scan to 4k has yielded a superb sharp picture, with glorious colours.  This film has never looked or sounded so good.  Pixels is another story – wasn’t impressed as much with image quality and that was taken from a 3,4K digital intermediate.

Then there was the Liverpool FC vs Barcelona.  Live.  In UHD.  Alas, I did not see it live, but set the Sky Q Silver box to record it whilst I watched a few other films instead.  When I came to watch it, however, I was impressed with the quality of the image.  Sports certainly do look better in higher resolution – indeed, Japan’s NHK is filming this year’s Olympics in Rio in 8K.  It requires a $125,000 TV to watch it, and it’ll be probably be obsolete in a years time, but hey, it’s technology.  It’s also being broadcast in select theatres in Japan at full 8K res for those without a burning hole in their pockets.

Meanwhile, on Amazon Prime (my replacement to iTunes), I rented a few movies.

Anomalisa – directed by Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson.
Kaufman is a wonderful filmmaker whose oddball and provocative (yet thoughtful) films are a great inspiration.  Being John Malkovich was the first really odd film that caught my attention.  Adaptation in which Nicolas Cage plays twin versions of Kaufman himself was utterly insane.  Synecdoche, New York, with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, took all of that and ran through the streets naked before diving into a teapot of jelly.

Anomalisa’s overall atmosphere reminds me that of Being John Malkovich meets Lost In Translation.  It was made using stop animation with some of the most expressive puppets I’ve ever seen on film.  They’re so good, there’s a sex scene which took Duke Johnson and his animators SIX months to animate – because they wanted to do it properly.  The film stars David Thewlis as Michael Stone, a highly successful customer service/motivational speaker who stays overnight at the hotel Fregoli in Cincinnati, Ohio, before speaking at a conference the next day.  While he’s there, he calls up an old flame which, as you may imagine, doesn’t go at all well.  He eventually meets two women attending the same conference, one of them is Lisa, an insecure young woman.

I should point out that other than Michael and Lisa, everybody else is voiced by character actor Tom Noonan.  He plays absolutely everybody else – from waitresses, Lisa’s friend, Michael’s wife and son, their friends, the hotel manager, all the secretaries – everyone.  The reason for this is that Michael is depressed.  He perceives everybody around him – apart from Lisa – as identical white men with the same faces and voices .

All in all, this is a very strange film.  I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and I think it’s worth tracking down on Blu-Ray when the price is right.  Technically one of the best films I’ve seen.  Kudous to everybody involved in making it.

Trumbo – directed by Jay Roach
This is the first non-comedy film for Roach, whose previous works include the likes of Austin Powers, Meet the Parents/Fockers, Dinner for Schmucks, etc.  And it’s a blinder of a film.  I would have to say that this has fast become one of my favourite films of all time.  I love biopics, and this is definitely one of the best I’ve seen.  In part, perhaps, due to the excellent and strong casting, including Bryan “Breaking Bad” Cranston in the role of Dalton Trumbo, Louis C.K. as Arlan Hird, and Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter.

Trumbo concentrates on the part of Dalton Trumbo’s life that concerns his blacklisting in Hollywood thanks to the McCarthy hearings (the House of Un-American Activities).  The USA was exceptionally paranoid during the height of the Cold War, and if you were suspected of being a communist, you’d go to jail.  Many people lost their jobs, families and even their lives during this time, and this film brings home just how horrific it was.

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom.  Trumbo is punctuated with humour throughout, and what makes this film so good are the performances.  We get to see the relationship Trumbo had with Edward G. Robinson: Robinson ratted out Trumbo in the end, albeit not before handing Trumbo a massive cheque to fund his defence; after everything blew over, Trumbo paid Robinson back, with their friendship now ended.  Of continuing to write scripts whilst blacklisted and using false identities to cover himself up.  During this period, his script ‘Roman Holiday’ went on to win an Oscar – albeit for Ian McLellan Hunter who was persuaded by Trumbo to take the credit.  Many years later, the Academy would hand Trumbo’s widow a new Oscar with the corrected credit.

As we know (well, I didn’t actually), Otto Preminger saw Trumbo and got him to write Spartacus.  This would be the first time since the blacklist that Trumbo’s name was restored to his work.

A truly wonderful film.  Oscar and BAFTA nominated in its own right, but didn’t win, it’s still a very worthy contender for your time.  I’ll be buying the Blu-Ray – this one’s a keeper.

Hail, Caesar! – directed by the Coen Brothers
Set in a spookily similar period and surroundings to that of Trumbo, this fictionalised comedy drama about real-life studio fixer Eddie Mannix sees the big star of a forthcoming big budget Roman epic motion picture kidnapped by a group of communist writers who demand $10,000 in cash.  Or else!  As Mannix deals with this crisis, he’s also dealing with a Western star that’s been shoehorned into an upmarket period piece, gossip columnist twins (both played by Tilda Swinton), and other diversions (including contemplating a very generous offer of new employment from Lockheed).

Hail, Caesar! is a great farce, but ultimately it doesn’t really go anywhere.  Quite unsatisfying as a story.

The Good Dinosaur – directed by Peter Sohn
In the same year that Pixar released Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur feels more like a bonus side-attraction rather than a fully fledged feature.  But what there made me cry like a little baby at the end, as do most Pixar (and Studio Ghibli) films.  Pixar are experts in the art of storytelling combining up-to-date technology, and even if it’s not their best film to date, it’s nevertheless heartwarming and technically brilliant.

High Rise – directed by Ben Wheatley
I was really looking forward to this adaptation of J. G. Ballad’s science fiction novel.  I do like a bit of dystopian future, me.  But I found that I couldn’t stomach this film at all.  It’s horribly depressing, the characters completely unrelatable, and even the plot seems to be disjointed.  I gave up a third of the way through the film.

Other films:

Kung Fu Panda 3 – directed by Jennifer Yu Nelson & Alessandro Carloni
A good few years ago, back when I was married, we were looking to adopt from China.  We went as a far as volunteering for an NGO outside of Beijing where we got to help look after children who were being prepared for international adoption.  But as for the adoption itself?  It never happened – for many reasons.  But I still have an interest in the entire adoption process, and I’ve found the Kung Fu Panda movies to be one of the best at explaining and looking at adoption in a very positive light.  In fact, there were a few times in Kung Fu Panda 3 where I broke down and cried.  I can’t tell you how well this handles a very sensitive topic.  But adoption aside, this is a fantastic film that manages to keep the momentum of the franchise going nicely.  We meet old friends and new, and the background artwork (principally produced by Oriental Dreamworks) is fantastic.  It’s perhaps the first major collaboration between a US and Chinese film studio and the result is something that’s very special indeed.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of the Justice League – directed by Zak Snyder
Haven’t gotten around to finishing this one as it’s THREE hours long.  And boy, do you feel every minute with this one!  That said, what I’ve seen so far makes sense, but I’m just not sure whether this needs to be the War & Peace of DC films.  What I will say is that the UHD works very well – worth the investment.

And what can we learn from these films?  That I should avoid any cartoons or family films, because I’m likely to blub.  Already 40, I appear to be turning into an emotional wreck.  On the other hand, you could say that as storytellers, the filmmakers have done a superb job – if you’re that engrossed that you can empathise with a character or characters, it must be good!  Or maybe not.  I don’t know.

Coming up: Finding Dory (cinema), The Suicide Squad (cinema), In Bruges, Whitnail and I, The Man from UNCLE (Guy Ritchie version), Labyrinth, Deadpool UHD, The Room.