Updates!

For my regular readers, I apologise for not updating this blog for a while as I’ve been very busy.  During the past month, I’ve passed my probation in the new job I started back in August and what with just having gone through the recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday, the weeks leading up to it have been extraordinarily busy.

I’ve cancelled Virgin Media and gone back to Sky for TV, phone and broadband (well, the phone not so much – I’ll be using my EE mobile for the most part and just keep the Sky landline for incoming calls).  I can tell you right now, the difference between Sky and Virgin is like night and day.  Sky Q has improved considerably in the 8 months or so since I originally joined Virgin with their Tivo 6 box.  The Tivo has been a massive disappointment what with TV programmes regularly suffering from messed up imagery/artefacts and I’ve not been able to delete all programs I’ve recorded either – they just end up stuck.  The whole Sky Cinema SD/HD thing was just awful.  So Virgin Media has been given the heave-ho permanently this time.

I’m a tiny bit disappointed that Sky has done away with their Sky Fibre Broadband Pro package which offered a static IP.  As I also work from home on a semi-regular basis, having a static IP makes a big difference when configuring access control lists for various endpoints.  But the max package I’m on is nevertheless not shabby in the least, and the lease times on IPv4 seems long enough – plus IPv6 has been re-enabled (took around 12 days after activation), so I’m dual stack here.

Getting back to Sky Q – there’s a new remote!  Instead of giving everybody two remotes for the main Sky Q box, there is just one.  It doubles as a touch-sensitive remote as well as being a regular clicky one – controllable from within the Sky Q menu settings.  I really like this approach and big kudos to Sky for taking on board feedback from customers.  It’s a real pleasure to use now.  But the biggest thing for me is the voice control.  I ask Sky Q to change the channel (and it will automatically select the HD version of that channel if available) as well as fast forwarding and rewinding X seconds or minutes.   It matches up with the Apple 4K TV just nicely.  If only we had a unified remote that could control both!

Sky Q now offers favourite channels – something that was sadly lacking last time.  It still needs a bit of tweaking: ideally, there should be a favourites button on the remote to take you to the TV guide that compliments the (new) existing feature of allocating favourites to the remote buttons.

Sky Cinema is back in full HD, and still offers a not unreasonable number of ultra HD (4K) content.  Unlike the Tivo V6 which didn’t offer anything at all.  And the best part is that Sky Cinema is only £10 a month for the duration of my 18-month contract.  Let’s hope we can do a deal again when it comes to renewing it!

For me, while I have had a massive speed drop from 300Mbs to 76Mbs (on average around 65Mbs), this isn’t a big problem.  Rarely do I achieve speeds above 150Mbs anyway – mainly because many websites won’t go above 100Mbs anyway – take a look at a lot of hosting packages and you’ll see what I mean.  But I’d rather Sky’s speeds with their brilliant Sky Q Hub than Virgin Media’s Intel-powered latency inducing SuperHub 3.

(BTW, not being paid by Sky to say these things – just a very happy customer with one exception – I have continually received “please return our equipment” SMSes and emails over the past month with threats to charge me despite the equipment being sent back with evidence of posting.  I think this has finally been resolved by speaking to an operator who got me to upload a scan of the Post Office receipt to a special section of Sky’s website.  So hopefully that’s that.)

Oh, and I’ve also replaced my Oppo 203 UltraHD Blu-Ray player with an Xbox One X – currently the most powerful console yet, with its 6 Teraflops of processing power.  It also has an UltraHD Blu-Ray player in it, and is much, much smaller than the Oppo.  I’ve been very impressed with it, but not so much with Microsoft Store who mucked up the extended warranty necessitating in two phone calls and a bunch of emails.  I’m not entirely sure the issue has been fully resolved as my account has weird XML related code embedded in the page where the warranty info is.  Let’s say that if I were considering a Surface Pro 2 which can cost up to £3k, I’d be very wary of buying it directly from Microsoft.  If they can’t get it right with an Xbox…

So that’s it so far!

A few thoughts about the Xbox One S

The Good

  • Much smaller than its predecessor.
  • Includes an HDMI 2.0 compatible cable.
  • Wireless controller now supports Bluetooth, enabling its use with Windows 10 PCs (although Microsoft provides no instructions on how to get this working; early attempts here have failed).
  • 4K user interface is sharper & nicer to look at.
  • 4K Just Works(tm), albeit I have an “old” (just over a year old) TV that doesn’t support HDR and therefore can’t take advantages of that feature in games or video.  This isn’t Microsoft’s fault, this is the entire TV manufacturers’ fault.  See Walt Mossberg’s Verge article about “TVs are still too complicated, and it’s not your fault”. I wholeheartedly agree, and I wonder if we’re due to go back to the good old days of Rumbalows, Granada and other TV rental shops given how often TV and video “standards” keep changing.
  • The UHD 4K Blu-Ray player works very well indeed – sharp, crisp images on Batman vs Superman.  Looking forward to watching this in its entirety this weekend.  The Xbox One S is definitely the device for those looking at the cheapest route for UHD Blu-Ray playback.
  • The new wireless controller feels great – and I’m actually getting used to first person shooters now thanks to improved grip.
  • 2Tb hard drive a vast improvement on 500Gb, even if game saves are saved to the Microsoft cloud.  Speaking of which, all settings were restored to the new console immediately as each app started.  No fuss – it Just Works(tm).
  • As Xbox One S runs Windows 10, integration with existing Windows 10 PCs on the network works wonderfully well, including gameplay streaming.  Xbox One S (and its predecessor) can run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) programs and it has its own app store.

The Bad

  • Microsoft really needs to update those Knowledgebase articles PDQ.  Online help for this new console is dreadfully lacking (not that it is much different from the predecessor, but see Bluetooth wireless support above as one example).
  • Few improvements to game themselves as most of the improvements focus on making a smaller, more power efficient unit, along with adding 4K and HDR support for video, and HDR support for games.  That said, the GPU speed has been bumped up slightly.  It still has an 8-core x86 CPU in there running at the same speed as the predecessor, and 8Gb RAM.
  • Few 4K compatible UWP apps out there.  Netflix is currently the only one.

The Ugly

  • Doesn’t “do” 4K games.  This is reserved for the Next Big Thing – Project Scorpio