Foxtel’s HD Channels Dissected, Guts Thrown Around Room

FoxtelHDangle.jpgAfter yesterday’s unveiling of Foxtel’s HD+ service, I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the channel menu. Some of you were disappointed by the selection of only four dedicated HD channels. In reality there’s a little bit more on offer than just four channels, and a plan to roll out even more channels next year. Hit the jump for  a closer analysis of the HD offerings.

Because the BBC has such a wide variety of programming, you can expect BBC HD to be just as eclectic in its selection. Some of the programs you can look forward to watching include comedies and dramas like Bleak House, Robin Hood, Torchwood, Hotel Babylon, Lead Balloon and Sensitive Skin. Plus you’ll get awesome documentaries like Planet Earth, Galapagos, Hannibal, Supervolcano and Who do you think you are? (If you haven’t seen Planet Earth in HD, you should go out, buy a Blu-ray player and the Blu-ray disc and watch it today – it’s spectacular). Finally, there will also be musical shows and operas, like The Proms, Glyndebourne, Aida and Tosca.

While not every thing there sounds completely enjoyable, it offers a pretty good variety. And with the BBC hoping to produce all its primetime programs in HD by 2010, the amount of content is only going to grow in the next few years.

Fox Sports HD
Last year, Channel 10 showed their key AFL matches and the Rugby World Cup in HD. If you didn’t get to experience it, you were missing out – HD is pretty much made for sport. Fox Sports HD is going to join the other four Fox Sports Channels as a dedicated station, showcasing a selection of Australian and international sports.

The press release says local coverage will include the “AFL, NRL, Rugby Union Internationals, Socceroos matches, The Hyundai A-league and the Ford Ranger Cup”. At the launch, they also mentioned the Super 14 in that list.

On top of that, look for international HD coverage of sports like tennis, cricket, golf and motorsports including NASCAR. Local sports panel shows NRL on FOX, Total Football and Inside Rugby will also be filmed in HD.

I’m not entirely sure whether Fox Sports HD will be filming their own coverage in 1080i, although it would seem logical, considering half of those are currently only filmed in SD. I’ve put the question to Foxtel and am currently waiting for a response.

Continuing the sports theme, we’ll also get ESPN HD which will show a massive array of US international sports. Think Indy Car racing, NBA, baseball, American Football, Soccer, Lacrosse, Horse racing, X Games plus news and entertainment. Oh, and Poker – the toughest sport of them all.

ESPN HD will generally be transmit at 720p – Foxtel HD+ will broadcast in the standard the program was filmed at, and most US sports is filmed in 720p.

National Geographic HD Logo.jpg
Discovery HD and National Geographic HD
These two channels get grouped together because, well, they’ll be broadcast as a single documentary channel. At least initially – once that D3 satellite goes online next year, expect them to branch off into two separate entities.

Content-wise, the mega documentary channel is fairly self-explanatory. You can expect to see lots of documentaries.

Foxtel Box Office HD
The new iQ2 box that’s a necessary part of the HD+ package lets Foxtel improve their Box Office / On Demand offerings into one super service. Box Office HD will offer a selection of 1080i HD movies with 5.1 surround sound that can be watched instantaneously.

It works exactly the same as On Demand does in the current iQ box – movies will be pushed to the iQ2’s hard drive via a built-in 4th tuner, so that when you press play, the movie starts immediately. It also offers full DVD functionality – you can pause, rewind and fast forward through the film.

Purchased movies are available for a full 48 hours and the service is on offer for all iQ2 subscribers.

The Future
As mentioned earlier, Foxtel are planning on expanding content when the D3 satellite goes online in May next year. The most obvious moves would be to separate the National Geographic and Discovery HD channels, plus add more standard entertainment HD channels – think Fox8 HD, Arena HD, TV1 HD and so on.

The fact that they’ve only launched with four HD channels may turn some people off subscribing initially, but it isn’t necessarily a bad move. Remember, HD is still in its infancy in Australia – it was only November/December last year that channels 7 and 10 launched their own HD channels, which still spend a lot of time showing the same content as the SD channel. Channel 9 is still fart-arsing around with their HD offering, and despite the fact HD panels are selling more and more, most people still only have CRTs in their lounge rooms, making HD irrelevant to them.

The good news is that with everybody moving towards an HD future, content is going to become more readily available. This move from Foxtel is just the start.