Thursday, 25 November 2010

Where's the new 8320HD firmware then?

We know from postings that the next 8320HD firmware is already in beta testing (presumably for a release before Christmas 2010). We also know that the last two firmware releases were released exactly 6 weeks apart: 4.750-01 on 26th August 2010 and 4.8.00-02 on 7th October 2010. So here we are, 7 weeks after the latest firmware came out (making it the longest gap between releases ever) and still no sign of the new firmware.

My box still crashes during remote control operations - even just pressing the GUIDE button causes a crash about 10% of the time! Its stability whilst being actively used is frighteningly poor, although I must admit that if I don't use the remote, it doesn't tend to crash. There are more than a dozen known bugs and a few of them are quite serious, so it's time for Fetch TV to step up to the plate and release new firmware. I don't care if it's initially just for USB stick upgrades only and not via the box's own Net-based upgrade interface.

I want my, I want my, I want my Fetch TV (upgrade)...

Friday, 19 November 2010

8320HD paid content poll

An user, natterjak, has set up a poll to see how often people pay for the Fetch TV content (e.g. PPV movies, a few channels like Nat Geo that can be subscribed to etc.). I haven't even bothered with the free movie that you can apparently download (not that it's clear that the 8320HD purchase entitles you to that!). What I don't like is that all Fetch TV paid for content is DRM'ed to the hilt - you can't record it, you have to watch it within 7 days and it "self-destructs" 24 hours after you start watching it!

All good reasons why it's useless as a paid service and would even be annoying as a free service (because Fetch TV actually pull movies and don't keep them available long term, so their choice is limited too). Also note that a lot of their paid-for content isn't HD either and much of it is overpriced too.  A big thumbs down from me then...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Another 8320HD re-tune coming up on Monday...

This week, my 8320HD displayed a Freeview network information dialogue box and also added a temporary new option to its main menu. There's been advance notification of Freeview channel changes posted up by the Freeview folks for the first time since I got my 8320HD! Apart from telling you that you'll need to re-tune your 8320HD any time after 5.00pm GMT on Monday 15th November, it fails to actually explain why the re-tune is necessary.

A Digital Spy posting makes a good stab at guessing the channel changes - some channels are moving around and others are being dropped. It looks like ITV1+1 (yawn!) is coming to Freeview in Jan 2011, though presumably only in its SD incarnation. And, yes, QVC has a Freeview contract for another 12 years - yet another good reason for the 8320HD to be able to delete channels.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why the recent BBC One HD launch never got a Freeview notification on the 8320HD, I suspect it's because the Freeview folks can only send notifications to all Freeview boxes (both SD and HD) and not just to HD-capable ones. Imagine the chaos if Freeview SD-only boxes notified users that BBC One HD was coming and they'd need to re-tune!

Re-tune update: Not a huge amount happened after I re-tuned my 8320HD on Monday evening, except for a new bizarre ITV Preview 1 placeholder channel (number 35), which has had a blank screen and no EPG programmes ever since the re-tune. This may well be the rumoured ITV+1 channel slot that's due to be filled in Jan 2011.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Does the 8320HD violate the GPL?

For those not in the know, the GNU General Public License (GPL) means that if you ship binaries that are covered by the GPL, you must also supply the source code (whether you modified the code or not, though if you didn't modify it, just providing a URL to the original unmodified source code is good enough). The 8320HD firmware contains LGPL 'ed and GPL'ed software in its firmware - see the "Legal Information" dialogue box in its UI.

The huge Australian ISP Telstra has been supplying near-identical "T-Box" hardware (the only difference between a T-Box and an 8320HD is the latter's use of DVB-T2 tuners instead of the T-Box's DVB-T tuners - both have their firmware written by Netgem). This week, Telstra has been pulled up for not supplying source code to the GPL'ed software in their T-Box firmware.

Telstra, to their credit, have managed to persuade Netgem to release the October 2010 source code to their T-Box firmware. The question now remains: when will Netgem release the equivalent 8320HD source code? Surely IP Vision remains in GPL violation until they do?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sky Player free month starts on my 8320HD

There's a leaflet included with your 8320HD that has a voucher code giving you a free month's subscription to Sky Player's Entertainment (Sky 1, Living and some others) and Sports (Sky Sports 1-4) Packs worth £34.50. Be warned that the offer closes on 31st December 2010 (though I wonder if new 8320HD boxes bought in 2011 will have a later expiry date?), so don't think you've got a whole year to sign up for your free month. Firstly, you have to register for a Sky ID - if you already subscribe to Sky, you'll have a Sky ID already. Theoretically, you could use someone else's Sky ID, but they'd be foolish to give it to you because you could sign up for all sorts - movies etc. - and cost them money.

A Sky ID allows up to four computers (Windows or Mac - they use Silverlight 4 which isn't available on Linux which only has Moonlight 3 so far) and a set-top box such as the 8320HD or an Xbox. To register the 8320HD as a play device, you simply go to channel 759 ("SKY") on your 8320HD, log in with your Sky ID and password and then navigate around. You can do the same with up to 4 PCs, but once you've registered them, they're strict about changing them (one change per month or something like that).

Once you have a Sky ID, there's an option in the accounts section to subscribe to various Sky packs. This is where you type in your promo code from your leaflet and it enables the aforementioned packs for free for one month. Despite it costing you nothing, you're forced - like FetchTV's registration - to put your credit card info in when you "buy" the packs for a month. Huge tip here - once you've signed up, go to the accounts section and immediately cancel the sub. They insist that you have to finish your current month and will not refund any part of it - they auto-cancel at the end of the month. Since you paid nothing, this still gives you the free month and Sky will then nicely cancel it without you doing anything more. If you don't do this cancellation, they will charge your credit card £34.50 at the start of the second month - you've been warned!

The Sky Player interface is reasonable apart from a couple of clunky issues. Firstly, the 8320HD takes an age (up to 2 seconds sometimes) to respond to any remote control key presses - it really does discourage any sort of surfing through channels. Secondly, all the live TV channels are numbered (e.g. MTV is 350) and yet the number buttons on the remote do absolutely nothing, which is frankly ridiculous. You have to cursor up and down on a Now/Next-style banner to find the channel you want (or go to the full Sky TV Guide)!

Other issues included a very slight motion blur and pixel artifacts if you sit close to your TV (I'm watching two live football matches today, so if they are affected by this, I'll comment on it and, yes, I'm always on the so-called 1.8Mbit/sec "high" quality that's actually slightly worse than SD!), being unable to get Sky Sports 1-4 in the early hours of this morning (screen went blank on those 4 channels, but were fine on all other channels I'm free-subbed to) and the inability to record anything. The Sky Player seems to overlay on the current Freeview channel you're watching, so pressing the record button will record the Freeview channel and not the Sky Player stream.

My conclusion? Reasonably OK for free, but there's absolutely no way I'd pay £34.50 a month for a barely-SD-quality unrecordable version of Sky Sports channels and a dozen or so rather poor "entertainment" channels. Up the picture quality, allow all programmes to be recordable (and not time-limited - forget that Sky Player desktop downloader thing) and throw in all the normal movie channels and it still would be too expensive!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

BBC One HD launches...and the 8320HD fails to notice

When I got home tonight, I checked the 8320HD's EPG shortly after the BBC One HD launch on channel 50 at 7.00pm GMT, only to find that there was no automatic detection of the new channel (or the move of the existing BBC HD channel from 50 to 54). A big let-down there really - people who are unaware of the BBC One HD launch (e.g. my TV Times paper magazine, which refused to mention it at all) might not retune for weeks or months and miss out on a fair chunk of BBC One HD output.

Channel 50 still showed BBC HD on my 8320HD, so I went into the preferences and did a full automatic tune of channels. When that completed, the EPG and channel listings were correct and sure enough, choosing channel 50 selected BBC One HD plus the BBC HD channel had moved to channel 54. Sadly, the BBC have decided to put a "BBC One HD" opaque logo in the top-left - is this the first time a BBC One or Two channel has had a permanent (24x7) logo? Considering it's now simulcast content, the BBC should be consistent and either put logos on both BBC One (SD) and BBC One HD or on neither. I hate that we now get an improved BBC One picture, only for it to be "exclusively" spoiled by a permanent logo on the HD version - ludicrous!

Oh and shouldn't the BBC One HD channel listings indicate with an "(HD)" which programmes are native HD and not upscaled SD? My TV Times magazine does this, so it's very poor that the BBC Website doesn't. I've also noticed that channel 53 is conspicuously unallocated and sits between Channel 4 HD and BBC HD. I suspect it's been left like that for a future allocation to Channel 5 HD when they get their act together in about 4-5 years' time at this rate.

This BBC One HD launch yet again emphasises that the 8320HD needs a channel move/renumber/delete capability (no, not the awkward Favourites system). The vast majority of 8320HD owners would surely want BBC One HD on channel 1, ITV 1 HD on channel 3 and Channel 4 HD on channel 4? Instead, we get the awkward double key presses of channels 50, 51 and 52 respectively, so even the second digit doesn't match the "expected" channel number  - horrendous! It now means the only "correctly" positioned channel in the first four is BBC 2 (SD) on channel 2.