The UK is fast becoming a nation of hi-definition addicts. Be it via Sky, Virgin Media or Freeview, it seems we just can't get enough of HD TV. Statistically, there's a good chance that you, dear reader, are already hooked. Get used to it. There's no going back. Once you've succumbed to HD's crystal clarity, it's difficult (nay impossible) to watch regular blur-o-vision again. The good news is you probably won't have to if you subscribe to Sky. The pioneering satcaster is currently transmitting 46 channels of sweet eye candy, the latest being Good Food HD, Living HD and Comedy Central HD. So there's more than enough to keep you engrossed. This is both a blessing and a curse.
The fact is hi-def TV eats up hard drive space quicker than Hurley empties buckets from Mr Cluck's Chicken Shack. This means the regular Sky+HD box is bound to be running on empty after just a few series links and film recordings. With no legitimate way of archiving content off the box, your 1080i addiction is likely to suffer. The only sensible option is a swift upgrade to the broadcaster's premium personal video recorder -- the Sky+HD 1TB.
Take care, the hi-res EPG is a spoiler trap
Sky's 1TB recorder doesn't just offer a space boost. It's an entirely new piece of hardware, smaller, faster and slicker than the original. The matte black cosmetics of the first-generation box have given way to a smart steel-grey theme, and the iconic remote control has had a paint job to match.
Those migrating all the way from a standard-definition Sky+ box will be struck by the drastically different interface. When initially rolled out, this interface divided opinion. The simplicity of the original low-res listings has been replaced by a multi-functional, hi-res tabbed interface.
Navigating the various tabs is fast and responsive. It may take some time to scroll through recordings, as newer stuff is placed last not first (and there's no 'over the top' shortcut), but at least the interface isn't sluggish.
A live, Mini TV window in the top-right restricts the space available to show listings, but it does mean you can browse programmes without losing touch with the channel you're watching. The downside of the Mini TV screen is that if you're recording a big show finale, it's very easy to stumble upon a spoiler. Bizarrely, you can remove the screen from the grid, but the audio carries on regardless -- so you'll probably still hear stuff you're trying to ignore.
Stand by for Sky Anytime+
Although generally referred to as a 1TB set-top box, there's actually a 1.5TB hard drive beneath the hood. 500GB have been partitioned off for use by Sky Anytime, Sky's push content service. Anytime will shortly be joined by Sky's new video-on-demand (VOD) service, Sky Anytime+. Available (at least initially) to Sky broadband customers only, Anytime+ will use the hitherto dormant Ethernet jack on the back of the box to give free access to thousands of hours of programmes and movies.
Anytime+ streams are all standard definition (average connection speeds are not good enough to support HD), but will offer up a huge range of content to munch through. Anytime+ allows Sky to strike back at Virgin Media (currently king of VOD TV). We had a sneak peak at the service earlier this year and were impressed with the sheer scale of the archives available. Particularly cool is the 'box-set' repositories of Sky's most popular shows. Want to indulge in a complete season of 24 over a weekend? With Sky Anytime+, you can.
If you're a Sky HD and Sky broadband customer, you'll automatically have your firmware updated when the Anytime+ service goes live. The new version of the electronic programme guide features thumbnail art and an array of search tools designed to help you explore Sky's VOD vaults. Those who haven't signed up to Sky's broadband package will not get a firmware update for their box and will therefore be oblivious to the service. Sky will continue to push Anytime content to (HD and SD) boxes as it has been doing for some time now.
Enough space to swing a cat
The Sky 1TB PVR is a dream to use, and during our audition proved extremely reliable. There were no crashes, recording fails or playback foibles. Having the freedom to record any hi-def show or movie on a whim, without having to worry about managing space, is intoxicating. With a capacity for 240 hours of HD, some four times the space of the vanilla Sky+HD box, the temptation to experiment and record more esoteric fare is irresistible.
As picture and sound quality mirrors the original transmissions, recordings can boast excellent audio-visual fidelity. However, the new box does retain one longstanding Sky shortcoming -- the HDMI output still doesn't deliver 5.1 audio (the best you'll get is stereo PCM), meaning you still have to run an optical lead to your AV receiver for Dolby Digital 5.1.
And yes, it will do 3D…
As a consequence of Sky's HD infrastructure, the Sky+HD platform is able to deliver 3D. To test this, we hooked the 1TB box up to a Panasonic VT20 3D plasma, enabled the Sky 3D channel with a quick phone call to Sky's service centre, and were quickly goggle-eyed at the clarity of its three-dimensional images. Although Sky uses a half-resolution side-by-side transmission format (unlike the Full HD 3D seen on 3D Blu-ray), its pictures have tremendous depth and solidity.
Overall, the Sky+HD 1TB receiver can be considered a classy piece of kit. With its hangar-like capacity, ease of use and generally quiet disposition, it's an obvious step up for any TV-obsessed tech-head. The £249 ticket may seem a little steep on top of your subscription, but given that it enables you to scarf down even more from your Sky package, it strikes us as a price worth paying.
Edited by Emma Bayly