In the ultra-competitive world of TV distribution, particularly here in Canada, the big battle has been waged predominantly between cable and satellite providers. Cable companies traditionally speak of their advantage over satellite in areas like reliability, Video on Demand (VOD) and quick channel-changes. Satellite for its part makes claims around superior picture quality and geographic coverage.
Today however, the landscape has changed yet again, with Bell TV announcing that it has launched satellite-based VOD – a first of its kind in Canada.
Typically, satellite customers have been able to order scheduled Pay Per View programming, but the infrastructure needed to handle true real-time access to videos on demand hasn’t been available. Now, not only is VOD possible, the movies are being made available in what’s known as “Full HD” or 1080p, meaning that these movies are being streamed at the equivalent of Blu-ray quality. By way of comparison, all broadcast HD programming on cable and satellite is typically done in 720p – slightly less than half the resolution of 1080p. This is the first time 1080p has been made available in Canada. If you’ve been resisting the call of Blu-ray so far, Bell TV’s offering may mean you can forego that purchase altogether.
As of this announcement, the selection of available VOD content was slim – only 10 movies. However, if the selection of content on Bell’s IPTV product – Fibe TV – is any indicator, many more movies and shows should be available soon. According to Bell, new titles will be “made available every week.”
To access Bell TV’s VOD service (see their FAQ here), you’ll need one of their HD PVRs – either the 9242 or the 9241. To enjoy the full HD 1080p signal, you’ll need to have one of these PVRs connected to a 1080p-capable HDTV. No word yet whether Bell will extend the service to their PVR-capable 6131 HD receivers.
Update: As one of the commenters pointed out below, these receivers only show two HD options: 720p and 1080i. So how does one achieve full 1080p? The answer from Bell is:
The set top box automatically overrides the existing setting and outputs at 1080p. The output settings will include 1080p in the future when there is 1080p broadcast available.
Movies cost $6.99 per title for up to 48-hour access, and are available instantly by remote control on channel 1000 or by calling 1-866-68 ORDER.
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.
What’s more annoying than commercials? I’ll tell you. It’s commercials that jump on to your TV screen at what seems like twice the volume of the show you were just watching. Depending on the volume level of the program, the difference can be so abrupt that you instinctively reach for your remote’s mute button because dialing-down the volume can’t deal with the deafening roar fast enough.
I might actually watch more commercials were it not for the intrusiveness of this volume change. Well, maybe not – these days we tend to watch more PVR’d content than ever and that 30-second skip button is the most worn out on the whole remote… I just love it.
But if you don’t have a PVR (and if not, why the heck not?) or for those times when watching live TV is only way to go (sports events, award shows, news programs etc.) you’re just going to have to live with that annoying volume problem.
Or maybe not.
If you happen to have $179 USD burning a hole in your pocket and you are fed up with those obnoxiously loud ads, Gefen has the solution for you. Their GefenTV Auto Volume Stabilizer is a small device that sits with the rest of your TV gear and serves as a middle-man between your source (likely a cable or satellite box) and your audio receiver. It can handle 3 types of input – digital coax, optical, or good-ol-analog RCA. The same obviously, are available as outputs. You can select which of these inputs will be in use via a handy remote (yes, another remote), but only one at a time. When turned on, the Stabilizer does one thing and one thing only – manages all those highs and lows in volume level so that you aren’t constantly reaching for the remote.
If you use the device in conjunction with a Blu-ray player or other source and find that the auto-leveling isn’t required, you can easily disable it with the built-in “bypass” switch.
I haven’t tried the Stabilizer myself yet so I can’t speak to how effective it is, but at $179 it had better work exactly as advertised or Gefen will have some pretty grumpy customers on their hands.
But whether you like the idea of the Stabilizer or not, the real question is this: Why is there even a need for such a device?
My plea to the cable and satellite companies: Make this product redundant by implementing similar technology at your head-ends, so that the signal you’re sending to your subscribers is already pre-leveled. We’ve got HD, we’ve got 5.1 surround sound, even on-demand where it’s available, so why not good clean and leveled volume for all of TV you choose to watch? Gefen may not thank you, but we will.
Good news for PVR addicts who find themselves away from home when they suddenly realize there isn’t enough room on their hard drive to record that show coming on in a few hours. Bell TV has launched a remote PVR management system that can be accessed online via a web browser or via a compatible smartphone.
Here’s how it works:
- You need to have either the 9242 or 9241 Bell PVR Plus receivers (with or without an external HD)
- You must have broadband internet access (min. of 256kbps)
- You need to be able to connect your PVR via an ethernet cable to your home router or…
- you can buy a HomePlug adapter (known as a Home Connect Kit) from a Bell World Store, or online at Bell.ca for about $50
To access your PVR from the web, you need to log into your online account at http://www.bell.ca/recordnow.
For BlackBerry models 8830, 8330, 8530, 9630, 9000 & 9700 or the Samsung Omnia 2, you can download the app OTA (over the air) by pointing your mobile browser to www.bell.ca/rpvr
(BlackBerry owners – check your home screen, you may already have the Remote PVR icon there)
There is an app coming soon to the iTunes App Store for the iPhone 3G and 3GS, but in the meantime, you should be able to just use the built-in Safari browser. The same goes for the Palm Pre – just use your browser and head over to http://www.bell.ca/recordnow.
Once you’ve got it all set up, you should be able to manage the entire contents of your PVR, including deleting recorded events, scheduling new events, check remaining disk space, adjust the priority of recordings and manage any conflicts.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- The remote PVR system will not work with “PVR-ready” systems like the 6141, in other words, you must have one of the receivers that already has PVR functionality “out of the box”
- When connecting the 9242 or 9241 receivers via the Home Connect (HomePlug) kit, you only need one side of the typical two-sided HomePlug system, because these receivers already have HomePlug chips embedded – but you will need to ensure they are plugged directly into an AC wall socket and not a power bar or other surge-supressing equipment (these devices interfere with the HomePlug signal)
- If you have an external hard drive connected to your PVR for additional recording space, you can see the recordings that you have on it, but you cannot manage them remotely
Disclosure: Sync blog is owned and operated by Bell Canada