We’ve been tracking the new Virgin Media TiVo service for a full year since it was first announced, and while a lot has happened in twelve months, you can now nab one for installation underneath your telly, just as we have.
The Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo is actually TiVo’s second foray into the UK, with the first in 2000 failing to gain traction on this side of the pond. The new TiVo however, backed by big baller Virgin Media, could make amends, especially with a focus on search and internet TV. In this Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo review we will see if this next-gen box was worth the wait.
Featuring three tuners, which allow for watching your favourite program, whilst recording 2 others, a 1TB hard drive for up to 500 hours of SDTV or a very respectable 120 hours of HD, and 1080 resolution, this box is packing some serious clout.
On the back you have connections for HDMI and SCART as well as slots for your Virgin card. There are also two USB ports, which are currently for service only, though may hopefully be opened up at some point in the future, for expandability of storage or external peripherals. Another useful inclusion is the optical audio port, which gives the highest quality digital audio quality currently available. Most users won’t use it as the HDMI carries both sound and picture, but it is a nice inclusion for those who want it. There is an Ethernet port, but as all internet activity is accessed directly through the cable, this again is for service use.
Design-wise, the Virgin Media TiVo is a thing of understated beauty. Gone is the fingerprint attracting, piano black finish of the Samsung V+ box, replaced instead with subtle matte black plastic. Also notably missing are the plethora of lights and LCD displays that became a massive distraction when using the aforementioned Samsung V+ box. Instead they are replaced with a simple display of LEDs that indicate both power and connectivity, as well as number of tuners in use.
Overall the box is really well built, and though it is unlikely it will ever move from where it sits, it’s still good to know that it won’t fall apart in a weak breeze. It also runs as quiet as a mouse, and apart from the occasional click from the hard drive, you won’t even know it’s there.
What’s it all about?
The Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo is a wonderful thing to use. From the moment you turn it on you are bombarded with colourful images, easy to use menus and interactive content that just makes you want to sit and play all day – in fact, we did!
The TiVo approach doesn’t just fire random TV your way, it learns your viewing habits over time and suggests TV it thinks you will like.
Using a system of giving thumbs up or thumbs down to a program, actor or series, the TiVo learns which shows you like and makes them more readily available to you. It also keeps tabs on what you watch, but the thumbs up system is a good way to fast track to relevant TV.
On the front page you are presented with something TiVo term the ‘Discovery Bar’ – though a slightly overindulgent name, this bar is actually pretty clever.
Using the aforementioned thumbs up system, over time the Virgin Media TiVo box shows you programs and movies from both live TV and on demand services at the top of the page. This is a great way to easily find new content without having to search.
Search on Steroids
One of the coolest things on the Virgin TiVo box is how its search works.Say you are looking through the TV guide and you see the movie ‘Fight Club’ is on; you click through to see more info and it takes you through to a cast list. You select Edward Norton.
The TiVo then shows you all the TV and movies that Ed appears in. Now for the really clever bit – Edward Norton was in ‘American History X’, so you decide that you would like to see it. You can either rent it from on demand or add it to a ‘Wishlist Search’.
The Wishlist Search is the single greatest invention in TV planning we have seen. To use our previous example, you can add ‘American History X’ to a wishlist search and any time it is on, on any channel, at any point in the future, your TiVo will record it – Isn’t that flipping awesome?
It also works with actors and crew too, so you can tell the TiVo to record anything that Edward Norton appears in, across all channels – ad infinitum.
As well as amazing TV, the Virgin TiVo comes with an ever growing array of apps – at the time of writing there are offerings from eBay, Youtube and BBC iPlayer, as well as a couple of games and weather apps.
Granted, this isn’t quite as an impressive array as Sony offers on the PlayStation 3 say, but you can expect much more in the near future, as the OS is Flash based, portability of apps will be a quick process and one that developers ought to be keen to be part of.
Check out our best media streamer Top 5 right here
We never saw anything particularly wrong with the old Virgin remote, however the new Virgin Media TiVo one is really comfortable at least. It’s shape like a stretched peanut and is really nice to hold and use.
It comes with all the buttons you expect as well as the thumbs up and thumbs down functions. It’s a shame Virgin didn’t see fit to include the QWERTY keyboard remote that ships with equivalent TiVo units in the US, but it’s a fault that we can quickly overlook at the moment. In time as more and more apps come on board, I think there will be a number of users looking to upgrade to a more feature rich remote.
The Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo is one of the best TV innovations we have seen released into the UK market, and it easily trumps the Sky+ HD box in both looks and functionality.
At a £199 install price, and only a few pounds more a month, it’s comparatively reasonable in price too.
It should be noted that you have to be on the Virgin XL TV pack to be eligible for TiVo at present, but we are sure this will change over time.
If you are already an XL customer, we highly recommend upgrading to the TiVo service – it really will change the way you watch TV forever, and if you are a Sky customer coming to the end of your contract – maybe now is the time to ditch the dish and enter the world of fibre optic.