So what’s new? Well it’s a new box entirely, looking much closer to a PS3 than the V+ boxes of old. With that comes a new remote and a completely new UI that’s been redesigned from the ground up, with plenty of new features to play with. It also includes a 10Mb modem for fast streaming without slowing down your interenet.
The EPG goes backwards as well as forwards, so you can see what’s on catch-up at the same time as planning your evening’s viewing. The menu is far nicer to look at and navigate, with a much warmer feel to the harsh, blocky scheme of old, which we always thought it looked a little like a travel tavern TV menu.
It’s far more responsive as well, you no longer have to wait for your presses to register as with the early V+ boxes. At the top of the screen is a Discovery Bar with recommended shows, so you can scroll through what’s hot without having to search. The green thumbs up and red thumbs down buttons on the remote are present and correct too, so you can choose shows to appear in the bar or to banish them from your recommendations forever (more on this later).
You can search what’s on TV, YouTube for trailers and extras, by actors and actresses so you can see everything that’s available in their oeuvre, and you get some basic info and trivia on them, like a scaled-down version of IMDB. The box has a mammoth 1TB hard drive, storing 500GB of standard def content, or around about 250 of HD, and it comes packing third party apps and games like iPlayer and eBay. So far, so good.
Virgin Media Tivo: Usability
But once you’re past the surface gloss of the shiny new Home screen, things aren’t quite as well thought out as it seems. Scrolling back, the EPG shows what’s available on catch-up thanks to a circled C logo; click once on said show to go to the catch-up menu and have to search from there, but click twice and you’ll be taken straight to the actual programme. The show you clicked won’t be available through the catch-up menu until put up on the relevant service like iPlayer or 4OD, so clicking once is just a shortcut to the see all the catch-up shows. It seems unnecessary, having to click twice, but it’s not a major bugbear.
The Home button is very useful, acting like the button on an iPhone, taking you back to the Home screen with one push wherever you are. But the Discovery Bar, while a nice idea and livening up the Home screen with some cover art, doesn’t work as well as advertised. We gave three thumbs up to four shows, but 24 hours later only one of them had appeared in the Discovery Bar, so we were still mostly lumbered with Virgin Media’s recommendations. (You have to find them through the TV guide as well, you can’t vote them straight off the Home screen.) And after we gave three thumbs down to My Name is Earl, that mustachioed face was still there, staring at us every time we pressed Home.
The On Demand menu shows individual episodes rather than grouping series in folders, so you have to scroll through 20 episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles to get to Something for the Weekend. A recording of Harry Hill’s TV Burp missed the first couple of minutes (not something that ever happened with our V+ Box), though the three tuners do work like a dream, letting you record two channels while watching a third.
Virgin Media Tivo: The extras
YouTube is a welcome addition, and while the box does upscale clips where it can, they are still of variable quality. This’ll be especially noticeable on a big TV, though it’s great that they load instantly thanks to the TiVo box’s built-in modem not taking up any of your broadband’s bandwidth. The info on actors is on the slim side (providing Michael Caine’s date and place of birth and nothing else, not even his birth name), though the ability to record everything starring them is a great feature. The apps and games are a fun diversion, but nothing more, with Twitter, eBay, and a couple of others, though more are promised soon. The same can be said of the 3D offerings (six movies at £5.49 and some shorts at time of writing).
Virgin's HD content has improved, with 17 HD channels including Sky One HD. However, if you want to take your total to 29 you need to shelly out for Sky Movies and Sky Sports at £14.50 each.
Virgin Media Tivo: Verdict
While the usability issues are annoying, this is a big improvement on the old box. The menus are slicker, it’s easier to find the shows you want, and the remote is well laid out and simple to use. And the extras, though nice, are far from a deal breaker. The price will be a little high for some, with a £199 one off fee, £26.50 a month for the XL TiVo package of over 160 channels (including a phone line; it’s £32.50 a month without), and a £40 installation fee. It’s a shame, because if the price came down and the basic usability issues were ironed out, this’d really give Sky HD a run for its money.