Once the brightest TV UI in the world, this service faces competition from Sky, Freesat and YouView. Find out how it compares in our Virgin Media TiVo review
So successful when it launched Stateside that it became a verb, TiVo is the original smart set-top TV box. With its innovative recommendation engine and intelligent search functionality, it redefined what a TV recorder could do. But in 2014 it has serious competition.
The latest iteration of the Sky+HD box, with integrated Wi-Fi, is enjoying a user interface overhaul with massively improved search functionality, while free-to-air satellite service Freesat offers Freetime with roll-back EPG and catch-up on both a low-cost zapper (the Humax HB-1000S) and advanced PVR (Humax HDR-110S).
And for terrestrial viewers, there's catch-up rich YouView, available as both a no-strings PVR or as part of a broadband package from both BT and Talk Talk. So is Virgin Media TiVo managing to hold its own under this onslaught?
Virgin Media TiVo: Size and build
From a design point of view, TiVo gets the thumbs up. That aerodynamic matt black cabinet, which measures a relatively compact 370 x 237 x 68mm (w/d/h), still looks futuristically sleek. The use of LEDs is understated and build quality is high.
Connections include HDMI, Scart, two USBs and Ethernet (both currently disabled) and an optical audio output. The viewing card slot is rear mounted.
Virgin Media TiVo: Features
TiVo is available in both 500GB (good for around 50 hours of HD) and 1TB (100 hours of HD) configurations. With three tuners as standard, allowing you to record three programmes simultaneously while watching a fourth, there's good reason to opt for the larger capacity.
TiVo also has its own dedicated 10Mbps modem, which means IPTV use doesn't impact on traffic around the rest of your Virgin broadband fibre network. However, given that Branson's boffins are now offering speeds north of 100Mbps, that dedicated pipe is beginning to look a little tardy.
TiVo will auto record programmes of interest, as guided by the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down functionality provided on the peanut-shaped remote. Thumbnails across the top of the screen provide yet more launch points for browsing viewers. There's a small selection of apps onboard too, the most notable of which is Netflix.
While TiVo and Netflix may seem odd bedfellows, the relationship transpires to make a lot of sense. Unfortunately the version of Netflix on TiVo does not support Profiles. Other apps include YouTube, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport and News, Spotify, plus assorted causal games.
Virgin Media TiVo: Interface
Catch-up and on demand has always been an intrinsic part of TiVo's appeal, and the lush red TiVo interface is entwined with search functionality. Not only can you Series Link shows, you can set up custom Wishlists, so the box will auto record the work of your favourite actors, directors and specialist topics.
It's exceptionally easy to navigate areas of related interest. Search for a particular programme and you'll be shown episodes scheduled for broadcast, alongside availability on VOD and associated YouTube content.
Additional second-screen functionality comes with the Virgin TV Anywhere and TV Guide apps for iOS and Android.
Virgin Media TiVo: Content
When it comes to reasons to view, Virgin Media trades blows pretty equally with rival TV titan Sky, although the latter has marginally more HD channels to choose from. On-Demand is extensive, covering both the four mainstream channels, and extending to dedicated reservoirs of Sky On Demand, Comedy central, Syfy, Universal, Fox and others. New movie releases are available al a carte from the main subscription.
There are 56 HD channels in total including Sky Sports and Sky Movies.
Virgin Media TiVo: Quality
AV quality is first class. As TiVo is cable-based, there are none of the weather outages you might experience with a dish-delivered TV system. Image quality is largely transparent to source, with 1080i HD looking spectacular.
The box also offers Dolby Digital 5.1 when broadcast. How long though, we wonder, before weíll see a 4K upgrade on the platform? Virgin certainly has the infrastructure to deliver UHD. Will it beat Sky to the punch?
Virgin Media TiVo: Verdict
Virgin Media TiVo is a mature, powerful contract TV box, which combines a solid user interface with extensive catch-up and on demand.
The provision of three tuners ensure you'll rarely suffer from recording clashes, and a handy roll-back TV guide is there if you do. TiVo remains the principal competition for Sky when it comes to Pay TV (although BT is currently going gangbusters), and there's barely a whisker between the two when it comes to content. Coupled to a best in class fibre broadband service and you have a highly desirable telly proposition.
Virgin Media TiVo release date: Available now
Virgin Media TiVo price: Fromt £10 a month for a 500GB TiVo, with a VIP package, 1TB TiVo box and 152Mbps broadband at £50.