Is Virgin Media's Tivo any good?
VIRGIN has recently launched a new upgraded box for their TV customers: the Tivo V6 1TB box. Here's what you need to know about the features, prices and how it compares with the older Tivo.
The new Tivo V6 box offers 4K Ultra HD viewing and is 10 times more powerful than the older Tivo box, which should alleviate complaints of previous sluggish performance.
V6 doubles the storage of the older box to 1TB, allowing customers to record up to 500 hours of standard definition programs, or up to 100 hours in HD.
And in line with Tivo's "smart viewing" platform, the V6 box now allows customers to search all services including Netflix for their favourite shows.
But before we get into any more of the box specifications, let's take a quick look at the special offers Virgin Media is currently offering new customers who sign up for their TV service:
Virgin Media Offers
Which Virgin TV packages come with Tivo?
Virgin Media are still offering the Tivo 500GB box and it will work in conjunction with the newer box for multiroom setups.
New customers signing up for any standalone TV package as well as the budget Player Bundle will receive a Tivo 500GB box.
Customers who take any other premade bundle, including the Mix Bundle, Full House Bundle and VIP Bundle will receive the newer Tivo V6 1TB box.
Tivo 500GB box vs Tivo V6 1TB box
Tivo 500GB box
The 500GB Tivo box is the original Tivo and while it's likely Virgin will continue to phase this box out, as mentioned, it's still provided to standalone TV customers and Player Bundle customers.
This box has three tuners that allow customers to record one program at the same time as watching another. The 500GB hard drive can store up to 250 hours of standard definition viewing or 50 hours in HD.
It's also 3D compatible.
Tivo V6 1TB box
The upgraded V6 1TB Tivo box boasts six tuners allowing customers to watch and record even more programs at the same time, and the hard drive storage is also doubled.
Despite the extra storage however, the V6 1TB box is much smaller and more compact than the older Tivo.
Virgin Media have clearly addressed the common complaints of the older Tivo box with this upgrade. By improving processor performance by ten times the new box should alleviate one of the biggest criticisms levelled at the older box: that it's slow and sluggish.
And without doubt to keep pace with Sky's new Sky Q box, the Virgin V6 box is 4K Ultra HD and HDR (High Dynamic Range) ready - giving customers the chance to watch even more realistic images with greater clarity than ever - albeit when that content becomes available.
The new V6 box's remote also sees an upgrade: it uses radio frequency rather than infrared to communicate with the box which means it no longer needs a straight line of sight.
And if it does end up a little too tucked away, it also has a call when lost feature too.
Aside from the standard activation charge for Virgin Media TV of £20, neither Tivo box require any additional costs.
What's so good about Tivo?
Pause, rewind, record
The new V6 box allows customers to record up to six channels at once, while watching a seventh recording, or alternatively record five channels while watching a live program.
That's currently only beaten by Sky Q's 2TB box, which allows customers to record six programs while watching a live seventh.
But Sky Q 2TB comes with a £199 setup fee, whereas the default £20 setup box - Sky Q 1TB - only allows customers to record three shows simultaneously while watching a fourth live.
That's only slightly more than the older Tivo 500GB which allows customers to record up to three channels, while watching a fourth prerecorded program.
And if six tuners still isn't enough, the new V6 box also offers the ability to bolster the number of simultaneous recordings even further by using a second V6 box with a multiroom subscription.
4K Ultra HD and HDR viewing
While the Tivo 500GB box is HD and 3D content ready, the newer V6 box also offers compatibility with 4K Ultra HD and HDR content.
Depending on which Virgin Media TV package customers take, they'll get at least 10 HD channels, mostly from the free to air broadcasters, and up to 68 HD channels with the larger bundles, when including Sky Sports and Sky Cinema.
For 3D viewers Virgin offers 3D movies on their pay to view collection.
While there isn't a lot of 4K Ultra HD or HDR content available yet, customers who take the V6 box will be ready when it is.
The intelligent recommendation function is where Tivo really differs from Sky.
Both Sky and Virgin's TV guides offer suggestions based on what we've previously recorded or bookmarked, but Tivo goes one step further.
Tivo learns from both the positive and negative ratings we give shows - so as well as offering us the chance to say we like or even love a program, we get to slate the stuff we wish had never been commissioned.
We can give as many as three thumbs up to the TV we love (Sherlock) and a maximum of three thumbs down to programmes we can't stand (TOWIE).
Like Netflix and Amazon, Tivo should then learn what we like and can work out what else we'll enjoy - and just as importantly, what we really don't want to see, and will suggest and even record the ones it thinks we'll like.
For example, if we like and record Family Guy, the Tivo box will probably record American Dad! and The Cleveland Show for us.
For those who also have a Netflix subscription, the magic doesn't end there. The Tivo box should search both the channels in our TV subscription and the entire Netflix catalogue to find recommendations from both, and keep them by.
Those of us who keep odd hours, then, or who have been left bereft by the end of yet another Scandi crime drama, will always find something in our "suggestions" folder regardless of what's on live TV.
Like Sky Q, it has a wish list feature, based on simple search terms.
The most obvious example is the title of a show that's vanished from the mainstream channels - say Friends, Jonathan Creek, Marvel's Agents of Shield.
As soon as any of the channels in our subscription - even the really obscure ones buried in the depths of the channel list - shows a program matching that search term, the box will flag it and record it.
Alternatively, we can search by actor or director, so Scorsese buffs and Channing Tatum fans alike will never miss out.
TV Anywhere and mobile remotes
Customers with iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, Android mobiles and Android tablets featuring v4.1 or above, can live stream some - but not all - of the channels in their subscription to their mobile devices using the Virgin TV Anywhere app.
In addition to this, Virgin TV Anywhere allows customers to use their mobiles as remote controls for the Tivo box - so when we're out and a friend reminds us of that new series we fancied watching, no problem!
Tivo's intelligent suggestion facility means this shouldn't be as much of an issue as it might otherwise be, but it's a great back-up system.
If it turns out that our box's storage is running low, we can use the app to delete those old episodes or its less accurate suggestions as well.
Catch up TV
People with Tivo have two ways to access the free-to-air channels' catch up services: through individual apps for BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and My 5, or through the TV guide.
With the 500GB Tivo box, there have been complaints about lags and lower quality content when using the apps, and the fact that the apps themselves are difficult to find in a tricky-to-navigate system.
The alternative is, as mentioned, using the TV guide to scroll back through the past seven days' listings. Any program available through catch up will have a little C symbol next to it: select that program and it'll load up for you.
There's also the option to plump for additional Tivo boxes, five maximum, via Virgin Media's multiroom service with prices starting at £7.50 extra, per box, per month and an activation cost of £49.95. Although additional activation costs may apply to those taking more than one extra box.
Multiroom viewing allows subscribers to watch content recorded on one box on another and as all boxes have access to the same channels, other people in the house can watch a different show at the same time on a different box.
Unlike lesser set top boxes, Tivo is capable of recording back-to-back programs without losing the final moments of one or the starting moments of another.
When we record two programs, one straight after the other, there's a brief period when the recordings overlap - for this brief period we're recording two things at once.
Tivo will keep recording each channel using the already assigned tuner, and separate the programs after the fact.
As mentioned in the comments below, this means that even with the three tuner box it's technically possible to have six recordings going at once - with the end buffers of the earlier programs all recording at the same time as the opening buffers of the subsequent programs.
When one of the back-to-back recordings is on one more channel than Tivo can handle, it will ask which recording to risk - and if it's going to be a repeated issue we'll be given the chance to reprioritise future recordings.
If we're not in, we'll need to use TV Anywhere app on our mobile to reschedule one of the recordings, or hope that the box really does know what we like.
Known problems with Tivo
One of the main gripes about Tivo is that the interface is not quite as intuitive as it might be.
Most of us want to dive in and start playing with the new box straight away - but this is one toy it's worth taking our time with.
Read the guide that comes with it, otherwise there's a very good chance of spending ages doing things the slow way and missing out on half of what Tivo can do.
Slow to react
While it seems Virgin have addressed previous complaints about the slow and sluggish performance of the older Tivo box by improving the processor power of the new V6 Tivo box by ten times, we mention it here for anyone concerned about performance.
As you can see in the comments below, we've heard from a number of Virgin customers who've had issues with the speed at which the Tivo 500GB box reacts to commands, from loading menus to simple commands like "play".
As the apps aren't the easiest to find, this can make loading a program from Netflix or BBC iPlayer more frustrating than we would like.
When we raised the issue with Virgin last year, they said that despite it being frustrating for those it affects, "the numbers complaining of this problem is actually very small."
They went on to say:
"We are always looking at ways to improve our Tivo services and offerings, including regular software updates and the introduction of new content and apps."
All we can say to anyone concerned - or currently experiencing the issue - is increased speed has been addressed by Virgin as one of the main selling points of the V6 box.
However, if you have upgraded to or recently taken out a Virgin subscription with a V6 Tivo box do share in the comments how it performs compared to the older box.
You can't go back
Finally, there is one more very real danger with Tivo: it'll leave you unable to watch linear television ever again.
Got a point of view on Tivo? Let us know in the comments below.