Is Virgin Media's Tivo any good?

samantha smith
By Samantha Smith

virgin media tv v6 remote controlVirgin Media

VIRGIN'S Tivo may be facing stiff competition, but thanks to a number of recent advancements, they are still some of the best TV boxes around.

The latest Tivo box, the Virgin TV V6 box, is even 4K HDR ready, meaning it's capable of streaming the most cutting edge content available.

Here we review the key features, both old and new, as well as the pros and cons that Virgin's Tivo boxes offer subscribers.

Before we begin it's worth pointing out that Virgin no longer charge a monthly rental fee of £5 for the box. Instead this is now included in the overall price of their TV packages, for both their standalone deals and readymade Big Bundles.

Virgin Media Tivo offers

First let's have a look at some of the offers available for new Virgin customers:

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
virgin media TV, broadband and phone bundles from £32 a month Virgin's TV, broadband and phone bundles.12-month contract.
£20 activation fee.
virgin media Broadband and phone from £32 a month Virgin's broadband and phone bundles.12 month contract.
£20 activation fee.

The boxes

Virgin customers are currently given one of two boxes when taking a TV package: the Tivo 500GB box, which now comes as standard with all stand alone TV plans as well as the Player Bundle, or the new Virgin TV V6 box that accompanies all triple play packages from the Mix Bundle upwards.

The V6 box has replaced the old Tivo 1TB box and whilst it offers the same amount of storage it's more advanced in most other respects. Here's a closer look at what the current two boxes offer:

Tivo 500GB

virgin media tivo box Virgin Media Tivo

The 500GB box is the original Tivo. It has three tuners and can store up to 250 hours of SD recordings and 50 hours of HD in total. It's also 3D compatible.

Tivo V6 1TB

virgin media tivo v6 Virgin Media Tivo V6

The name may throw people off but this box is still powered by Tivo and boasts many of its much-loved features.

Most noticeably the V6 box is smaller in physical size to Virgin's standard Tivo box but contains twice the storage space and six tuners.

Plus as we might expect from a box designed to compete with the likes of Sky Q, it's Ultra HD compatible - and HDR ready, as we explain here.

Virgin and Tivo say that it is as much as 10 times faster than the older box - which should answer one of the biggest criticisms levelled at the technology by existing users.

The remote is also designed to be less frustrating: rather than infrared, it uses an RF signal to beam commands to the box - which means no more having to hold the remote at just the right angle: button presses should be picked up by the box even if it's tucked out of sight.

As mention above, it only comes with triple play deals from the Mix bundle upwards. This is because the V6 requires an internet speed of 100Mb, which is the minimum internet speed Virgin's larger bundles come with.

Beyond Virgin's one-off standard activation charge of £20, neither box comes with any additional costs.

Box Recording Features Upfront cost
Tivo 500GB 250 hours SD OR 50 hours HD Three tuners
HD and 3D compatible
£20
Tivo V6 1TB 500 hours SD OR 100 hours HD Six tuners
HD, UHD and 3D compatible
HDR ready
£20

The pros

Pause, rewind, record, record, record

Back in the early days of digital TV, it was a big deal to be able to pause and rewind live TV.

Pay TV customers are right to expect this as standard nowadays - even Freeview users can watch with a delay of up to 30 minutes.

As we might expect from Virgin Media, the Tivo boxes also give us access to a variety of free and paid for on demand content, ranging from catch up TV to box sets, movie rentals, and more.

As mentioned above, the older Tivo has a triple tuner, letting us record up to three different programmes or channels at once - more than any other pay TV set top box was capable of until the arrival of Sky Q, which we look at in more detail here.

Tivo V6 has wrestled the crown back again, with its six tuners that allow users to record up to six channels at the same time whilst watching a seventh. There's also the ability to bolster the number of simultaneous recordings further by adding another Tivo box with a multiroom subscription.

HD, Ultra HD, and beyond

Depending on which package customers take (there's more on those in our main review of Virgin Media TV here), they'll get at least 10 HD channels, mostly from the free to air broadcasters, and up to 68, including Sky Sports and Sky Cinema.

The boxes are also 3D compatible, allowing Virgin to offer 3D movies in their pay to view collection.

And while BT and Sky initially beat Virgin to providing ultra HD content, the V6 box is ultra HD compatible - and HDR ready - ahead of the arrival of broadcasts in even higher quality.

Personalised selections

But the intelligent recommendation function is where Tivo really differs from Sky. Both offer suggestions based on what we've previously recorded or bookmarked, but Tivo goes one further.

It 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 programme, 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+ and 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 programme 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.

Your phone is your remote

Those with iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, Android mobiles running v2.3.3 or higher, or Android tablets featuring v4.0 or above, can live stream some - but not all - of the channels in their subscription to their devices via the TV Anywhere app.

In addition to this, the app allows us to use our phones 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.

Reasonable cost

Because some kind of Tivo box is now the only option available to Virgin Media TV customers, the £5 a month rental is basically part of the main subscription cost.

Those who want to get the best possible value from Virgin Media should consider bundling services, which can significantly reduce the effective cost of each part of the deal - especially if we like the look of one of Virgin's Big Bundles, listed below:

Bundle TV, broadband and phone Contract term Upfront cost Monthly price
Virgin Media Player Bundle 70+ channels
Up to 100Mb
Talk Weekends
12 months £20 £32
for 12 mths,
then £45
Virgin Media Mix Bundle 150+ channels
Up to 100Mb
Talk Weekends
12 months £20 £39
for 12 mths,
then £52
Virgin Media Fun Bundle 190+ channels
Up to 100Mb
Talk Weekends
12 months £20 £49
for 12 mths,
then £57
Virgin Media Full House Bundle 245+ channels
Up to 200Mb
Talk Weekends
12 months £20 £55
for 12 mths,
then £73
Virgin Media VIP Bundle 245+ channels + Sky Cinema + Sky Sports (in HD)
Up to 200Mb
Talk More Anytime
12 months £20 £85
for 12 mths,
then £120

More than one way to catch up

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 programme available through catch up will have a little C symbol next to it: select that programme 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 £5 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.

Back-to-back recordings

With lesser set top boxes a slight technicality can take the gloss off the ability to record multiple programmes at once.

Think about it. When we record two programmes, one straight after the other, there's a brief period when the recordings overlap - preventing us from losing the end or beginning of a programme running early or late. For this brief period we're recording two things at once.

Imagine wanting to record both BBC2 and ITV1 programmes at 9 o'clock and 10 o'clock. At precisely 9:59 the box will try to record four things at once, and will sacrifice the end or beginning of at least one of them.

Tivo is cleverer than that. When back-to-back recordings are scheduled on the same channel, Tivo will keep recording each channel using the already assigned tuner, and separate the programmes 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 programmes on BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4 all recording at the same time as the opening buffers of the 10pm programmes.

When one of the back-to-back recordings is on one more channel than our box can handle, it'll ask us 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 to reschedule one of the recordings, or hope that the box really does know what we like.

The cons

Attention required

One of the main gripes about Tivo is that the interface is not quite as intuitive as it might be.

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.
Virgin Media statement

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

Another common complaint aimed at the older box is that once they've got the hang of using it, many users have issues with the speed - or lack of it - at which it reacts to commands, from loading menus to simple commands like "play".

As the apps aren't the easiest to find, this can make loading something from Netflix or iPlayer rather more frustrating than we would like when it comes to a supposedly competition-beating piece of kit.

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."

The increased speed is one of the main selling points of the V6 box: if you have one we'd be interested in hearing 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 different point of view on Tivo? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

1
8 July 2017
Greatdane

Absolute rubbish, previous box was much better. Clearer screen, more logical. This new one has text that looks as though it been written by a 3 year old. Ridiculous pastel colours, making it difficult to see the important stand out options. A wishy washy dolly mixture mess. Slow. Don't subscribe. I just want the old TiVo back, but unable to do so. If it wasn't for the spectacularly ugly Sky dish I would opt for that! Thank goodness for Kodi...

2
16 May 2017
Pete Helliwell

No 'back' button to undo whatever inappropriate selection you just made because the box just caught up, or to return to the previous channel. You cannot just set a program to turn over . The menus are far too complex and laggy. The upgrade path does not allow preservation of recordings from old V+ box.

3
15 May 2017
Catherine White

Our TiVo box is a disaster. We had an old V+ box that worked very well, then we had a letter from Virgin saying that unless we upgraded to a TiVo box by April 2017 then we may find our service would stop working. ... so we got the TiVo box. Biggest mistake ever.
It's slow, even for the most basic functions. A lot slower than our old V+ box.
For most of the past month we haven't been able to get Channel 4 catch-up. Countrywide problem with TiVo apparently! There are glitchy problems with it that are intermittent so we haven't been able to persuade Virgin to replace it. We are constantly resetting it!

4
25 November 2016
Jim Hobin

Had Sky for 8 years. Very few problems but broadband speed was pretty awful at times. Deserted them and had Virgin installed. Big mistake. Broadband speed great. TiVo box absolute rubbish. Compared to Sky+ box it's in the dark ages. Far too much clutter in it. Far too slow. Simple things like deleting a programme. Press delete and it then asks if you want to delete this programme. Think that's why I pressed delete in the first place! Numerous other examples.
Yesterday I lost the signal for the whole day. No broadband or TV.
Never happened with Sky.
Unfortunately I am on an 18 month contract but will be ditching it at the first opportunity.

5
29 September 2016
Alistair Gilbert

Lots of problems, e.g. slow and locking up.
V+ was miles quicker - do a search for 'slow Tivo', even on the virginmedia community site there are loads of comments on this. Go with another provider or get Freeview/Freesat or just get Virgin Broadband, nothing wrong with that.

6
29 September 2016
PPH seller

We've had a Tivo for a few years now and I wouldn't be without it. The machine records series for us and upcoming films, etc. Even the recommendations it records for us are reasonable. So that side is great.

On the downside.. over the years it's got slower and slower and the UI has become more and more complex. It can take a long time to switch between functions, it can take ages to navigate through the menus. It's a pain. It's lag-city.

The box is clearly under-powered for what it's being asked to do. When we first had the Tivo I didn't feel this way, so I think it's just been over-developed for the hardware. The underlying technology is pretty old now, I would think.

We have an Apple TV too. It doesn't do the same things as the Tivo, but every time I use it, it's snappy - delay free and a joy to use. Often it makes me think how good it is compared to the Tiko.

Tiko needs an overhaul and I think Virgin will probably release a new box at some stage that supports 4K.

Would I suggest people have a Tiko? I would - but prepare for the slowness and spend a little time getting to know the interface. It's not that hard, even if the lag is frustrating.

7
30 August 2016
Tony Webster

Dreadful - leave well alone. Never really worked out how to use it and Virgin never seemed keen to explain

8
19 August 2016
Richard

Absolutely awful. It was bad when it came out and now it is actually even worse thanks to the terrible and bloated updates. VM will not hear a bad word about it, so no chance of getting a good box like Sky, BT or TalkTalk offer any time soon. Don't do it, if I had an easy phone line option away from VM, I would jump ship in a heartbeat.

9
16 August 2016
Ron Wheeler

Virgin's Tivo is a clunky slow trainwreck. Support for third party apps like BBC iPlayer is unusable. On an internet connected device, why can't it tell if a sports programme is delayed / extended? No 4K. Regularly fails to record upcoming shows. Slow - slow - slow, nasty unresponsive 90s tech still being flogged in 2016..

10
26 June 2016
Jo

We've had Virgin in the past, then went to Sky and got on fine with both the V+ and Sky+ boxes. We moved back to Virgin for better internet and thought the box would be an upgrade of V+.... but Tivo is useless. I find myself watching things on demand by running iPlayer and the like off my laptop and using my tv as a monitor, rather than dealing with Tivos awkward and slow menus.

11
13 June 2016
Roger La Haye

We have the upgraded Tivo and I agree with Chris - it's a trainwreck. The delay in bringing up the news is astonishingly slow. I definitely prefer Sky even if it isn't so "intelligent" - at least it doesn't suffer from a self deluded belief that it can do things that it then struggles to complete.

12
10 February 2016
TaxiMike

The Tivo box is soo pants compared to Sky.
It's fine once you are watching what you want, but going in and out of the menu's is a mess and really really slow. They need to fix this, especially with Sky launching their new box.

13
7 February 2016
Arnet Donkin

I just quite simply don't understand how to use it!!!!! I wish that I could cancel but I can't (which isn't what the Virgin salesman told me when he called to persuade me to upgrade my package from broadband only - a broad-faced lie!); When I try to stream a film it continually buffers so I've given up doing that.. the rest of viewing I get on freeview anyway. Stay away from Virgin

14
2 February 2016
JB

TiVo is a million times better than SKY+, granted some people have issues (this will always happen with mass use of technology) . Do you think every sky customer is happy with the performance of their box..of course not! options are convoluted, agreed. However every step of the way you have options where as with sky it's do or don't. Sky have had over 20 years to finesse their user interface whereas TiVo has been in the UK for 5/6 years only. it's like trying to compare an old analogue (brick) phone to the latest smartphone. TiVo can do soo much more therefore it's bound to be more complicated until you get used it. I've had it for 2 years now and still find new stuff it can do. I agree with those that say it has a speed lapse but remember it has a platform that has to be compatible with different companies products ranging from apps/games, On demand, catch up players and also Windows and Apple platforms. Most of the issues mentioned below sound like faults that people are putting up with rather than getting fixed (if you don't do anything about it, stop complaining about it). Oh and Virgin Media don't charge for call outs or replacing equipment whether you are in a contract or not! If you're not in a contract with sky and don't pay them a monthly amount (rip-off alert) they will ask you for your hard earned money to fix THEIR service and products!
For the lady that mentioned the popping sound annoying her...you can switch it off love, that option is there for people with vision impairments.

3 June 2016
MBA

I absolutely agree with JB. I have been using a 500Gb Tivo box for about 4 years now and I wouldn't be without it. I've tried BT's offering, and that truly was pants! I have also used Sky and of the 3 of those services that I have personal experience of, Tivo is by far the most superior.

15
24 January 2016
Margaret Gilfillan

Just got a Tivo box yesterday { its middle of the night now } and in the middle of a film it goes off and the words "Starting Up" appear on screen. Then it kept going back to the start of a 5 minute countdown and flashing The words "Starting Up" again and again. So not even a day or night of use out of this piece of junk and I want to bin it already. Virgin Media can have it back now I know why they were paying me to take it hmmm!!!!! Yep, my bill went down in cost so long as I took this joke of a box and the new Modem for my internet.

16
14 January 2016
Rebecca

All of the below - plus! Unbelievably slow, totally unintuitive - insult added to injury by that b----y popping noise. It drives me demented. Whose idiotic idea is that?

17
6 January 2016
Hazel Bishop

I would join Virgin media, only if i could get a V+ box and not a tivo. Seen them working in friends houses, I have seen first hand how bad they are, would avoid like the plague.

18
28 December 2015
Chris Feltham

It's a train wreck - steer clear. I am on the verge of cancelling my subscription due to all of the problems listed below by others. The box is slow, unreliable, unresponsive, frustrating... the "intelligence" in program recording is a joke - the box insists on recording programs I have zero interest and have consistently "thumbs downed"... I'm starting to think the thing is possessed. Maybe I should try an exorcism.

9 May 2016
Graham John Hunt

I don't have any of the above problems so must be a setting problem in settings.

19
27 December 2015
Jon

The review mentions about back-to-back recordings not meaning 3 programs at once, but actually 2. This isn't quite right - if back-to-back recordings are scheduled, TiVo will realise this and use the same tuner to record them, stitching them together within its "brain". So actually you could feasibly record 6 programs at once in this scenario. All while watching something else either recorded or via iPlayer streaming if you fancy - or you could record two channels back-to-back and use the third tuner for live-TV.

31 December 2015
Choose team

Thanks for your comment - that's really useful to know. We've updated the article to incorporate your points.

20
22 December 2015
m1kes

The original TiVo was great but unfortunately Virgin's implementation of it has just gone from bad to worse and almost unusable. Just search for slow Virgin TiVo on Google.

It's just OK for just watching live TV and recorded stuff, but the menus are slow, accessing catch up is bad, and the apps like Netflix and youtube are unusable, painfully slow and unreliable.

If you want to watch catch up services or use Netflix then any smart TV tablet or PC will do it much much better, don't bother with the TiVo it's just painful.

Virgin are in complete denial about the state of their TiVo service, it needs new updated hardware and/or a complete rewrite to improve performance.

Meanwhile they just tell you to reboot it constantly as a short term 'fix'.

21
12 December 2015
Mikey123

We ordered a Tivo to replace the older Virgin box. We are tempted by the significant monthly savings. Unfortunately the response times when pressing buttons are unsettling. Most of using iPlayer via the app was painfully slow and it kept pausing to catch up during playback of catch up TV. All very annoying and we had to send it back as unfit for purpose. The downside being we also had to go back to the old higher tariff. Shame they have made a pigs ear of what was a great reliable catch up service on iPlayer.

9 May 2016
Graham John Hunt

Don't have any of the above problems.

22
30 November 2015
john

More complicated than Sky even watching a film on demand if you pause it longer than 10 mins it goes off and you have to start the film again or fast it forward again and who ever designed the remote needs a slap.

23
14 March 2015
kuffs2205

Tivo UI is like pulling teeth but more painful. They must have worked so hard to make it as slow as it is. Every button press results in a 3 to 5 second delay minimum before it responds. I gave up on the catch up. Ridiculously convoluted to use. The Netflix feature you mentioned has never occurred for me.

24
6 March 2015
moggie63

Great isn't it? Except it isn't. Compared to the Sky+ box the Tivo is ridiculously convoluted, you need to press 10 buttons where one will do on the Sky box and you can't record catchup TV to watch at a later date. It's perhaps the MOST unintuitive object I have ever had the misfortune to try and use!


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