Is Virgin Media's Tivo any good?
"I'm thinking of getting Virgin Media TV with my broadband but they want to charge me £5 a month for the Tivo box. Is it worth it?"
Yes, Virgin Media charge rental of £5 a month for their Tivo boxes.
But it's no longer an additional charge; it's included in the prices they quote for their TV packages, from standalone deals to their readymade Big Bundles.
The "£5 extra" is a hangover from the days when Virgin still offered a basic single tuner box, the V HD; anyone choosing that would pay £5 a month less than someone with the same channels and Tivo.
Given the extra features that Tivo offered over the V HD box, we're firmly of the opinion that the extra cost was worth it. It's been described as "like Sky+" but it's actually somewhat more than that.
It lets us record up to six different channels at once, it's frighteningly clever, and it offers users more than one way to catch up on programmes they've somehow missed.
Virgin Media Tivo Offers
Before we go any further, let's have a look at some of the offers available for new Virgin customers:
And their other current offers:
There are two options for those thinking of going down the Tivo route: the 500GB box which comes as standard with all Virgin Media TV packages, or the new V6 box with a 1TB drive.
The V6 box has replaced the old "better" Tivo box, which also had 1TB of storage - but it offers far more than extra space for recordings. Here's a quick look at how they differ:
The 500GB box is the original Tivo. It has three tuners and can store up to 250 hours of SD recordings.
It's HD and 3D compatible, and there's no activation charge.
Tivo V6 1TB
The V6 box is smaller than the old box but contains twice the storage space - 1TB - and six tuners. 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's 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.
At present it's only available to those taking Mix TV or above combined with at least 100Mb broadband; there's also a one-off £99.95 activation fee.
|Tivo 500GB||250 hours SD OR 50 hours HD||Three tuners
HD and 3D compatible
|Tivo V6 1TB||500 hours SD OR 100 hours HD||Six tuners
HD, UHD and 3D compatible
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 - and with the ability to bolster the number of simultaneous recordings by adding another Tivo 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 67, 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 have beaten 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.
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.
In addition to this, the TV Anywhere app allows us to use our phones as truly remote controllers 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.
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:
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 older version of the box, there have been complaints about the lag and lower quality of the content 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 a second Tivo box via Virgin Media's multiroom service - which allows subscribers to watch content recorded on one box on the other.
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.
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
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.