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virgin media tivo hero

Virgin Media has confirmed it will launch a new 4K set-top box this year. And about time, many would say.

Its TiVo box launched back in 2011, when Manchester City were Premier League champions and the iPhone 4S was the latest must-have handset. A lot has happened since then.

Netflix has arrived in the UK (as has Amazon Prime Video). BT Sport has launched as a real rival to Sky Sports. And Sky has hit back with its excellent, but expensive Sky Q next-gen TV service. All of which means that if it wants to win over customers, Virgin has a lot to do.

But if it follows our wish list, we think it could have a winner on its hands. Pay attention Virgin, this is what we'd like to see.

1 A new remote control

tivo remote virgin media

Having a decent remote control is crucial for any set-top box. The remote is how we interact with the device, so it needs to be tactile and user-friendly.

Virgin Media's TiVo remote might look a little long in the tooth nowadays – as any six-year-old remote control does – but it did bring one innovation: the 'thumbs-up' and 'thumbs-down' buttons.

These let you tell the box what you thought of what you just watched. TiVo then recommends more shows that are similar to what you like, and avoids serving up anything similar to what you dislike.

sky q hands-on remote control

It's just that buttons feel a bit 2010. Nowadays the spread of smartphones and tablets means that pretty much everyone is au fait with touchscreens.

While we don't necessarily want to see a remote control that looks just like a smartphone, we do want a more innovative and user-friendly way of controlling set top boxes than pressing clunky buttons.

Sky Q's touch-sensitive pad takes a bit of getting used to, but after a couple of minutes you'll find it a much more intuitive way to zip around the menu. Here's hoping Virgin Media has something equally cool up its sleeve.

2 Option to record more channels simultaneously

Sky Q has a staggering 12 tuners. Two of these are set aside for streaming to tablets, two for streaming to the Sky Q Mini set-top boxes, one for receiving UI data, one for picture-in-picture feeds and one for yet-to-announced services promised for the future.

That leaves five, of which one is for live TV and the other four are for recordings.

In other words, you can watch a channel live while recording four others.

Virgin Media's TiVo box, however, only has three tuners, meaning you can record two channels while watching a third, or record three while watching a fourth you recorded earlier.

This needs updating, and pronto.

3 Portable recordings

sky q and sky q silver

Sure, Virgin Media's Virgin TV Anywhere app lets you watch live TV on your phone or tablet, as well as manage your recordings.

But you can't take recordings with you. And as anyone who's ever sat through a long car journey with a child will tell you, this is a boon for keeping them occupied.

Not only does Sky Q let you start watching on your Sky Q box and then carry on on a Sky Q Mini box in another room, or on a tablet, it also lets you take recordings with you on your tablet.

That's ideal for watching where you don't have a mobile signal. And if you do have reception? You can watch live and on-demand content while you're out and about.

The feature should be coming to smartphones soon too.

Thankfully Virgin Media looks set to employ the same feature. Before Christmas, it sent a questionnaire to existing customers asking what they would like to see in a new set-top box.

Features included the ability to "download recordings on [a] mobile/tablet to watch offline". Those long car journeys will just fly by.

Thankfully Virgin Media looks set to employ the same feature.

Before Christmas, it sent a questionnaire to existing customers asking what they would like to see in a new set-top box.

Features included the ability to "download recordings on [a] mobile/tablet to watch offline". Those long car journeys will just fly by.

4 More appealing, more visual menus

sky q hands-on 2

Gone are the days when viewers were content with a user interface straight from a travel tavern's in-house TV system.

We want to get the most from our 4K tellies, and that includes while navigating the menu. We want big, bold, bright images. We want things to move to keep us engaged.

Basically, we want services to put a lot more effort into their menus.

Netflix is a good model. Last summer, it updated its TV apps to bring video forward in the UI. Select a title – even if you're just flicking through – and the TV show or film will start playing without you pressing a thing.

Admittedly it's only a clip, but it gives you much more of a flavour of what's on offer than any written description can.

5 4K with HDR for better image quality during dark scenes


OK, we know Virgin's next box will be able to show content in 4K, but what about HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It's the same technology your phone's camera uses to give you better snaps.

Basically, it's able to represent a greater contrast ratio – the difference between light and dark parts of an image – than non-HDR.

This stops the light parts being blown out and overexposed, and the dark parts being murky and not clearly visible.

The result? Scenes in which you can make out what's happening in both the light and dark parts, hence adding more depth to the image.

Netflix has pledged support for the technology, as has Amazon Prime Video. Sky has kept mum on exact details for Sky Q, but we're sure to find out this summer when it [rolls out its 4K broadcasts](when it rolls out its 4K broadcasts.).

If Virgin wants to keep step with the competition, HDR is a must.

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