Virgin Media has launched its new set-top box, the V6. Packing 4K, the ability to record six channels while watching a seventh, and with a new remote and refreshed user interface, it's taking the fight to Sky Q.
The new, smaller box
The new box is a lot smaller than its predecessor, and supports the 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution – that packs four times as many pixels as Full HD, making for a much sharper image. Netflix and YouTube are available in 4K from launch, with "more programming coming soon".
The V6 is also compatible with High Dynamic Range (HDR), which is a relatively new technology to the lounge. HDR gives a picture with a lot more depth, making scenes look more lifelike. The V6's main rival, Sky Q, is equipped for 4K, but not HDR.
To take advantage of these technologies, you'll need a 4K TV that's HDR compatible.
The V6 can record six channels while showing a seventh, which is a feature that will be coming to Sky Q next year, Sky recently announced. You can watch your recordings on other V6 boxes around the home, or on your smartphone or tablet using a feature which is very similar to Sky Q's Fluid Viewing.
The V6 is compatible with Virgin Media's original TiVo box, so you can keep your recordings and transfer settings when you upgrade.
The user interface is also a lot more visual. It's now tile-based, with more images. And users of the old TiVo box aren't being left out. Virgin Media has said the existing TiVo user interface will get a refresh to bring it in line with the new one.
It has 1TB of storage, which will hold 500 hours of standard definition recordings, or 100 hours of high definition. Each additional V6 box you add will bring another 1TB of storage, as well as the ability to record another six channels at once.
There's a new remote, too. While it looks very similar to the old one, there are some changes. It's smaller, for one thing, and has a new search button which makes it quicker to find what you want.
It uses RF, rather than infrared. That means it'll still work even if the V6 box is out of sight, in a cupboard, say.
It's easy to find, too. Press a button on the V6 box and the remote will beep so you can find it.
The V6 will be available to existing Virgin Media customers on a Mix bundle or higher before the end of the year. New customers can order the V6 from January.
It costs £99.95 as a one-off upfront cost. But new and existing customers with a top-tier Full House or VIP bundle can get it for just £49.95.
That's not the only hardware Virgin Media launched today. The TellyTablet is a 14-inch tablet that Virgin calls a "personal smart TV". It's designed as a portable telly you can move from room to room. When watched up close, it supposedly gives the same viewing experience as a 50-inch TV.
The device has four speakers, 32GB of memory (which is expandable using a microSD card) and eight hours of battery life.
The Virgin TV Anywhere app comes preinstalled on the TellyTablet, but it can also access the Google Play Store, giving Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Netflix and Hayu.
The TellyTablet will be available in December. It costs £299 upfront, but if you choose a Freestyle bundle with Virgin Mobile, you can spread the cost over 24 months.
Not to be outdone by BBC iPlayer Kids and Sky Kids, Virgin Media launched a kids' app this morning, too. The app brings together over 1,500 hours of kids' on-demand shows like 'SpongeBob SquarePants' and 'Peppa Pig', as well as games and e-books. And all with no adverts or in-app purchases.
Kids can personalise the app with their own profile, complete with avatar and nickname. They can reskin it with different colours, should they not like the Virgin Media red.
Shows can be downloaded to a device to be watched in the car. And a safe mode locks the kids into the app, so parents can rest assured they're not exiting it and looking at inappropriate content online.
There's even a feature to answer the dreaded "Again!" request from kids. Press one button and the same show will play five times in a row. That won't get annoying.
The Virgin TV Kids app will launch in February, and will be free to customers on a Fun bundle or above.
There's a new Virgin Media Store, too. This lets customers buy films and boxsets that otherwise aren't available from Virgin Media (either because they're too new, or because they're under contract to another provider). When you buy a film digitally, the firm will post you a copy of the DVD, too. You can access the Virgin Media Store through the V6 and original TiVo boxes, through a browser or through the Virgin Media Store app for iOS and Android.
'Billions' and 'Game of Thrones' are two of the shows that will be available through the Virgin Media Store.
The Virgin Media Store will launch in February, and will also be available to non-Virgin Media customers.
Revamped TV Anywhere
Virgin Media has also revamped its TV Anywhere app. The app – for iOS and Android – has had a refresh, so customers can watch on-demand shows and some recordings from their V6 on their phone or tablet over the home Wi-Fi network. Some boxsets and live TV are also available out of the home. It can be used to remotely set, cancel and delete recordings, too. And you can sync some recordings from the V6 box to watch offline.
TV Anywhere can also be used as a remote control. Find a show you want to watch, and you can 'flick' it to the TV. And hey presto, it plays on the big screen.
A familiar yet improved service
At the London launch this morning (which was hosted by TV legend Andi Peters), Virgin Media said it wanted to offer customers a familiar yet improved service.
"It's definitely an evolution rather than a revolution," said David Bouchier, Virgin Media's chief digital officer. "We want to bring with us our existing customers. We don't want to alienate those who are familiar with the TiVo user experience."
Taking a dig at Sky Q's user interface, he went on: "For example, you won't find that BBC One is seven clicks away. Or that we've buried the EPG [electronic programme guide] behind the products and services that we want to promote.
"We've researched very carefully what's important to our customers and how to simplify their viewing."
Read our full Virgin Media TV V6 hands-on review