When it launched in 2011, Virgin Media’s TiVo box was one of the best set-top boxes around. It brought hitherto unseen features like the ability to ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ shows, and a recommendations feature that was beyond comparison. But that was five years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
We’ve seen the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and Sky has assaulted our eyeballs with Sky Q.
Now Virgin has launched its latest set-top box, the Virgin TV V6, and it comes packing a bundle of new features.
You can record six channels while watching a seventh, for starters. It’s equipped for 4K viewing. And it’s not only half the size, but 10 times faster than its TiVo-toting predecessor. We went hands-on with it – here are our first impressions.
The new UI is available on the old TiVo box as well as the new V6. “It takes us from a text-based menu system to a much more aesthetically pleasing, tiled graphical user interface,” a Virgin Media spokesperson told us during our briefing.
And it certainly looks good. It’s less image-heavy than Sky Q or the new BT YouView update, but it’s bright and colourful, and more visually appealing than its predecessor.
Of course, a UI has to be easy to use. Thanks to the V6’s grunt, you can zip through menus as quickly as you can press the button. There’s no waiting for menus to load.
It also serves up a boatload of curated content. Virgin Media Collections includes lists like Spooky Shows, for example, which includes plenty of zombie-filled fare.
The search function has been overhauled. It now throws up suggestions as you type, like predictive text.
Type S, for example, and all shows beginning with S appear, listed in order of popularity. So ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ appears ahead of ‘Suits’.
But this will vary depending on the time of year – in January, ‘Strictly’ won’t be on air, so won’t be as high in the listings.
Virgin Media made clear it doesn't want to alienate its customers with the new box.
“It’s very important we take our existing customers with us on this journey,” said a spokesperson for the company.
“It was crucial to make the new box backwards compatible with the old one, because it allows existing customers to keep their recordings.”
This is an update to Virgin Media’s SeriesLink, which let you record every episode of a series on a particular channel.
SeriesLink+ takes it a step further. It lets you record every show on a particular channel, as well as every episode on every other channel available, including on-demand and Netflix. These are all collected in one folder in the MyShows section.
It’s simple to do. Just click on the show in the EPG, create a SeriesLink, and a folder will be created in the MyShows section.
With SeriesLink, nothing would appear in the folder until the show was broadcast, but with SeriesLink+, it immediately collects all the available episodes.
You can then sort them by date, or series, so you can start watching at the very beginning.
If you don't have Netflix, episodes on the streaming service will still appear in the MyShows folder, but you won’t be able to access them unless you subscribe.
It’s handy to know what else is available, but we can’t help but feel it could be a little frustrating seeing content that you can’t watch without paying extra.
All TiVo-powered boxes in the home can share content between them. Just go to the hub, and every hard drive will be linked so all your shows can be shared.
Just select the relevant box in the menu, and you can watch all its shows through another box in the house.
“Any recording in the home can play on any box in the home,” the spokesperson said. “So existing customers can watch their old recordings on the new box.”
Another cool feature is the ability to stream the same to show to different boxes at different points.
So if you walk in late to a programme, you won’t have to ask someone what you missed, or wait for it to finish before you can start watching it.
More boxes, more power
Each box can record six shows at once, and has a 1TB hard drive. And for each box you add, you add extra storage and recording capacity – two gives you 2TB and the ability to record 12 channels while watching a 13th and 14th, for example.
It also works with the existing TiVo box, which can record three shows at once while you watch a fourth.
Add a V6 to your existing TiVo set-up – move the TiVo to the bedroom and have the V6 in the lounge, for example – and you can record nine channels at once. Which should be enough for anyone.
“It grows with the family,” said the Virgin Media spokesperson.
The Guide button takes you straight to the electronic programme guide (EPG), so you can scour the list of channels and see what’s on.
There’s a new search button, too, and the remote works over RF, so it’ll still work even if the box is in a cupboard out of sight.
This isn’t a tablet, according to Virgin Media. Rather, it’s a personal smart TV.
The idea is you can move it from room to room and stream from your set-top box, so you can take your telly with you while you do other activities, such as cook, or lie in bed.
It’s 14 inches big, which is quite large, so it’s designed for use in the home rather than taking out and about.
Though you can download shows to it and watch them offline. (If you do so, you have 30 days to watch an episode, and 48 hours from when you first start it playing before it expires.)
In our demo, the screen seemed a bit unresponsive. But the speakers are nice and loud, and the big screen is more suited to watching TV than a smaller tablet.
The adjustable stand on the back is also handy, as it props it up the device so you can watch it on a table.
It comes preloaded with the Virgin Media TV Anywhere app, which has been updated to accommodate the new features. It’s pretty slick, again with a tile-based UI.
Start watching on your TV, and you can pick up where you left off on the TellyTablet, and vice-versa.
It also works as a standard Android tablet, so you can run other apps, web browsers, and play games on it.
This lets you pick a show or film to watch later. Just select the Bookmark option, and the content will appear in the Bookmark folder of MyShows, so you can find it without having to search.
You can bookmark entire series, too.
You can also replace your recordings with bookmarks for content that’s always available online, so you don’t take up valuable storage space on your box.
To do so, just choose the option to delete recordings and replace with bookmarks. Simple as that.
The message from Virgin Media was evolution rather than revolution, and our time with the V6 bears that out. It’s not a complete reinvention of the TiVo box, but it does improve on it in almost every way possible.
It’s smaller, quicker, more capable, and packs 4K to boot. It’s shaping up to be a serious contender for space under your telly.