Virgin Media recently replaced my V+ box with their new Virgin Media TiVo box.
Let’s get this out the way first. This in no way replaces my Media Center. It doesn’t do music, it can’t store pictures and it most certainly cannot play Blu-Rays. What it does do is record TV and does it far better than the previous V+ box.
The V+ box was clunky. It took a long time to change channels, often lost guide data and didn’t even have a search facility.
The Tivo from the moment it was delivered looked a different matter. It has nice rounded edges and generally looks more 21st century than 18th in terms of design.
Actually looking at the box you wouldn’t know it was a TiVo having only Virgin Media branding on it. The box has HDMI, SP/DIF and surprisingly SCART Outputs. Unlike the V+ it doesn’t seem to have component out which would Hauppauge HD-PVR integration to Media Center interesting.
One other interesting thing is that the TiVo uses exactly the same remote control signals as the old V+ box. This proved awkward for me as I had intended to keep the V+ box and use it in the same room. Although the US Tivos have an option to change the remote codes in use this does not seem to be present on the UK version.
The user interface is based on TiVo’s Premiere Flash Based interface but with a lot of Virgin Tweaks to allow for things like On-Demand content. Most of the screens have been tweaked for HD but there are a number of really jarring changes to SD menus. There are some notable exclusions in what Virgin have provided. For me, the most disappointing thing is that the TiVo2Go functionality that allows you to transfer recordings to a PC is not implemented. From reading recent discussions with Virgin it appears they have no plans for implementing it citing issues with the content providers.
So what does TiVo offer? Switching on the TiVo takes you to the home screen. At the top of this are a set of tiles showing suggested programmes based on Virgin’s recommendations. Below this the main menu. Here you will find the Guide, On Demand, Searching, My Shows, Apps and Games, and Help and Settings.
The Guide is way more usable than the V+ but not as nicely formatted to my mind as the Media Center one – whilst you can easily filter by category there is no colour coding of programme content. Two really nice features are that you can scroll back in time and that anything available on catch-up TV is highlighted and can be selected for playback directly from the guide (one exception to this is BBC TV as the BBC licensing for their iPlayer service only allows it to be used through their own interface).
One really odd thing is if you want to search for a programme from the guide you have to choose the Last Ch button on the remote control. This is just one of quite a few odd navigational choices with the remote like the Skip Back button doubling up as an exit button from some menus but not others. I’m not the greatest fan of the layout of the TiVo peanut style remote supplied and keep finding myself pressing the wrong buttons. To be fair this may improve with familiarity.
Once you have selected a program from the guide to view you can then select the mini-guide by pressing OK this is quite nicely done but has one glaring omission: you cannot see the program details form the mini-guide even the info button doesn’t work. Not a major issue as it is as easy to press the guide button and jump back to the full guide and your TV programme will still appear in a small preview window top right. Well it will unless it is a Sky channel because apparent;y at the moment, and hopefully this will soon change, Sky’s licensing is preventing Virgin from showing their channels in the preview window!
On Demand is very similar to that found on the old V+ box but a lot faster to navigate. The menus here I believe determined by what Virgin’s servers supply. As I have already mentioned the integration of on-demand into the guide is pretty cool.
Recordings are good in TiVo. It is really easy to search for and find a recording. You can record Series using what TiVo calls a Series-Link. You can add Wish-List recordings which are basically keyword recordings which allow you to record things not already in the guide data.
One really neat thing is suggestions. The TiVo remote has two buttons you won’t find on most controls a Thumbs Up and a Thumbs Down button. These allow you to rate programmes you are watching. By looking at this data and also by reviewing what you record the TiVo makes suggestions as to what to record. In fact it goes one further and if it has space will record them for you. My TiVo came with a 1TB drive so it has plenty of space but rest assured that your own recordings will always have priority over the suggestions. I really like the suggestion feature and even after only a few days it is already suggesting some really accurate to my taste programmes.
Apps and Games include the BBC iPlayer app, YouTube, eBay, Twitter, Weather, A celebrity news app and a Millionaire game. Quite limited at the moment but the YouTube integration is nice. From any program’s info page you can select to search for related material on YouTube which works pretty well.
One final thing I should point out is that at the moment the TiVo box doesn’t have any Red Button interactive functionality other than BBC iPlayer.
Overall as a DVR/PVR I am impressed with the TiVo, as I said it is not a Media Center replacement but it is a huge advance over Virgin’s V+ box. There are some strange design decisions on the remote and inconsistencies in the user interface but these are more than outweighed by the improved responsiveness and cool features like suggestions.