Virgin Media TiVo First Impressions

if you’re a Virgin Media customer, you’ve probably already been irritated by a pop up box extolling the virtues of their shiny new TiVo box. With Sky and Virgin having provided us satellite and cable DVRs for years, you’d be forgiven for wondering why you should bother with the TiVo which, at a glance, appears to offer little over the regular V+ box.

To answer this very question I have laid my hands upon a TiVo box to find out what all the fuss is about.

The technically initiated might have heard about the TiVo, but this is the first time its been backed up with such a comprehensive TV service in the UK. requiring Virgin’s XL package, plus an additional but small fee on top its an expensive endeavour for early adopters, making the questions around its worth all the more pertinent. If you must stay on the cusp of technology, however, I hasten to say that the new TiVo is a must have. in just a couple of days I’ve enjoyed the benefits of the box and met with some of its drawbacks and omissions- many of which will hopefully be fixed in a future software update.

First off, Slingbox SOLO owners will be happy that the TiVo box still has a SCART output but disappointed that there’s not yet an updated remote to properly control their new box. If the Slingbox is an essential part of your setup then you might want to hold out until there’s a remote definition available.

Second, the TiVo will replace your existing box, so make sure you’ve watched any recorded shows. You’ll have to spend a few minutes re-scheduling your recordings, too, and I really recommend having a browse through the available shows and “Thumbs Up” the ones you like. If there is a genre of TV you particularly despise then it would be a good idea to attack some shows with a triple-whammy of “Thumbs Down”. I gave every reality TV abomination I could find a thorough mark of disapproval, whilst ranking up my daughter’s favourite shows and adding in a dash of sci-fi, House, Bones and various other things.

I also decided to put the recording capacity of the TiVo to the test, series-linking a plethora of cartoons. A couple of days on, 59 episodes of various things have now been recorded along with an HD film and 12 suggestions, taking up 18% of the boxes 500gb capacity ( you can get a larger 1tb box, but the price premium is pretty hefty and well above the going rate for a 500gb, or even 1tb hard drive ).

The suggestions seem to be a healthy mix of programmes I’ve given the thumbs up, but not scheduled to record, plus a couple of new ones which demonstrate that the TiVo is making an educated guess about what we might like, even in these early days. The more shows you rate, the more likely it is to pick something you might want to watch. This is always handy, as turning on a TV just to veg-out and watch whatever happens to be on is rarely a good idea.

TV discovery is the TiVo’s big thing, and the features supporting this are pretty stellar to say the least. Despite a frustrating lack of Game Of Thrones I have dug through various shows and their episode guides, exploring a handy feature which makes it much easier to track down and record the first few episodes of a new series you might have missed the start of, or the odd episode you might have missed. Or, you can simply schedule the whole show using Virgin Media’s series link functionality.

This leads me to one of the current oversights in Virgin Media’s modification of the TiVo. Performing a series link will dump you into a poorly bolted on, low-definition menu that detracts from the otherwise slick and shiny TiVo experience. The feature still works, but series linking an episode will interrupt whatever you might be viewing in the top-right corner.

On the up side, TiVo brings the 30 second skip functionality to your living room. Oh mighty decimator of adverts, once you’ve figured out how long an advert break is, and honed your skipping reaction times, you’ll be able to queue up a 4-5 minute skip by hammering the button in quick succession. The opposite button will also skip back a few seconds, allowing you to quickly and easily correct an overshoot.

Thus far I’ve been enjoying my TiVo experience. The main downside has been its somewhat bad influence on my TV viewing habits. I don’t normally watch a lot of television, but the TiVo has been attracting me with its alluring interface and much improved remote. That leads me onto one last thing, I like the TiVo remote. Unlike the V+ HD remote it doesn’t have buttons in really absurd, confusing and hard to reach positions. The V+ remote remains a chore to use in the dark, but the TiVo remote makes a big feature out of oft-used controls such as play/pause, “My Shows”. The latter is, in fact, right under where your thumb would naturally sit.

The number keys, which are irritatingly prominent on the V+ remote, are tucked away at the bottom. This is a bit of a nuisance of you’re planning to Tweet from your TiVo, but for most other typing situations there’s a nice on-screen keyboard instead.

I’ve run on longer than I wanted to, rest assured my journey of TiVo discovery will continue and I’ll follow up with a much more fleshed out and in-depth review.