Virgin Media TiVo 1TB review
Not everyone can get Virgin Media's cable services, but they are more widespread than you may think with around half the homes in the country covered by the service. Of those there's almost five million homes using its TV and broadband services, and around one million using one of Virgin Media's V+ PVR boxes.
Virgin Media started rolling out its next-generation TiVo-powered PVRs at the very end of 2010 in limited numbers. Now, over two years on, the box has become as core to Virgin Media’s TV offering as the Sky+ brand is to its main rival. It’s also picked up a new competitor in that time, in the form of YouView (backed primarily by BT and TalkTalk).
You may have heard of the TiVo brand before, though it has been far more successful overseas than in our own Sky-dominated land. TiVo boxes did go on sale in the UK way back in 2000, the first hard-disk based recorders to do so, but they were ahead of their time, didn't sell very well, and the Sky+ box finished them off. Now the company has entered a deal to provide the interface for Virgin Media's new TiVo box, and the results are good - with a few caveats.
The box itself is pretty tasteful, all black with a bunch of not too bright LED indicators along the front. There's a collection of useful buttons too, just in case you can’t find the remote. As usual, we wish that such boxes were as wide as standard Hi-Fi components and had flat tops, but it seems we’re on a losing battle with that one.
The TiVo box's all-black finish is quiet and understated
On the rear of the box are all the ports you should need. The HDMI output is the only way to get HD video out of the box, as with previous V+ HD boxes there’s no component option, not that many people will be bothered by that these days. The SCART output is likely to be ignored by most too, as it doesn’t support HD signals. For those with an AV receiver that doesn’t support HDMI inputs, there’s an optical S/PDIF to hook it up.
As expected, the Ethernet port has never found a use, as the TiVo does all its communicating via its cable connection, the same goes for the two USB ports. Finally there’s the all-important smartcard slot, without which you won’t get very far - there's still no Freesat equivalent for cable TV services.
Inside there are three tuners, so you can record up to three shows at the same time, and even watch recorded or on-demand content while doing so. All three tuners have their own buffers, so you can be recording two programmes, watching another, and still flick between the three and browse back through the buffered video as you wish. By comparison the Sky+ HD box only has a buffer on the currently watched channel - so you can’t flick to another channel, flick back, and still rewind. You can also press record half-way through a programme you’re watching and it will include the buffered video in the recording. This was a key feature missing from the old V+ box.
You can permanently store buffered TV into a recording by pressing record while watching a TV show
There are actually two TiVo boxes on offer, all but identical except for their storage capacities: 500GB or 1TB. Whichever box you get, it will hold a lot more TV than the old V+ box, which only had a capacity of 160GB that equated to eighty hours of standard definition (SD) broadcasts or only 20 hours of HD. The new 500GB TiVo box can store 250 hours of SD or 60 hours of HD, with the 1TB box weighing in with 536 hours and 120 hours respectively.
It’s worth pointing out, for those new to Virgin Media, that you don’t actually own the TiVo box; instead you rent it from Virgin Media. The upside of this is that it will repair or replace the box should anything go wrong, the downside is that you can’t sell it on eBay after a year if you decide to cancel your contract.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT?
The cost of the box depends on which TV service you are signed up to, or are going to sign up to. The pricing details of all the various bundles are too complex to go into here, but you can look into Virgin Media services in your area online.
Essentially the box costs an additional £5 a month on top of your usual bill, with a one-off £50 ‘activation’ charge if you want the bigger 1TB capacity (though it’s free with some high-end packages). However, it’s now included as part of Virgin Media’s various ‘Collections’ of TV, broadband and phone services, and so the vast majority of those signing up to Virgin Media will get a TiVo box. The only alternative now is a non-recording V HD box, which is usually used a second room set top box.
A summary of charges for the TiVo box - click to enlarge
With most people opting for a deal that includes the box, it’s hard to put a price on the box itself, though its capabilities are still well worth considering in depth if you’re considering whether to go with Sky, Virgin or YouView in the future.