As I hinted on Friday, I have a new toy from those Virgin Media people. V+ is the latest name for what used to be called TV Drive (or something like that). It’s a replacement for my old digital cable box with some rather tasty extra features. The key one is that it’s a hard disk recorder, with capacity for up to 80 hours of TV.
Readers with long memories may be wondering about my existing hard disk recorder. Well, that’s still working just fine, but it does have a quite severe limitation. It can’t control the cable box, so if I wanted to record something on a cable channel, I had to make sure the box was correctly set first. And of course, it couldn’t record a different cable channel from the one I was watching, which has occasionally been annoying. But it did work, which is why I hadn’t been in any rush to upgrade to the V+ service. The price of it has changed several times, going from a relatively low installation cost plus a monthly service charge to a higher initial cost with no service charge, so long as you subscribe to one of the bigger TV packages. Towards the end of last year, the cost was £150, but as that was a one-off charge, I was vaguely considering it. But only vaguely.
Then, I got a call from Virgin. They’d noticed that I’d had to reset my old cable box several times, and were most apologetic about the inconvenience, and err, would I like to upgrade to V+ for the £25 cost of an engineer visit? At that price, I couldn’t resist, and we agreed an installation date, which was Friday. And on Friday, the engineer turned up and performed a painless installation, gave me a quick demo and left me to play with my new toy.
The V+ box gets around the problem of picking cable channels to record quite nicely. It can record up to two channels while I watch a third one. It’s not often that I need to do that, but it’s nice to know I can. The dual record thing means you can safely allow a margin around the start and finish times of programmes even if you need to follow a recording with one on another channel starting immediately afterwards.
Not only that, but it has that nifty “pause live TV” thing. This is clever stuff. As soon as you start watching a channel, the box starts recording it. You can press the pause button at any time, go away and do something else, and resume when you’re ready. If you’ve been away for a while, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to fast forward through ad breaks.
It does the expected things like recording a whole series of a programme for you and warning you if there’s a clash in your recording settings. The quality of recorded programmes is, on my 26″ LCD TV, indistinguishable from the original transmission.
And as an added bonus, the box can output in full HD. So when I get an HD TV, and Virgin have some HD content, I’ll be all set up.
So far, it’s working nicely. I’ve seen some reports of people having issues with the V+ service, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
One final detail – the remote control is much, much better than the old one. That one was getting a bit old (six years? seven years?), and the buttons were a bit spongy. I sometimes had to hit the “1” button a few times to make it register. This one has nice, positively clicky buttons and it’s gently curved to fit comfortably in the hand.
Update: Click here to see how I’ve been getting on with the box.
 At the moment, they just have the BBC HD channel. Mind you, that would give me Robin Hood and Torchwood in HD, so it’s probably worth it…