Virgin Media TiVo

It’s a little over three years since my television viewing was transformed by the arrival of Virgin Media’s V+ service. Since getting the V+, I’ve found that the way I watch TV has completely changed. I hardly ever watch anything when it’s actually being transmitted[1] – sometimes I catch up just a little later, sometimes a few days later, and lots of the time, I catch up on a week’s worth of stuff over the weekend. All very nice.

Of course, the V+, like everything else, isn’t perfect. Mine was the older model, with a sloooow user interface, which sometimes made using the menus and the TV guide a bit annoying (press button, nothing happens, press it again, it responds to both presses and takes you where you don’t want to be), and there was no easy way to find any particular show if you didn’t already know when it was on.

So when I heard last year that Virgin Media had done a deal to bring the TiVo service back to the UK, I was ever so slightly interested. Well, I was more  :bouncy: :clap: GIMME! NOW! to be honest.

TiVo had been on sale in the UK some years ago, but failed to make much of an impact, partly due to it not really working with the cable and satellite services[2], and partly due to inept marketing, which made a big thing out of how cool it was that you could pause live TV, but didn’t mention much else. Now don’t get me wrong – pausing live TV is an insanely useful feature of the V+, and I’d hate to go back to not having it, but it’s not really a major selling point for a box (which you had to buy) and a service you had to subscribe to.

And so TiVo departed from these shores, and I didn’t expect it to return. Which was a shame, because it’s a really cool and clever thing. Like the V+, you can set it to record single programmes or whole series. But it can do a lot more – suggest things you might like to watch based on your previous activity, provide a search facility for upcoming programmes, and generally be a bit more useful.

The service Virgin Media are offering is quite nifty. You get a new Cisco set top box with a 1TB hard drive in it, which is enough space for lots of HD TV and huuuuuge amounts of normal definition stuff. The user interface is fast, you can search for programmes and movies that are available on the catch-up service, the on demand thingy and indeed being shown over the next couple of weeks. The box has an extra tuner, so it can record no less than three channels while you watch something else – it’s not often that I need that, but there are odd times when shows overlap in slightly annoying ways, which led to the V+ losing the last minute or so of something.

Another nice touch is that the TV guide shows little markers on things that will be available on the catch-up service, and as you can scroll back in the guide to the previous week, it’s a lot easier to find things than the slightly creaky menus on the V+.

And then there’s the fun bit – the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down buttons. You can give everything you watch up to three presses of either. And the more things you rate, the more the box learns about you. Not so it can post all about you on Farcebook, but so it can make more informed suggestions about things you might enjoy. And rather than jsut popping up a message on screen, it helpfully records them for you. Suggestions will never take precedence over things you’ve set to record, and if the box runs low on space, they’ll be the first things to be deleted to make room for the stuff you actually want. Nice.

I had it installed on Thursday, and so far, it seems to be working well. I’ll probably follow up with a long-term report at some point.

One thing I was mildly concerned about was whether the new box would work properly with my Logitech Harmony One remote control. Well, it did need a bit of manual tweaking, but telling the control that the box was a Cisco CT8685, then going through the manual set-up for the device (telling it how channel changes work seemed to be the key), then creating a new “Watch TV (Tivo)” activity did the job. The “Thumbs” buttons appear at the top of the touchscreen, and it all seems to work nicely.

[1] Apart from Doctor Who, of course
[2] If you wanted it to record something from your cable box, you had to either set the box to the channel in advance, or hope that a little infrared gadget connected to the TiVo would manage to do it for you