February 27, 2011

Virgin Media's TiVo - in depth review

(The following review is posted by Scottivo, one of the UK's foremost TV writers and a good friend of mine who was fortunate enough to get a Virgin Media TiVo box as an owner of a series 1 TiVo. The slideshow top right on the blog features his exclusive screengrabs from the TiVo, too.)

Firstly, a bit of background – my first PVR was a TiVo, which I bought the week it launched in the UK 10 years ago, and when the Sky+ was released I used both for a number of years. In recent times I’ve had both a Sky+ and a V+, having assigned the TiVo box to the attic.
I had the new “Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo” box installed this week and the minute I switched it on I realised how much my TV viewing had missed TiVo’s personality.
The noises TiVo makes when you push buttons on its remote have personality, the shape of the handset has personality, its menu messages have personality and it records programmes that it thinks I might want to watch as if it’s an old friend who knows my likes and dislikes. When pressing play while fast forwarding a recording it even anticipates where I wanted to start watching, jumping back a couple of heartbeats to allow for my reaction time.
There’s something about TiVo that makes it feel a lot less like a piece of hardware that provides a cable service and more like a TV-loving viewing companion.
As far as the interface and EPG response time were concerned, in my opinion, the V+ always lagged behind the Sky+, literally as far as the TV guide was concerned, whereas the V+ Catch-up and VOD services were far superior to Sky’s efforts, even with their new Anytime+ service. Now, however, I have the best of both worlds with the new TiVo box.
The TV guide is excellent and integrates Catch Up TV seamlessly, offering icons on shows that will become available to watch on demand after transmission, along with the ability to scroll backwards on the EPG grid to select something to watch that’s already been broadcast.
You can also view the TV guide through the pop-up screen you access by pressing the OK button, allowing you to scroll up and down a mini three-deck grid EPG
The Search facility on the TiVo is phenomenally powerful. You can search for anything – a show, a person, a movie or a keyword – across broadcast TV, on demand services and the Internet. As an example, I searched for Doctor Who. The results were broken into six sections – “Get this show”, “Upcoming”, “Episode guide”, “Cast”, “Bonus features” and “If you like this… “.
“Get this show” allows you to set a series link, record the next episode and view the episodes that are available on demand (broken down by series number).
“Upcoming” offers a list of episodes scheduled to be shown on broadcast channels (a mix of BBC HD, BBC Three and Watch), as always with the ability to record that episode or set a series link.
“Episode guide” offers a short synopsis of all modern-era Doctor Who episodes, listed series-by-series, with the ability to create a Wishlist search that will automatically record that episode if it’s scheduled to be repeated.
“Cast” lists stars who have appeared in the series – from Doctors and their companions, like Matt Smith and Billie Piper, to one-off guests, like Lee Evans – offering a short biography and the ability to view anything on the on demand service that features them or to record any shows or movies they are scheduled to appear in.
“Bonus features” connects to the Internet to view YouTube clips of Doctor Who.
“If you like this…” offers a selection of other series that fans of Doctor Who might be interested in viewing. Among others, it suggested Sarah Jane Adventures, Big Bang Theory, Star Trek and My Family. Not sure how that last one crept in, I’ll put it down to teething problems!
Yes, the Search facility is, as I said, amazing but what if you don’t want to constantly have to check whether your favourite series or star has popped into the listings? That’s when you’ll want to use the equally impressive Wishlist function. This clever little innovation allows you to use one or more of six fields – Keyword, Title Keyword, Actor, Director, Category and Wishlist Name – to set up a alert that will inform you if a show fitting your criteria appears in the listings and record it for you.
Add to all that an Apps and Games section that offers access to Ebay, Twitter, weather forecasts, celebrity news, a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game and an excellent YouTube interface and you can understand why I’m so happy with my new purchase.
Don’t get me wrong, the Virgin TiVo box isn’t perfect and will need a few more software updates – for example, there are still glitches when moving from one menu to another and red button shows can’t be accessed yet – but it’s undoubtedly the best PVR available in the UK.
It’s nice to have you back TiVo, watching TV is fun again!


Julian said...

The My Family link will have been picked up by Tivo as Zoe Wannamaker has been in several new era Doctor who episodes as Cassandra and is in My Family as Susan - so no teething problems with Tivo on this one.

Nialli said...

Oh, it's that clever. I'm even more impressed.

Anonymous said...

Good review, if slightly biased me thinks.