Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Virgin TiVo Files, Part 3: Your Wish(List) is TiVo's command

Digital TV means more choice, and with dozens of channels available, it can be difficult to locate content to record. The previous part of the Virgin TiVo files showed off the content search system, but wouldn't it be nice if you could tell your PVR to record specific content?

Sure, you could record Game of Death from Syfy HD. But, wouldn't it be nice to locate all martial arts movies, regardless of what channel they are on? Or even all content featuring Bruce Lee?

Your wish - or, WishList, is TiVo's command.

From Virgin Media's TiVo site:
We even take searching and browsing to the next level with WishLists. All you have to do is save one of your favourite searches for a programme, genre or actor. Then, if something comes up that fits with your selection, it'll be saved for you, automatically - whether it's on tonight, next month or even next year.
Wishlists allow you to create very specific search criteria for content, regardless of what channel that content is on. You can define a keyword; programme title; Actor; Director and Category (Documentary; Movie, etc).

You could, for example, create a Wishlist which finds all football, or just all Football which features Man Utd. Want to find all content related to Stargate? OK. What about all Bruce Lee films? Sure thing. You can even define wildcards for a search cretia, so that, Road* would find Road Wars on Sky 1, along with the film Road Trip.

Once you've created and named your Wishlist, you can tell TiVo to show all content matches for that list. You can select which content to record from that Wishlist, or, you can even tell TiVo to automatically record all content it finds for a Wishlist. So, if you really wanted to record all football games featuring Man Utd, you could. If you really wanted to.

You can also change the recording priority of each Wishlist if you wish (no pun intended) to give it a higher priority then series link recordings. Once Virgin gets that pesky third tuner activated, there will be less chance of recording clashes anyway, and with 1TB of recording capacity, lack of space for Wishlist recordings shouldn't be an immediate issue.

In the next instalment of The Virgin TiVo Files, I'll take a look at how TiVo can make suggestions and recommendations based on....well, you, mainly.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

10 cool things Virgin Media's TiVo can do for you

A link on the Virgin Media home page has appeared, informing you of 10 cool things TiVo can do for you. Most of those cool things have already been mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, but this page shows off the options for Series Links, and appears to allow you to select the quality for recordings (unless 'best quality' is always set by default), along with how many episodes should be recorded.

Believe in Bigger Screenshots for Virgin Media's TiVo

Over at PaidContent:UK, you can see 6 large screen-shots of the user interface for Virgin Media's TiVo box (the largest images I've found to date).

The caption for the 3rd screen-shot mentions that users will be able to "specify RSS feeds of video podcasts to subscribe to."

Monday, 20 December 2010

Sky: Virgin Media's TiVo "certainly give us some things to think about"

Wondering what Sky thinks about Virgin Media's TiVo service? Wonder no more.

In an interview with Pocket-lint, Brian Lenz, Sky’s director of TV Product Development believes that a lot of the functionaly offered by TiVo is inconsequential (no shock there!)
“I think that a lot of those functions are functions. They aren't necessarily things that will fundamentally change your happiness with your TV. [Virgin Media have] thrown a lot of stuff up there and Tivo has always been about lots of high-end functionality."

"It will appeal to certain super users. It will certainly give us some things to think about, but all those things we’ve looked at, but you have to ask whether they are mass market and whether your average viewer wants them."
A bit like 3D channels then?

With YouView, the rollout of Sky's Anytime+ VOD service and of course, the return of TiVo to the UK via Virgin Media, the battle of the Digital TV platforms looks like it will be heating up as we enter 2011. Lenz questions the cost of owning a TiVo box which "you don't own" and states that Sky still have the edge for content. A edge somewhat blunted by the arrival of Sky HD content to Digital Cable this year and the coming of Sky VOD content and Red button functionality next year.

Lenz admits that Virgin have "upped their game" and that their TV product has improved:
"in this business, you can’t stand still, [Virgin Media] aren’t standing still and we aren’t standing still either. We will try and play our strengths and they will play theirs."

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Virgin TiVo Files, Part 2: Finding everything and everyone

With normal PVRs, when you wish to find content, you usually have to think first of the channel that content is on.

Want to record Chuck? Ok, sure. What channel is it on? BBC 1? E4? Maybe Living? What day is it on again? Hell, is it even on this week? It might be available via VOD. Might. But where? In Catch-Up or On Demand? You dunno? Oh well, have fun scrolling through the EPG.

Now, to be fair to the good old V+ HD, it can actually find content via a search feature, but it only returns results from VOD. With TiVo, you can decouple channels from the content you love and wish to find, from dozens of linear channels, hours of Video-on-Demand, and even internet content sources.

The screenshot above shows off TiVo's Search screen. As you type in the name of the content you're looking for, TiVo will update its suggestions for content in real-time. The beauty of TiVo is that those suggestions will come from the 14-day EPG (yes, 14 Days!), Catch-Up VOD content and On Demand VOD content, and it will tell you if the content you're looking for is on right now; available from linear channel(s), or available from VOD. It will even tell you if the content is available in HD.

Once the content you love is located, you can, according to the TiVo Premiere Manual:
Schedule a recording or a create a [Series Link] from the Details screen. You can also view upcoming episodes or browse the episode guide, explore details about the cast, learn about other shows that might interest you, or view bonus features.
And the left-hand side of this screen shot from Crave's excellent photo gallery proves that those options will be available for Virgin Media's TiVo (since the software written for Virgin is branched off the TiVo software code tree):

Again, with TiVo, content is decoupled from channels. When TiVo searches for content from linear channels, it doesn't care which channel that content is on. If upcoming episodes of Chuck are on both Living and say, Channel 1, then TiVo displays upcoming Chuck episodes from those and any other channels. If you set up a Series Link, you could record all Chuck episodes from those channels, or even record new episodes only.

TiVo's Search functionality isn't just limited to content, but Actors, Actresses and even Directors. You could search for, say, Yvonne Strahovski, and then see what's content she's been in, like playing the role of Sarah Walker in Chuck for instance. You could even read about Yvonne's career to date.

This image from Crave's TiVo photo-gallery shows off TV content which features Hugh Laurie, after a previous search for House led Crave to this screen:

But wait, there's more. Remember those bonus features mentioned eariler? Well, that's where you'll find any internet content sources which Virgin have added to TiVo, including from the initial launch, YouTube. Any previously entered search keyword is passed to YouTube (and presumely, other future content sources Virgin will add) allowing you to view content related to your keyword, as this search for Friends on YouTube shows:

With TiVo, you can spend less time searching for content and more time actually watching it, and with the next instalment of The Virgin TiVo Files, you'll see that TiVo can find and record content that you like, leaving you with the mere problem of finding the free time to watch it all.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Buried, deep in the Virgin Media EPG....

The above screen shot was taken from my existing TV Drive/V+ HD box, from the existing Virgin EPG (Home > Help & Info > Virgin TV > V+ HD Box > About V+ > Page 5 of 8).

The message is confusing, to say the least. What's even more confusing is that in the rest of the help text, V+ and V+ HD refer to the same thing.

As previously indicated, some of the existing Virgin Media Set-Top-Boxes (mainly the V Boxes) are compatible with the TiVo firmware. Those STBs are expected to receive a download delivering the TiVo software at some point next year. Of course, all recording functionality will be removed for those boxes.

Maybe the text indicates that, as I suspected, the old TV Drives/V+ HD boxes, while believed to be compatible with TiVo, aren't fast enough to cope with TiVo's Flash interface, hence, as Virgin puts it, I "might like to check out our V+ HD service". Hang on a sec, I've already got a V+ HD box! What the heck?

Maybe Virgin plan to keep the V+ HD name, and add 'powered by TiVo' to its description? From the Digital TV Services page of the Virgin Media Site:

As always with Virgin, the answers to the above questions, along with TiVo, are coming soon.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Virgin TiVo Files, Part 1: Backward EPG

This is the first in a list of blog posts which will focus on a feature of Virgin's TiVo. Like thousands of other (drooling) Virgin Media customers, I don't have a TiVo at hand (yet), so these posts are based on what's known about the product, its feature-set, previews features from online sources and the knowledge of experienced TiVo users. As always, your comments are welcome.

Right, first up? The backward EPG. Virgin Media may currently be the only platform featuring catch-up TV services from all 4 UK terrestrial broadcasters, but that content isn't that easy to find using the current Virgin EPG.

Sure, if you want to get to BBC iPlayer then you can just press the red button on any BBC channel, but while red button functionality exists for the likes of ITV (now and then), its used more to promote X-Factor content and phone-ins then aiding the location of last week's Coronation Street.

Usually, you can drill through the Catch-Up VOD menus to find the content you previously missed, but that's not as easy as just scrolling backwards in time on the EPG provided by Virgin's TiVo box:

Its a solution so simple, you wonder why its not been done before, and yes, I'm well aware of YouView's backward EPG but that won't be in anyone's home any-time soon, will it?

Missed last week's Waterloo Road? No problem, just scroll backwards through the Virgin-TiVo EPG to last week and watch it - at which point Virgin's VOD service will automatically select the content and play it for you. To avoid confusion all catch up content in the EPG is identified by a little c within a round arrow.

Catch-Up content on Virgin Media is currently available from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five. However, as part of the deal which saw Virgin sell its TV channels to Sky, some Sky VOD content will be available at some point to Virgin customers. Hopefully, that will mean being able to scroll backwards through the EPG for say, Sky 1, and, if you really want to, being able to locate last week's episode of The Simpsons.

Of course, there's are far easier ways of locating content via TiVo, and I'll be taking a closer look at that in a future, thrilling instalment of The Virgin TiVo Files.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Remote Recording is here for Virgin Media's TiVo

Over at Virgin Media's online TV listings page, a new option has appeared inviting Virgin Media Tivo users to "sign in to set recordings!"

The help bubble for this option goes into further detail:
Got one of our amazing TiVo boxes? Now you can set your recordings right here from our TV Listings or Search results. It's simple - just sign in (so we know it's you), pick a show and you'll see all the recording options in Programme Information screen. You can even record a whole series at the click of a mouse.
Remote recording has been a much requested feature for users of Virgin Media's V+ HD box, so the availability of this feature on Virgin's TiVo is much welcomed and may further encourage take-up of the next-generation PVR when it becomes available to Digital Cable customers, most likely now in early 2011.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Spotify's arrival on Virgin-TiVo may depend on accepting Virgin Media's UK exclusivity request

At the TiVo launch, Virgin revealed that they were in talks with entertainment companies in order to invade all of mankind their next-generation PVR with a wide selection of apps. One of them was Spotify.

Today, paidContent:UK reveals that:
Negotiations revolve around Virgin Media wanting UK exclusivity on offering Spotify - that’s something Spotify may be reluctant to give but which, having announced no such deals in over a year, it may need to.
Such a deal would give Spotify access to Virgin's TV, broadband, and potentially, mobile customers. Spotify have no plans for imminent announcements, let's hope that changes soon for future customers of Virgin-TiVo.

Monday, 6 December 2010

iPad Remote App and Multiple user profiles coming to Virgin-TiVo; Slide Remote accessory to follow?

Cindy Rose, Virgin Media's digital entertainment executive director, told PaidContent:UK more about the software development for Virgin's version of TiVo:
It’s based on the main TiVo software code tree. We’ve branched slightly to adapt it to the UK market. The U.S. doesn’t have catch-up, Red Button or a watershed - we had to make certain minimal changes to make it relevant for the UK. We also painted it red and corrected the spelling!

Other than that, we’ve stayed true to the core TiVo product. That will make it easier for us in future to stay consistent with TiVo’s main-line development roadmap.
Because of that, Rose was able to reveal that the fantastic-looking Apple iPad Remote App will be coming to users of Virgin-TiVo, allowing iPad owners to remote control and discover TiVo content via.....their urm, iPad, I guess:

Also coming will be multiple user profiles. This screen shot below is a mock-up from the TiVo Premiere user interface (thanks to Zatz Not Funny!), showing an example of multiple users, I'm assuming at the moment that each user would have their own wishlists and recommendations. It appears that the actual feature itself has yet to appear for the TiVo Premiere in the United States.

According to Rose, there's a chance that the TiVo Slide Remote accessory will become available to Virgin-TiVo customers as well:

And below, CNET review it:

Rose describes the partnership between Virgin Media and TiVo as a "long-term strategic alliance, It certainly isn’t a case of ‘here’s your product, bye’. We are moving ahead in lock-step. [TiVo have] also done a deal in Spain and Scandinavia - they are very much looking to Europe to drive some of their future growth. The UK for them is important because it will spur interest in other parts of Europe.”

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Dedicated broadband connection for Virgin TiVo has been optimized for streaming video

The 10mb dedicated broadband connection for Virgin's TiVo box has been optimized for delivery of streamed video, according to Light Reading Cable:
(The) dedicated internal modem capable of delivering HD video and other online services will grace the box without impacting a customer's regular broadband connection.

Virgin didn't say as much, but sources who are familiar with the project say the operator will allocate spectrum for those set-tops across its existing Docsis 3.0 architecture, which today is being used to offer best-effort 50Mbit/s and 100Mbit/s downstream cable modem service tiers. On top of that, it's believed that Virgin will also apply (Quality of Service) to video that's delivered to those boxes over a dedicated IP data path, creating an expressway of sorts for broadband-delivered video.
The internal modem will be used to provide dedicated connectivity for video and TiVo-based apps, but won't be a regular broadband connection. Virgin will have control over which apps will be allowed on the TiVo and use the dedicated connection. One of the advantages to Virgin of that approach is that they have a better chance of preventing streamed, DRM-protected content from falling into the hands of pirates.

Meanwhile, Ian Mecklenburgh, Virgin's Director of Digital Entertainment told DTVE Daily (via Digital TV Europe.Net) that the connection was "a proper IP pipe optimized for TV".

So, Virgin-TiVo has the optimized pipe. All that's needed now are the apps and the content (preferably HD content) to take advantage of it. Over to you, Virgin.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Virgin to assimilate all of its TV customers into the TiVo collective. Resistance is futile.

Talking to PaidContent:UK, Cindy Rose,Virgin Media’s director of digital entertainment, revealed that Virgin plans to drag its entire TV customer base over to TiVo:
We are premium-positioning....We’re initially positioning this as a high-end product as a tier on top of TV XL - £3 more expensive than the standard TV XL subscription. However, we intend to migrate our entire television customer base over to TiVo as our standard product within a matter of years, and not many years. That means, undoubtedly, we will course-correct, refine and review packaging and pricing decisions as we go to make that happen.
Virgin's initial TiVo press release back in late 2009 mentioned that the TiVo software would be used on both Virgin's PVR and non-PVR boxes.

How Virgin plans to migrate its 3.7 million TV customers to the TiVo platform is unclear - software updates to the existing boxes is one option, but would all of the existing boxes be compatible with the TiVo software? And if they were, would they be fast enough to run that slick looking Flash user interface at a decent speed?

The other option is box swaps, involving lots of work for Virgin's Engineers, and lots of Engineer appointments being made by Virgin customers.

Whatever option Virgin pursue (probably a combination of both in the long run),  it will be worth it - Virgin's current box software is...well, bloody slow usable, but lacking in speed, presentation and features compared to the likes of Sky, and even some Freeview/FreeSat boxes.

With YouView (Freeview 2.0) coming soon (and bringing a nice looking user interface to the table), it was imperative that Virgin gave their box software a major upgrade, and if the screen shots at Crave are anything to go by, TiVo was a fine, if not the best, choice Virgin could make for that upgrade.

TiVo rollout to target Virgin Media Staff & Existing Customers first

Talking to Pocket-lint, Virgin Media's Alex Green, the company's executive director for Commerical, TV and Online, stated that the TiVo rollout will target staff and existing customers first:
In terms of our roll-out, we're focusing initially on our staff and existing customers before we really open it out to prospects at large. We think that's important because getting the advocacy, getting the excitement, getting the buzz going within our home territory, if you like, is incredibly important. Particularly with a service that, in the end, really comes alive once you start using it. Word of mouth spreads and so on. It's the right way to get this product into the market.
With just under 4 weeks of the year left, Virgin will do well to get any TiVo boxes installed for existing customers this side of Xmas. New customers may be in for a longer wait. Either way, you can express your interest in getting TiVoed at Virgin's TiVo Web Site.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Virgin to unleash 'family' of lower-cost TiVo Products

The initial Virgin-TiVo box (due to escape soon we hope to a welcoming TV near you, and come to think of it, me) costs £199. If that cost has put you off TiVo, then there's hope yet.

Ian Mecklenburgh (Director of Digital Entertainment at Virgin Media) spoke to DTVE Daily, and Digital TV Europe.Net reports that while the first Virgin-TiVo box is a premium product, it will eventually be part of a whole family of Virgin-TiVo products. The 'premium' box has a 1TB hard drive, but a future version of Virgin-Tivo will contain a hard drive with less capacity and less recording space - but at a lower cost to the customer.

Future, lower-cost Virgin-TiVo products will also enable multiroom distribution of content - allowing you to, for instance, to record a programme on your TiVo in the lounge and then watch that recorded programme from the TiVo in your bedroom.

On Virgin Tivo, there will be an App for that.....probably

One of the most exciting features about Tivo is that apps can be downloaded to add extra functionality and features. What, you thought apps were just for your mobile smart-phone? Think again! The Virgin press release goes into more details about what apps will be pre-installed on Virgin's next-generation PVR:
Built on an Adobe Flash-based platform, the latest videos, social networking and information apps will be updated regularly. The service launches initially with apps from major web brands including catch-up TV from BBC iPlayer, videos from YouTube, shopping from the online marketplace eBay, Tweets from Twitter and photos from sites such as Facebook, and the app line up will expand over the next several months
iPlayer is an odd choice, considering that its already available as part of Virgin's TV VOD service. Then again, not all of the web-based iPlayer content isn't available to watch on Virgin's TV version of the service due to content rights issues, so the addition of an iPlayer app could potentially mean all of the BBC's Catch-Up content becoming available, and easily watch-able, on your TV set via Tivo.

YouTube was an obvious first choice, having made an appearance on several networked TVs and media streamers for some time now. On at least some of those devices (like my Samsung C650 TV and WDTV Live Media Streamer), certain content (like some movie trailers) is not allowed to be streamed to TV devices, and no access is allowed to YouTube's HD videos. So don't be too surprised if the same restrictions apply to Virgin Tivo's YouTube App.

Some of the apps will be accessiable from EPG menus. As Cindy Rose, Virgin Media’s director of digital entertainment, explained while talking to PaidContent:UK:
Every search you do on TiVo will yield results that include internet applications as well as the television assets. Important to say - the product we launch this month is not a static environment, it’s a very future-proof platform. There will be a constant drumbeat of new content, applications, features over time - we’ve got a pretty robust development roadmap.

We’re launching with a handful (of apps); within 12 months, we’ll have hundreds. We needed to start with the household names.
As for the future, Rose reveals that Virgin are open to apps from entertainment companies like Lovefilm and Spotify as long as the deal is right and the customers demand the content:
It would have to be the right deal commercially and add value. If Lovefilm came along and said ‘we’ve got something that adds to this’, we’d be the first ones to embrace them - we’re not precious about that. Let a thousand flowers bloom! It’s a managed environment but we’re really open in terms of who we host on the platform - as long as the commercials are right and customers are interested in it.
With the dedicated 10mb broadband connection Virgin are supplying with every Tivo installation, the potential for streaming content from the likes of BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm and YouTube is there - and in HD too - 10mb is certainly fast enough to stream web-based HD content when it becomes available via Tivo. Being a dedicated connection, it won't affect your existing broadband connection, so your enjoyment of watching say, last week's Top Gear in HD from BBC iPlayer on Tivo won't be interrupted by your son downloading the latest content for Call of Duty on his Xbox 360.

So, prepare for the invasion of Virgin Tivo apps, and lets hope none of them make Fart sounds.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Virgin Tivo: 2 tuners now; 3 tuners early next year

People upgrading from the V+ HD boxes should bare in mind that initially, the Tivo will only be able to record 2 programmes at the same. Like the V+ HD boxes, the Virgin Tivo has 3 tuners, however, the Tivo software was originally written to work with boxes sold in the USA that only had 2 tuners. Virgin have decided to release their Tivo box now, rather than delay the launch by completing a rewrite of the software to support 3 tuners.

Therefore, the Virgin Tivo box will only have 2 of its 3 tuners active at launch. A software update will be rolled out by Virgin in early 2011 which will active the 3rd tuner - once activated, you'll be able to watch one programme while recording another 2 programmes at the same time, just like you can now on the V+ HD boxes.

The early reviews are in....

.....and they sound very encouraging:

...the early indications are that this could be the best set-top box on the market – with only Sky's superior content offering allowing it to compete with a well-designed, intuitive and, frankly, superior user interface in a world of video on demand, catch up and web apps.

...Our final early impressions are that this is an exciting and thoroughly modern new offering from Virgin Media, which will not only be exciting to current customers but might just lure others to the black, red and gold side.

It is, quite simply, stunning. Both super quick and intuitive, there's a raft of cunning technologies whizzing about behind the scenes that make for the most pleasant TV experience on the market today.

Virgin Media's TiVo box looks like it will be amazing, giving Virgin TV the clear, logical, user-friendly menus it has always lacked. If it works as expected, TiVo's ability to record what it thinks you like will be a killer feature.

Welcome! And get ready to be Tivoed by Virgin!

Welcome to the Virgin Media Tivo Blog, the unofficial blog for all things related to Virgin's new TiVo box.

What's so special about it and what it can do for your television viewing experience? I'll let Virgin themselves answer that one via this YouTube Video:

Interested? Then you better let Virgin know!

Ahhh, but what about the price you say? Well, according to Virgin the Standard price for the Tivo box is £199, plus an installation fee of £40. Then there's a monthly charge of £3, on top of your TV XL package. That's right folks, you need to be on the TV XL pack in order to get Tivoed.

So that's:

£239 up front for the box + installation


£26.50 for XL + Tivo monthly charge when you take a Virgin landline phone


£32.50 for TV XL + Tivo monthly charge when not taking a Virgin landline phone.

Virgin's press release for Tivo can be located here:

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