Thursday, 29 September 2011

Virgin Media slash activation fee for TiVo: 500Gb TiVo now free; 1TB TiVo now £49.95

Virgin Media have changed their TV packages today, which not only makes TiVo more attractive to new and existing customers - but also marks the end of the legacy V+ HD:
  • For new customers
    The activation fee for the 500Gb TiVo was previously £49.95. The fee for that box has now dropped to £0.00.

    The activation fee for the 1TB TiVo has dropped to £49.95 (previously £99.95).

    If new customers order online, they get free installation. As for additional boxes:
    Any subsequent TiVo box purchases in the same order will be charged at £49.95 and £99.95 activation fee for the 500Gb TiVo and 1Tb TiVo box respectively.
  • For existing customers
    The activation fee prices are as above, but you have to pay an installation fee of £49.95. Want more boxes? Well:
    Irrespective of the number of set-top boxes you already have, for every new sale - If you take a 500GB TiVo box as your first box, the activation fee will be waived; if you take a 1TB TiVo box as your first box, we will reduce the activation fee to £49.95

The £3 monthly TiVo charge (per customer account) still applies. Additional boxes will (usually) cost an additional £6.50 per month.

Today's news continues Virgin's big push for TiVo and also marks the online ordering death of V+ HD. The legacy PVR is now no longer available to order from Virgin's website. It was going to happen sooner or later, and its an important step towards Virgin's long-term plan to get all of their TV customers on MPEG 4 compatible hardware, which would mean reduced bandwidth usage for linear HD channels and hopefully, more HD channels.

An endangered species

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cisco Systems to continue making hardware for Virgin Media's TiVo - along with Samsung

I previously reported that Samsung would be taking over the manufacture of hardware for Virgin Media TiVo - I was wrong - as Vision 2 Mobile reports, Cisco Systems always expected to lose exclusivity for making the TiVo hardware.  As Everth Flores (director and general manager for service providers in EMEA) explains:

"Quite the feeding frenzy this week over an expected bit of news about our partner, Virgin Media, and its supply chain plans for digital set-top boxes! Yeesh. To our competition: Bring it."

"[Cisco had a] certain understanding that Virgin, like any sensibly minded operator, would at some point introduce a second source."

"No one was ejected, no one was axed, no contracts expired. As un-sexy as it may sound, this was quite simply a second source supply decision, wholly anticipated by everyone involved."

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

More news on the Winter 2011 Software Update for Virgin Media's TiVo

Coming soon to TiVo? It looks like it
This is interesting - someone posed on Cable Forum earlier today more details about the Winter 2011 Software Update (that's what I'm calling it now for reasons which will become clear real soon) - that post has since been removed, but a copy was posted on Digital Spy Forums before the orginal post was removed.

While the feature set remains the same, the post claims that the update will be deployed "before Christmas this year." Also:
What’s happening with Red Button?
On TiVo, we’ve got a Red Button link to our full BBC iPlayer app on BBC channels and we’re working with our channel partners to get the Red Button extended to other channels.

We’re hoping to have a wider range of red button services by early next year. TiVo customers can check our progress in the Customer News area in Help on their TiVo Box.

What’s happening with reminders?
With the ability to record 3 simultaneous programmes we thought that reminders wouldn’t be necessary anymore. We now know that customers miss the feature enormously and we are looking at introducing them in a future release.

If true, this appears to be mixed news. On the plus side, it appears that reminders are coming to TiVo (and 72% of you will be happy about that). On the down side, those TiVo customers hoping to actually use Reminders and Red Button Services this side of Xmas may be disappointed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Features for major update revealed for Virgin Media's TiVo?

A couple of posts at Cable Forum (here and here) claim to reveal the improvements in the forthcoming major update for Virgin Media's TiVo:
  • Improved 1080i up scaling so improving the picture quality.
  • HDMI connection reliability fixed
  • Info button now provides programme information in guide and mini guide
  • SCART aspect ratio corrected
  • Express Series Link – You can set your series links in a flash
  • Padding – Automatic padding around the start and finish of new recordings and series links (doesn’t change existing series links)
  • Multi-tap text entry – You can now search using the number buttons on your remote, just like texting on your mobile phone
  • More flexible parental control – If you don’t want to be asked for your PIN when you’re playing a recording from My Shows, you can now switch it off!
  • Skippable playlists – Full skipping functionality for Music On Demand playlists will be available
  • Live Events – Great news! You can now buy a live event on your TiVo box
  • BBC iPlayer – Full integration of all the content from the BBC iPlayer is now available in the TV Guide, the Catch Up & On Demand menus and in TiVo Search and Browse
  • PIN access on Apps – You can now control access to Apps and Games
  • YouTube app – The YouTube app has been given a whole new look with more videos than ever and now supports HD quality video
  • TiVo Buddy App – Just after we launch the new code you’ll be able to download this great new tool from the Apple App Store. If you connect your wireless router to the TiVo box with a cable you’ll be able to control many features from your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Watch this space for more info.

More information on the automatic padding feature was posted by Virgin at the Help and Support Forums:
Automatic padding will be available later this year. It defaults at 1 min before and 4 mins after for all recordings, which seems to be the best way to avoid recordings cutting off early. You will still be able to change this on individual recordings.... it will be a new default, rather than a user controllable "General" setting.
This may actually cause more problems then it solves considering that TiVo uses 2 tuners to record back-to-back padded programmes (compared to 1 tuner on V+ HD). While the padding can be manually removed, that may be annoying for users who don't use padding.

As for the other improvements, a few random thoughts:
  • The improved picture quality fix is very welcome, since the display of standard definition content on TiVo has been a little subpar compared to the same content on V+ HD.
  • Express Series Link - Not on my personal 'to do' list for TiVo, but I'll take it.
  • The BBC iPlayer integration is an odd one - wasn't that done already?
  • More flexible parental control - Reduced PIN nagging? Thank God!
  • YouTube App - I hope this means that the bug preventing favourites being displayed has been fixed.
  • TiVo Buddy App - Will there be an Android version?
Still no Red Button or Reminders, or more efficient use of tuners. But there remains a glimmer of hope for those features, since the major update is a dependency for a series of smaller updates to follow.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

TiVo confirm that Android version of iPad App is "on our active road map"; Virgin Media version to follow?

According to a report at Total Telecom, TiVo is working on an App for Android devices to:
....let users manage its digital TV recording devices.

The Android app would follow an earlier remote-control application for Apple Inc.'s iPad that allows users to remotely manage their TiVo boxes as they record television shows and watch live TV.

Android "is on our active road map," TiVo Chief Executive Tom Rogers told Dow Jones Newswires. He declined to provide a timeframe for the application's debut.
There's no word (yet) from Virgin Media if this App would be released for customers with TiVo boxes, but with the growing popularity of Android and the release of the Version 3.0 software (aka HoneyComb, optimized for Tablet devices), we can pray......right?

The release of the iPad App has been confirmed, and indeed, Virgin released some pictures of the App last week.

Monday, 12 September 2011

From V+ HD to Virgin Media's TiVo

Considering upgrading from Virgin Media's V+ HD to TiVo? Then you may want to read the V+ HD to TiVo article. The goals of the article is to:
  1. Provide a one-stop page to...
  2. ...highlight key functionality differences between TiVo and V+ HD/UK PVRs so you know what to expect before upgrading and then discovering that TiVo has some feature missing which you were expecting to find, which may or may not be included in the forthcoming update(s), and
  3. To avoid disappointment. 
You can read the article via this link, or via the link at the top of this and every other page within the blog.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Why you should consider changing recording priorities for your Virgin Media TiVo

At first glance, TiVo's series link functionality seems pretty standard. You select a series to record, and every episode records. Job done.

However, there's more going on here then meets the eye, in part due to TiVo's ability to locate alternative broadcasts for an episode. When you setup a series link, TiVo will assume that you want to record the first broadcast of every episode.

For instance, going back to the Triple-Tuner-Thursday example I've previously mentioned, I have the following programmes set to record between 9pm to 10.05pm (with 5 minutes of trailing padding set). The episodes shown on Thursday are 'new':
  • Warehouse 13 (Syfy HD, Wishlist)
  • Torchwood: Miracle Day (BBC One HD, Series Link)
  • The Killing (C4 HD, Series Link)
Recently, I set a Series Link for Lost Girl (Syfy HD), new episodes of this programme broadcast every Thursday between 10pm to 11pm. The Series Link priority for Lost Girl was set below the programmes previously recorded between 9pm to 10.05pm - as such, TiVo informed me that the first 5 minutes of Lost Girl would be clipped, due to the 5 minute trailing padding on Torchwood.

TiVo also gave me the option of getting the Lost Girl series link with the first 5 minutes clipped, or not to get that series link with clipping - I selected the latter option, and TiVo then located the repeat broadcast on Sundays at 9pm, and set the series link to that day and time.

That's pretty smart functionality, but that leaves one problem - there seems to be no way to tell TiVo to create a series link for a programme, where the recording will take place at the same time on the same day for a repeat and when there's no recording clashes (short of setting up a manual recording which, after using series links on V+ HD is a backwards step).

So, what the heck does all this mean? Well:

  • When setting series links (and Wishlists), don't set higher priority to programmes which are more 'important' (yes, my brain is having trouble with that one too after using V+ HD). Instead, give higher priority to programmes which aren't repeated. Give the programmes with repeated episodes lower priority, so that TiVo can locate and record the repeats in event of a recording clash with higher priority recordings. You can use the 'upcoming episodes' list to see if a programme has repeats or not.
  • Remember that TiVo will find repeats only for the same channel as the series link. If the repeat is on a different channel, it won't be recorded. This almost caught me out with my Torchwood series link on BBC 1 HD when I cancelled that recording to watch live football - the Torchwood repeats are not on BBC 1 HD, but on BBC HD and various other BBC channel variants.
  • Of course, if I had set Torchwood up as a Wishlist that wouldn't have been an issue because TiVo would have searched all channels for that repeated episode and not just BBC 1 HD.
  • If the programme you're recording is on Catch-Up TV, and you're going to be watching it within 7 days of the original broadcast, then consider knocking it down the priority list.
  • Can I just record Season 5? Without the Season 1 repeats?
  • TiVo really could do with a 'record every episode at this time every week' option for creating series links (as V+ HD and probably every other PVR has as default for series links). Its not an issue if the episodes to be recorded are 'new' (meaning, new to the UK according to Tribune) and are marked as such in the metadata, but when they aren't, that can cause problems for programmes which are repeated throughout the week, and which feature 'new' episodes (to that channel) which are shown on a specific day of the week. In that case, at best, you end up recording episodes you don't want to watch and then spending time deleting them.

    As a real-life example of the above scenario: Season 5 of Ice Road Truckers (History Channel) starts on Thursday next week, with repeats on Friday. But repeats of Season 1 are on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Since the Season 5 episodes aren't marked as New (I'm assuming they've been previously broadcasted on another channel - or Tribune have messed up again), there's no way for me to record the Season 5 episodes only (without using a Manual recording, which strikes me as a backwards step compared to V+ HD).
  • This feature would also be useful (in my opinion) for avoiding clashes with live TV. For example, I can't tell TiVo to record the repeat Friday 8pm broadcast of Warehouse 13. If TiVo provided that option, I would have avoided the whole 'Which recording will TiVo cancel?' scenario I previously encountered when watching live Europa League football on ESPN HD. On the V+ HD, I could have just selected the repeat broadcast on Friday in the EPG, and created a series link to record every repeated episode of Warehouse 13 on Friday.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Samsung to manufacture future boxes for Virgin Media's TiVo

Various sources have reported that Samsung have won the contract to make future TiVos for Virgin Media. Pocket-Lint reports that the new boxes will be rolling out later this year and they look very similar to the existing Cisco hardware.

This is the second time that Samsung have taken over the manufacturing of TV boxes for Virgin. The TV Drive (now known as the V+ HD) was initially made by Scientific Atlanta (now known as Cisco). Since then, Samsung have made the V+ HD boxes, and those boxes featured a significant performance increase over the Scientific Atlanta hardware.

However, any hopes that future TiVo owners may have for a faster Samsung TiVo (compared to the Cisco boxes) appear to have been dashed, with Virgin Staff on Cable Forum stating that the Samsung TiVos will have identical performance, hardware and technology.

Major software update for Virgin Media's TiVo will contain support for iPad Companion App


AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 09/08/11 -- TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO), a leader in advanced television services and personal video recorders (PVRs), and Virgin Media Inc. (NASDAQ: VMED) (LSE: VMED), the UK's leading digital entertainment provider, today announced details of a key new feature coming to their next-generation connected TV offering which will allow customers to take control of the TiVo powered service through a cutting-edge iPad companion app. The feature will be made available as part of the first major software update for the system and is designed to build on the user experience of the award-winning service. Virgin Media plans to roll-out the software update, which will feature the companion app as well as other new features to be announced, in the coming months.

The TiVo companion app will allow Virgin Media customers to use their Apple iPads to interact directly with their TiVo service and extend their viewing experience beyond the remote control. After installing the free TiVo companion app, users can interact with the elegant, intuitive TiVo user interface directly on their iPads to search across Virgin Media's content, including the TV Guide and thousands of hours of content available through its video on demand library, without interrupting what they are already watching on TV. With just a couple of swipes on the iPad user can immediately and seamlessly begin viewing the content they have discovered via their TiVo app right on their TV.

Cindy Rose, executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media, said, "The way viewers watch television is changing faster than ever. Partnering with TiVo has helped us develop the most advanced and flexible TV system in the UK ensuring our customers are able to enjoy the best connected television offering available in the market today. In less than a year since launch we are already building new features to offer our customers more ways to enjoy their service with an unprecedented user experience, and maintaining our position at forefront of technological innovation in TV. The companion app and other forthcoming enhancements we are working on form part of our long term strategy to deliver the most dynamic and user friendly multi-screen entertainment experience in the U.K."

Since its launch in December 2010, the Virgin Media: TiVo service has been heralded by mainstream media(1) as 'the most sophisticated piece of hardware you can connect to your television.' Users of the product are able to enjoy a host of content ranging from hundreds of traditional television channels to a myriad of content streamed directly from the online sources via BBC iPlayer and YouTube through its built-in broadband connection as well as Virgin Media's vast video on demand library all seamlessly folded into TiVo's award-wining user interface with its easy-to-navigate search and discovery functionality.

Joshua Danovitz, VP & General Manager, International, TiVo Inc., said, "Virgin Media is a partner that recognizes where the future of television is headed. Through working with TiVo, Virgin Media has quickly implemented an award-winning user interface with TV's most innovative features and functionality, available anywhere in the U.K. With the initial rollout of Virgin Media: TiVo Service underway, it is already driving more measurable user satisfaction than any other hybrid television experience in the UK further demonstrating that TiVo continues to be the best way to watch television, bar none."

TiVo and Virgin Media made this announcement during the 2011 IBC Conference which runs from September 8-13 in Amsterdam.
You can check out large photos of the App here, here, here and here. Meanwhile, Nick Ontiveros, Virgin Media head of TV Strategy (Digital Entertainment), posted on the Help and Support Forums that:
 ....the introduction of new features to TiVo planned for the second half of this year will not come all in a single update.

I just hope to set expectations because it seems that a rumour has been heavily perpetuated on this board that there is one all encompassing update to come. In actuality, there will be a large update, but other feature updates will follow very soon after this update (as their introduction had the update itself as a dependency).
The actual contents of the update (or should that be updates?) remain secret to anyone outside the beta trial panel, but we do know that improved picture quality for standard definition content is among the list of issues which Virgin are looking to fix. Red button functionality is probably on the list somewhere, indeed the website states that "Red Button functionality will be coming in the future to our TiVo service."

Friday, 2 September 2011

Virgin Media highlight 'unexpected challenges' and fixes for TiVo Metadata; New feedback tool coming soon

After yesterday's announcement that Virgin Media will allocate more resources towards resolving the EPG/Metadata issues which have plagued TiVo so far, comes another Help and Support Forum post, this time by Stephen Featham (Director, Digital Entertainment Technical Operations, Virgin Media):
When we decided to partner with TiVo for our next generation TV service, we realised the quality of metadata (programme information) would be a key element to the success of the product. Quite simply, the features that make TiVo so great require better, more detailed schedule data than any other products on the market today.

So, we selected TiVo's long term partner, Tribune Media Services (TMS), as our provider of metadata. TMS has a really deep understanding of how metadata drives key parts of the TiVo service and the importance of getting it right.

But as you'd expect with the launch of any new product, we've had some unexpected challenges along the way which we have been working hard to resolve. I'd like to explain two of these and what we've done to fix them.

Challenge 1:
We're aware there have been some occurrences where a series has not recorded when a Series Link is set to NEW only. (It's worth pointing out right now that no other product attempts to offer such flexibility with a Series Link.) One of the key pieces of information TiVo uses to decide if a programme is NEW is something called the 'Original Air Date' (forever now referred to as the OAD!). The OAD is set as the first date that a particular episode of a programme was aired in the UK. TiVo describes a programme as NEW if it airs within 28 days of the OAD.

This situation threw up two issues. The first was caused by another feature of TiVo, the Episode Guide. To ensure the Episode Guide was as detailed as possible, we had to merge parts of TMS' US database with the one for the UK. To do this, we picked a historic date whereby the US OAD would take precedence over that of the UK. However, some US shows were inadvertently affected when there was a long gap between the US and the UK airing. As time has gone on, the number of shows that could be affected by this has reduced greatly.

The second was in relation to channels broadcast in Northern Ireland. That is, Virgin Media provides the RTE and TG4 channels to customers in N.I. However, some US shows are shown on both the Irish channels and on UK channels. Sometimes the 'Irish' airing is well in advance of the 'UK' airing. If that date difference is more than 28 days, TiVo would not apply a NEW tag to the 'UK' airing. TMS have been working hard to make sure their systems take this situation into account and any shows aired since July 1st should no longer suffer from this problem. Just as a tip and to ensure you don't miss any shows, you can also select 'NEW & reruns'.

Challenge 2:
We've discovered there are some challenges around 'Non-episodic programme information'. TiVo loves to know specific information about each and every programme, however some UK broadcasters aren't used to providing this for all shows.

This has lead us to use generic 'series information' for some shows and this causes the following issues:

1) all showings of a programme will be recorded regardless of the Series Link setting and 2) when a Catch-Up TV show is available in the reverse EPG, TiVo doesn't always know which episode to play. We're working with TMS and our channel providers to increase the amount of episodic information in the schedule.
So in summary, I hope this helps to clarify how we are dealing with some of the challenges we are facing. We're working closely with TMS to improve our operational compliance processes to ensure other mistakes don't slip through. We really appreciate your feedback and please continue to use the Survey Monkey link to report any problems so that we can resolve these as quickly as possible. We're also working on a better way for you to report issues directly to us and I'll be in touch once it's up and running.

Personally, I think its great to (finally) see this feedback from Virgin regarding this issue. Hopefully they, Tribune and certain broadcasters can resolve these issues and provide the quality metadata which our TiVos deserve and can make great use of.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Virgin Media to dedicate more resources to fix EPG errors for TiVo

Responding to the continued reports of EPG errors for Virgin Media's TiVo,  Nick Ontiveros (TV Strategy, Digital Entertainment) posted on Virgin's Help and Support Forums that:
I am aware that we are dedicating more VM resource towards spotting errors - although, as you know that we outsource the management of our EPG data, we don't want you as customers to be the ones to have to spot these things. It's our job to provide you a TV service that entertains you, and that's all we want you to do when you are using TiVo.

My Blog List