Thursday, 29 December 2011

News roundup for Virgin Media's TiVo: Massive increase in TiVo subscribers?; AVForums Review; Onkyo amp hookup

VideoNet reports that since Virgin's 3rd Quarterly report, the number of TiVos has "increased massively beyond the 220,000 figure provided in October", according to Mark Brandon, Commercial Director at VMDS.

Meanwhile, AVForums have a comprehensive review of Virgin's TiVo online.
We’ve deliberated long and hard over our final verdict with TiVo, teetering between top marks or a ‘Highly Recommended’ and, ultimately, we’ve settled on an extremely rare 'Reference' badge. And the reason is simple, in essence, TiVo outperforms any of the competition in terms of the flexibility of recording options available and the near seamless integration of Virgin’s, market leading, catch-up services means you have virtually countless hours of content just a few button presses away. Add in the recommendation engine, with its ability to make suggestions of content your viewing habits would indicate you’ll enjoy, and it really is like no other Digital PVR available in the UK. Quite simply, if you like the sound of all that’s on offer, TiVo is the only show in town.
...Some may say that TiVo’s interface can be a little busy and slightly sluggish and we’d find it hard to disagree with that, also. To get the most out of it, you’re required to put a little effort in and we’d perfectly understand some may prefer the simplicity of say Sky - or even Virgin’s own V+ Box - but what we would say about that is, don’t knock it until you’ve tried and, although it took some time, we’d find it difficult to go back. Could we live with out it? Sure, but we’d rather not.
Meanwhile, owners of Onkyo TX-NR609 amplifiers may want to watch this video regarding connecting the amp to a TiVo:

Monday, 19 December 2011

You want Red Button? Virgin Media will give you Red Button for TiVo, and then some!

Lots of sport, lots of buttons - coming
next year to a TiVo near you
 Here's today's press release:

Virgin Media and the BBC today announced a new deal that will bring next-generation BBC TV services to the Virgin Media TiVo® Service in 2012, continuing the successful partnership which saw BBC iPlayer launch on its first TV platform.

The BBC and Virgin Media will now begin to develop new applications and user experiences for TiVo homes - paving the way for Virgin Media customers to gain access to the BBC’s interactive coverage of next year’s major sporting events via a brand new Red Button experience, including Formula 1, Wimbledon, Euro 2012 and the London 2012 Olympics.

A forthcoming BBC Sport app will build on these “enhanced Red Button” services to bring next-generation viewing experiences to connected TVs in 2012. The new app will bring together all the live streams from the BBC’s existing Red Button service, video streams on-demand and additional content from BBC Online - providing a next-generation TV experience of Wimbledon, Formula 1, Euro 2012 and London 2012.

The BBC Sport app will sit alongside the BBC’s existing BBC News and BBC iPlayer apps.

The partnership between Virgin Media and the BBC has already delivered full integration of BBC iPlayer into Virgin Media’s TiVo Service. BBC catch-up programmes are now even easier to access through the search, menus, and EPG, made possible by the openness and flexibility of the TiVo platform.

The award-winning BBC News app, which brings together the best of BBC News on TV and online in an on-demand service will launch on Virgin Media TiVo. Accessible via the Red Button and the Virgin Media TiVo ‘Apps and Games’ section, it is expected to launch in the first quarter of next year,
Jane Weedon, Controller of Business Development, BBC Future Media said: “With its pioneering BBC iPlayer service now available on more than 300 different internet-connected TV devices, the BBC has successfully taken catch-up TV beyond the PC and into the living room.

“Having partnered with Virgin Media to bring BBC iPlayer to TV back in 2008, we have since brought a vastly-improved, fully-integrated experience of BBC iPlayer to Virgin Media’s TiVo Service. With the addition of the BBC News app and enhanced BBC Sport services – all accessible via the Red Button – we plan to build on this partnership and continue to innovate in connected TV through 2012.”

Cindy Rose, executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media, said: “Our innovative new TiVo service offers a whole world of catch-up, on demand, HD, 3D and live TV content and we’re delighted to be adding the BBC’s next generation News and Sport services to the line-up.

“2012 promises to be an unforgettable year for UK viewers and our customers can look forward to every minute of it. We’re pleased to be partnering with the BBC to make even more of their content available on what is the UK’s most advanced TV platform.”

Now this is more like it. Enough of the promotional apps please for the likes of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Sky Premium Channels. I've seen the BBC News app on my Samsung TV, suffice to say it makes the existing BBC MultiScreen app look like its running on a Sinclair Spectrum:

Of course, running that Sammy app uses my home broadband connection which is shared among other networked devices. The TiVo version of the BBC apps will of course, use that dedicated 10mb broadband connection which I've typed a lot about, but until now, feel that Virgin haven't really exploited. The BBC apps will change that.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Have Virgin Media fixed the BBC iPlayer issues for TiVo?

Bandwidth bottleneck on Virgin Media's network -
responsible for making the unmissable unplayable on TiVo?
A couple of Virgin Media employees have posted feedback on the Help & Support Forums (here and here) regarding the BBC iPlayer issues which have surfaced on TiVo since the 15.2 software update.

The second post reveals the presence of a bandwidth bottleneck which has since been removed from the network, plus an increase in bandwidth to deal with the iPlayer content which will (hopefully) be streaming to a TiVo near you without buffering and the other issues previously reported:

Apologies about the delay in replying to this thread.  We have been awaiting some information regarding an upgrade that has been done. As of today we should start seeing a reduction in the problems with BBC I Player.

Can we ask that you do a few tests in the next 24 hours and ask anyone who has not done so in the last 48 hours to do a reboot on their boxes and try the application again.
Please let us know if your still getting problems and we can check individual accounts.
Can you also please start your own individual posts so we can keep a track on each persons query.

Once again we apologise for the delay and thank you for your patience with us in this matter.
Firstly sorry about the delay in posting about this, we've had some issues tracking the cause of this particular problem down. But after doing a lot of digging into the cause of this problem we've identified it and implemented a fix last night.
As of the 15.2 update we switched over to streaming all iPlayer content via the full iPlayer app and unfortunately we ran into a bandwidth bottleneck for some customers on one particular TiVo specific part of our network. The solution was to remove that bottleneck which we did last night and we've also made sure there is plenty of room for all of the iPlayer traffic that we're expecting over Christmas for everyone.
If you could confirm for us if you've seen an improvement or not we'd appreciate it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

News snippets for Virgin Media TiVo: Network page updated; TiVo remove app; Deadline closing in for Xmas TiVo installations

The Network Your TiVo page has been updated (thanks to some excellent feedback), with more details regarding how you can access a list of recorded content from your web browser (as in, a list - not playing back that content in your browser), as well as more options for remote controlling your networked TiVo, minus one option - Gizmo Lovers reports that TiVo Commander has been removed from the Android Market thanks to....TiVo.

Meanwhile, the Virgin Media High Definition & TiVo Services Blog reports that the deadline for Xmas installations is, at midnight! So if you want to get TiVoed in time for Xmas then you better get a move on and get on that phone sharpish.

Why the 15.2 software update has affected BBC iPlayer for Virgin Media's TiVo

The 15.2 software update has improved the TiVo service provided by Virgin Media - apart from one area: BBC iPlayer.

iPlayer has been a shining example of the Video-on-Demand (VOD) capability of Virgin's network - Virgin was the first TV platform to provide iPlayer and as of January 2011, 16% of all iPlayer views were made from Virgin TV customers.

With Virgin, there's dedicated frequencies within the physical cable for each service that enters your home. Think of the cable as a 5 line Motorway, with separate traffic lanes for Linear TV Channels, VOD, Home Broadband, TiVo's 10Mb Broadband and Voice Data for your phone.

Until now, when you've requested some iPlayer content on TiVo, its been delivered as a MPEG 2 stream via the 'VOD' lane of the Motorway/Cable, and that iPlayer content, along with the majority of other VOD content, has been delivered from your local headend. There's over 50 regional headends and they each contain VOD servers which provide the on-demand content for your area.

One problem with that approach is keeping content in sync for the VOD servers at those regional headends. When new content becomes available (from the BBC and every other supplier of VOD content), it needs to be copied to all of those regional headends. That's why you may not have VOD content which other customers report as being available in their area, the recent rollout of  Sky Anytime content is a recent example of this.

With 15.2 on TiVo (and only on TiVo - V and V+ HD boxes are unaffected), that's changed for iPlayer. Now, all iPlayer content is delivered directly from the BBC. The advantages of this approach is that as soon as the BBC make the content available, its also available for your TiVo, and the delay between a BBC programme being broadcasted and becoming available to watch on TiVo via iPlayer, is greatly reduced.

It also means a lot more iPlayer content is available to watch via TiVo, compared to the older V/V+ HD boxes - up to 950 hours on TiVo from 350 hours on older Virgin boxes.

It sounds good, and it also has the advantage of not using one of TiVo's three tuners to watch iPlayer content. So you could watch last week's Top Gear while recording up to three programmes.

So....why all the recent complaints about iPlayer not working since the 15.2 update?

Well, leaving aside the annoying delay between requesting iPlayer content and the completion of the iPlayer app loading (seriously Virgin, can't we just play the damn content already instead of loading the app first?!?), the problem isn't TiVo's dedicated broadband connection which provides up to 10Mb of bandwidth - that's more then enough bandwidth to stream HD iPlayer content which requires a bitrate of 3.5Mb.

The problem is somewhere else in the network - either a lack of bandwidth between the Beeb and your TiVo, or a lack of server capacity at the BBC's server farms or content delivery network, in which case the iPlayer servers are being bombarded by so many requests from VOD-hungry TiVo's that they're struggling to stream content without buffering issues.

Virgin have acknowledged there's an issue and are working to fix it. Someone, somewhere, has been caught out by the extra bandwidth and/or server capacity requirements needed to feed iPlayer content to all those TiVos - and there isn't exactly a lack of demand for them, especially at this time of year.

Looking ahead, Virgin will potentially face the same issues as they go from using the legacy delivery system of VOD (streaming MPEG 2), to using TiVo's broadband connection (streaming MPEG 4) to provide content from other on-demand providers like 4oD, Demand Five and Warner. Hopefully Virgin can avoid the issues which has made the unmissable missed for fans of BBC iPlayer.

Monday, 5 December 2011

News for Virgin Media's TiVo: More on 15.2 software update; Wireless Keyboard Fun; iPlayer Issues

I was going to do an in-depth article on the 15.2 software update, but zekeisaszekedoes has done such a great job in a discussion thread over at Cable Forum that I might as well direct you to there instead.

Among the nuggests of information in that thread are the TiVo keyboard shortcuts for those customers who have a wireless keyboard. I purchased one this weekend, placed the USB wireless adapter into the back of the TiVo and volia, typing keywords for content searches has become a lot easier.

But its not all good news: There's been various reports (here and here on Virgin's Help and Support Forums) of issues with BBC iPlayer since 15.2 was deployed: Catch-up EPG links not linking to the content in iPlayer, and reports of content buffering and or/playback stopping altogether when attempting to play back content. This has been raised as a National fault by Virgin and is currently under investigation. With more and more people getting TiVoed and accessing apps like iPlayer, Virgin and third-party video content suppliers may need to upgrade their networks to cope with demand.

Meanwhile, TechRadar have a great article up comparing the numerous VOD and streaming services in the UK, Virgin's VOD service is included and gets 4 out of 5.

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