Virgin Media TiVo review

Price when reviewed

TiVo is a household name in the United States, supplying advanced PVR (personal video recorder) boxes to cable-connected households across the country. But despite attempting to break into the UK market back in 2000, it’s never quite caught on.

That was partly because of its high price, and partly down to Sky’s dominance of the pay TV market at the time. It was never a big seller in the first place, but when Sky introduced its Sky+ PVR, the TiVo stood no chance.

Now, though, the TiVo is making its return having signed an agreement with Virgin Media to supply the user interface for its new, HD-capable TV box.

Virgin Media TiVo - front view


Those hoping for a replacement of their cranky old V+ box are in for a disappointment, however. The Virgin Media TiVo doesn’t supplant the old model, but supplements it, and if you want one it’s going to cost you.

There are two models available, differentiated by the amount of storage: 500GB or 1TB. The 1TB box is exclusive to subscribers to Virgin’s top-whack XL TV package, but whichever box they choose, it’s an extra £3 per month on top of the normal subscription.

For those on cheaper subscriptions it’s £8 per month for the 500GB (although since V+ owners already pay £5, this works out at £3 per month effectively). New customers, meanwhile, can only opt for the 1TB box at the moment – the 500GB box won’t be available until July.

On top of this there’s an “activation fee” of £50 for the 500GB box and an outrageous £150 for the 1TB model. It’s also worth noting that, after all this expenditure (£186 in the first year for TV XL subscribers), you don’t actually own the box. It remains the property of Virgin Media.

UPDATE: Since we published this review, we’ve discovered Virgin also charges an extra £40 installation fee on top of the costs detailed above. Thanks to ding_jimmy, KevPartner and tirons1 for pointing this out.

The hardware

That’s quite a wedge of cash, so what exactly do you get for all the extra money? Well, the first big advantage is capacity. Whether you choose the 500GB or 1TB version, you’ll be able to store an awful lot more TV and movies than on the V+ box with its tiny 160GB hard disk. That equates to around 250 hours of standard definition TV or 50 hours of HD programmes on the 500GB TiVo, and double that on the 1TB box. The V+, in comparison, stores a mere 80 hours of SD or 20 hours of HD.

Virgin Media TiVo - rear view

The TiVo is technically more advanced than the V+. It still has the luxury of three tuners, allowing you to record two programmes simultaneously while watching another, but holds buffers for all three simultaneously. What that means is you can set recordings on two channels simultaneously, and pause and rewind live TV on another channel.

We also noticed the TiVo is distinctly quieter, with less hard disk whizz and whir than the V+. Keeping things discreet are the LEDs, which are again less obtrusive. Picture quality, meanwhile, is on a par too.

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