Virgin Media TV V6 review: Hands on with Virgin’s new cable TV box, Sky Q’s latest UK rival

When it first appeared on the scene, Virgin’s TiVO was revolutionary. It offered a more attractive, more flexible and powerful alternative to Sky+, with triple tuners and a range of clever features. But time moves on, and over time Virgin’s continual software updates have caused its once-usable recorder to become slow and tremendously sluggish.

The Virgin Media TV V6 box is aimed at remedying that, and at the same time staking a claim in the multiroom TV gold rush, alongside Sky Q. The question is, has Virgin Media succeeded? Can it persuade those customers who might have been thinking about abandoning ship to stay?

I’ve had the chance to go hands-on with the new box to find out.

READ NEXT: Sky Q review — the finest premium TV system money can buy

Virgin Media TV V6 box: Hardware

Virgin Media didn’t only announce a new TV box when it unveiled its new offering recently. There was the new TellyTablet, revamped user interface and new apps as well. I’ll address those later in this review but, for now, I’m going to focus on the heart of the system: the new Virgin Media TV V6 recorder box.

Developed by Liberty Global for Virgin Media, it’s smaller, squarer and a touch more boring-looking than the old TiVO machine, but it offers far more in terms of capabilities.

The headline feature is its ability to record six shows at once and watch a seventh live. For comparison, the Sky Q 2TB box can currently “only” record four while you watch a fifth, although a software upgrade in 2017 will upgrade it to six concurrent shows.

There’s also support for 4K Ultra HD programming, both via broadcast and streaming TV services, with HDR coming in a future software update. There’s a fair bit of future-proofing here, then; the main concern I have is that the TV V6 box has only 1TB of storage where the premium Sky Q box can have 2TB. This means it can only store up to 100 hours of Full HD content.

You’re going to run out of space fast, especially if you start recording 4k movies.

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Beleaguered users of the current TiVO box (once the cream of the premium TV crop but now frustratingly slow and sluggish), will appreciate the box’s newfound turn of speed, though. Virgin says it’s ten times faster than the old box; in fact it feels a lot faster than that.
During my hour-long demo I was able to navigate around the system in double quick time. Every press of a button on the remote control was responded to instantaneously, while long lists of recorded shows flicked by without pause. It’s a huge improvement on the ageing TiVO and will be reason alone for existing customers to upgrade.

The Virgin Media TV V6 box is Wi-Fi enabled (802.11ac, 3×3 MIMO no less), so users will be able to stream recorded programmes from one box to the other without having to run Ethernet cables all over the house.

If you want “proper” multiroom TV, however, you’ll not get it here. Sky Q uses the main box as a hub for storing all recorded and downloaded TV on, so what you see on every box in the house is the same and it’s easy to manage all your recordings and media, because they’re all in one place.

If you want to wath Virgin TV in another room, you’ll have to do that with multiple TV V6 boxes, each with its own cable connection – you won’t be able to move it once it’s in place – and each with its own selection of recordings.

It isn’t as elegant as Sky’s system, then, but it does work reasonably well. The contents of each box will be accessible from the other over your home Wi-Fi, so if you’ve recorded a movie on your bedroom box, you can stream it to the living room TV and vice versa.

Just like Sky Q, you will also be able to watch on one box, then continue on another – or the app – and the Virgin Media TV V6 box is also backwards compatible with older TiVO boxes, which means as long as you have your TiVO connected to your network (via Ethernet , since the TiVO has no Wi-Fi), you’ll be able to browse its contents as well.

There’s also the small side benefit that adding a second TV V6 box means you’ll be able to record up to 12 channels and watch two channels simultaneously. I’m not sure if anyone needs to record that much TV, though.

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Virgin Media TV V6: User interface and remote control

As for using the system, that hasn’t changed at all. The new TV V6 box will run the same, updated software system recently rolled out to existing customers, complete with its new tile-based Box Set and Movie browsers and SeriesLink+ feature. The latter identifies not only shows on broadcast channels for recording, but also episodes from the same show across streaming services, which it then bundles up and presents in a folder view.

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This is a very impressive feature, and means that if, for example, you’ve missed recording the first two or three shows in a series, as soon as you kick off a SeriesLink+, the TV V6 box will fill out the gaps with links to earlier episodes in that series and even earlier series. An even cleverer feature is the box’s ability to use SeriesLink+ to help you save storage space by deleting episodes you’ve recorded that are also available online.

Largely, though, the UI is no big departure. It looks very similar to the old TiVO system, with the same colour scheme and layout; the big difference is that it’s now much, much faster and, thus, more friendly to operate.

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The remote control is all new, however. Although the shape and layout are similar to the existing TiVo remote, it’s a smaller unit, lighter and feels more comfortable to hold. Most importantly, however, Virgin Media has upgraded it from infrared to RF, so you can stuff the box away in a cabinet or cupboard and still retain control from anywhere in the living room.

The remote has a new universal search button, too, and, just as with Sky Q, it’s possible to press a button on top of the box and locate your remote in an instant. I’m slightly concerned, however, that it isn’t clear which of the three buttons you have to press on the front of the box to do this (you hold down the + key), and that if you hold down the wrong one (the power button) the whole box resets.

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The remote control is new, however, despite first appearances. Although its shape and layout look similar to the existing TiVo remote, it’s smaller, lighter and feels more comfortable to hold. Most importantly, however, Virgin Media has upgraded it from infrared to RF, so you can stuff the box away in a cabinet or cupboard and still retain control from anywhere in the living room. The remote has a new universal search button and, just as with Sky Q, it’s possible to press a button on top of the box and locate your remote in an instant.

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Virgin Media TV V6: Revamped TV Anywhere app

In an attempt to bring the new system in line with rival Sky Q, Virgin Media has also revamped its TV Anywhere app, adding the ability to download recordings and watch them on the go. Note, though, that as with Sky Q there will be limitations to the programmes you can do this with.

Virgin Media said users of the app, which works on both iOS and Android, would be able to “sync some recordings from the Virgin TV V6 box to watch offline”. I imagine licensing restrictions will prevent Sky Sports recordings and BBC iPlayer from being watched offline, but there may well be other sources that can’t be watched offline.

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As part of the revamp, Virgin Media also launched its Kids app, aimed specifically at offering a safe environment for children up to the age of six to watch and stream age-appropriate TV and games.

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Virgin Media TV V6: TellyTablet

Possibly the most interesting – and baffling – part of Virgin’s new TV system is its TellyTablet, a device specifically designed as an extra screen that you can cart around the house to watch TV in any room.

Beyond the quirky name, though, there’s nothing special about this tablet. It’s simply a large, 14in Android tablet with a kickstand and the Virgin TV Anywhere app built in. It has a Full HD, 1080p IPS touchscreen, which didn’t feel very responsive when I tried it at the launch event, 32GB of integrated storage, plus a microSD slot, a pair of USB ports at the side and four speakers – two at the rear and two facing the front below the display.

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It won’t be hobbled in terms of its access to Google Play services and apps – you could, for instance, run Sky Go and Sky Sports on it as well as Virgin Media’s software – but it doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do with an iPad or equivalent Android tablet from another manufacturer.

It’s not particularly cheap, either. If you buy one outright it will set you back £299 standalone, or the cost can be spread over two years as part of one Virgin’s “Freestyle” mobile phone contract deals, starting at £23 per month.

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Virgin Media TV V6: Pricing and availability

So, to the key question: how much will the new Virgin Media TV V6 box cost and when will it be available? Those questions are, fortunately, simple to answer:

  • The Virgin Media TV V6 box will cost £99 upfront or £50 for those for those with a top-tier Full House or VIP bundle.

  • Existing customers will be able to buy one before the end of 2016, while new customers will have to wait until January 2017.

  • The revamped TV Anywhere app is free and available for iOS and Android devices.

  • The TellyTablet will cost £299 or from £23 per month as part of a mobile phone contract bundle; it will be available from December 2016.

A slightly more tricky question is whether this new offering is good enough to tempt potential customers away from Sky Q and back to Virgin Media. It’s a welcome update, that’s for sure, and the extra speed and features of the new box are sure to have existing customers switching to the new box in their droves, not necessarily for the 4K or extra recording abilities, but purely for the box’s extra speed.

I’m less convinced at this stage, however, at Virgin’s approach to multiroom. With Sky’s system allowing customers the flexibility to reposition screens around the home, keeping all content centrally stored and providing more storage per box – and its more modern, attractive UI, it holds the edge for now.

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