Virgin Media Player review

Sky makes a big thing of its online TV service, promoting it at every opportunity, but Virgin’s marketing of its equivalent isn’t quite as obvious. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it didn’t want you knowing about its Virgin Media Player at all from a quick glance over the company’s homepage.

It isn’t any more accessible if you know about it either. The service is available free only for subscribers to the company’s top-end TV XL package (which works out at £23.50 per month, without any premium sports or movies channels), and if you want to use your mobile phone to view TV on the move you have to pay extra too.

Virgin Media Player

This wouldn’t be disastrous if Virgin Player was bursting at the seams with content, but alas it isn’t. It lacks the live TV element of the Sky Player or BBC iPlayer services, so you can’t watch programs as they’re broadcast. The Sky Sports channels are off limits, too, due to rights restrictions.

You can access only the catch-up TV element of your Virgin package, and even then, coverage is patchy. If your children are avid Ben 10 fans, you may have been hoping for at least one or two series with which to distract them; you get only part of each. Sci-fi fans aren’t catered for with any more rigour: the first series of Heroes is present, but nothing more. And don’t get too excited by mention of House – only the first series appears, with no sign of the remaining six.

In fact, the majority of programs are the sort of second-grade reality TV mush and cast-off American series that Virgin features on its “One” channel. If that isn’t enough to put you off, here’s a shortlist of content we’ve just compiled from the “What’s on this week” box at the top of the player homepage: the first series of 30 Rock (not bad, but where are series two to five?); Hairy Women (depressingly, this appears to be the first of many), An Audience with Coronation Street; Most Haunted; Breakout; and Hannah Montana Forever. You get the picture.

Virgin Media Player

Adding further to Virgin Player’s woes is the fact that once you’ve selected something to watch, the quality of the video output varies wildly. This is due to the stream’s adaptive bit-rate encoding, which analyses the speed of your connection and alters quality accordingly, but it hasn’t been well implemented here.

The main issues are that it errs on the side of caution, and the steps between the different levels of quality are too big. For much of the time this resulted in a picture that was heavily pixellated, even with a broadband connection well capable of coping with the demands of BBC HD. On the plus side, at least there’s no advertising before or during programs.

Access to Virgin’s catch-up programming is a nice extra for those who already have the full XL package, but on this evidence it certainly isn’t worth paying extra to get it, and it can’t hold a candle to Sky Player. Only once it gets more content, the low resolution has been boosted, and the service itself is made more accessible will it even come close.

Details

Software subcategory Media software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? yes
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes

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