Virgin TV 360 — First impressions

I’ve just upgraded my V6 box to Virgin TV 360. I’m starting to think that was a mistake.

When Liberty Global took over Virgin Media in 2013, it seemed likely that at some point in the future VM would stop using TiVo software to run its set-up boxes and switch to something based on Liberty’s Horizon platform. That something is Virgin TV 360, which was announced last year and is now being rolled out to any VM subscriber who asks for it. I asked for the upgrade last week and my new kit arrived today. I’ve been using it for a few hours and I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t.

I heard about Virgin TV 360 last year, but I haven’t been keeping up with the news, so I was somewhat surprised to see it advertised on television last week. On further investigation, I found the page about it on their website and discovered that I could order the upgrade for my account. The website upgrade path didn’t work for me, so I called them and booked the upgrade.

As I have a V6 box, I didn’t need new hardware, they just sent out a new remote control and told me that I could upgrade the software myself once the new remote arrived. That arrived this morning, so at lunchtime, I settled in to upgrade my system.

It started off smoothly. A screen warned that the upgrade could take up to half an hour, but it only took a few minutes before I was looking at the new interface.

The old TiVo interface was really showing its age and this new interface is much better. It looks pretty similar to Android TV. Gone are most of the lists of titles, replaced by tiles with pictures in them. But while the new look and feel had me smiling, my smile evaporated once I started to use it. I don’t think I was a particularly expert user of the old TiVo interface, but a lot of the functions I used to regularly use are either missing or buried so deeply in the interface that I haven’t found them yet.

A lot of the problems are around the search mechanism. Search is being pushed as the main way to interact with the new system, so it’s disappointing to see that it’s not as powerful as the old TiVo system was. It seems that the database that powers the search isn’t as sophisticated as the old one was.

The old database contained details of thousands of TV shows and films. You could search for pretty much any TV show and you could get information about it (lists of episodes, cast and crew lists, things like that). At that point, you could set a “series link” so that if that program was broadcast on any of your channels in the future, the TiVo would record it for you. There were ways to fine-tune those records — only record HD broadcasts, only record new episodes, only record season 3 onwards — things like that. The new search doesn’t do most of that. It seems to only find shows that are on in the next couple of weeks. When it finds something, you can create a series link, but it’s hard-wired to the channel that you found the program on. And none of the other fine-tunings are available.

A couple of examples might help here. On my old system, I had a series link set for “Doctor Who” on all channels. So it would record an episode of Doctor Who wherever it was broadcast. I wanted to set up something like that on the new system. I searched for “Doctor Who” and it found a few repeats that are coming up on W in the next couple of weeks. But if I used that to set up the series link, I’d miss the new season that’s being broadcast on BBC One later this year. I also wanted to set a series link for “What We Do in the Shadows”. There’s a new season of that coming at some point, but because there are no episodes being broadcast in the next couple of weeks, Virgin TV 360 knows nothing about it and I can’t create a series link.

I mentioned that the old search database had cast and crew lists. You could use those to search for people and set up automatic recordings for any show that mentioned those people. I had a dozen or so of those set up — so I’d never miss a show that featured Neil Gaiman, Alice Roberts, Gerry Anderson and many other people — but that’s not available in the new system. So that’s a whole type of use that I can no longer do.

But I think the most frustrating problem I’ve found so far is the way it renumbers channels. My Virgin Media subscription comes with over 200 channels. Many of them, I have no interest in. So the TiVo software had a “favourite channels” feature. I could mark the channels that I was interested in watching and the TV guide would give me a view that only displayed those channels. The new software also has something like that. But the new feature also has another, completely unexpected side effect. All of the channels have a three-digit number assigned. And over the many years I’ve been using Virgin Media, I’ve learned the numbers for many of the channels that I use frequently. But the new system uses my favourite channels to number the channels and that gives them new numbers that are completely confusing.

As an example, say I’ve only chosen three favourite channels — BBC One HD (108), BBC Four (107) and BBC News HD (601) — the new software actively hides the “real” channel numbers from me and, if I want to type a number on the remote to change the channel, expects me to type 1, 2 or 3. This is annoying for two reasons. Firstly, I need to memorise a whole new set of channel numbers and, secondly, those numbers will change whenever I add or remove a favourite channel. That seems like idiocy to me. Who thought that would be a useful feature?

All in all, I’m really struggling after a few hours with this new interface. I don’t think I’m usually someone who just dislikes change. I think these are real holes in the functionality that I’m missing from the old system.

I’m hoping that some of these will be fixed in future releases of the software. But I’m worried that some of them will be seen as a simplified way of doing things and, therefore, just something I’ll have to get used to.

Perhaps this won’t matter to new customers who are just joining Virgin Media. But if you’re an existing customer who likes using these powerful features, you might want to think twice before upgrading to this new system.

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