Update: August 19 - Virgin’s current best deal for TV is its ‘Ultimate Oomph Bundle’, currently £35 set-up and £89 a month for twelve months of fibre broadband, 270 TV channels (including Sky Sports and Sky Cinema), free calls and an unlimited data SIM; which saves you £120 over the course of the year. Learn more about the deal and Virgin Media’s other offers here.
Virgin Media’s an unusual player in the realm of TV, as you are only able to get its TV channels and streaming content if you also get its broadband internet at the same time. Having no choice in this makes for a larger decision than you might be expecting if you’re interested. If you’re sure it’s only TV you want, perhaps look at options like Sky Q or Now TV instead.
Virgin Media’s broadband element is fairly decent. In fact, the recent changes to its Hub 3, which enables ‘Intelligent WiFi’, a series of functions designed to improve speeds and coverage in your home, sounds excellent, and hopefully will hold up as users start to experience it in the real world.
The main focus of this article though is the Virgin Media V6 box, the centre of the bundle’s TV operations. It’s meant to be a powerful way to watch television in a small package, so let’s find out how well it achieves that aim.
Measuring 230 x 153 x 55mm and weighing just over 1kg, the Virgin TV V6 box is core to the cable provider's TV offering; all current broadband, TV and phone bundles for new Virgin Media customers come with a V6 box included.
In terms of tech, it has everything you could ever want from a set-top box. On the rear is one HDMI 2.0 output, an optical audio output for routing sound to an AV receiver or a sound bar, a 3.5 mm mini jack for analogue audio, and an Ethernet port.
Inside the V6 is a 1TB hard disk for making recordings. It can manage 100 hours of HD, or 500 hours of SD recordings, and record six programs simultaneously while you watch a seventh recording or stream.
Sadly, the V6 box comes with almost exactly the same remote control as the old TiVo box. In fact, despite the TiVo branding being dropped by Virgin Media’s marketing, it's not actually gone anywhere. Still gracing that remote are the same irritating brightly coloured thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons, which are intended to teach the system what you like and what you dislike. However, the remote works well enough, communicating with the V6 box very quickly, which is the exact opposite of the previous TiVo box. The box also has a few hard buttons for channel-up, channel-down, and standby.
The setup of the V6 box is easy but comes with a few surprises. During installation of our unit, it became obvious that although the old TiVo box could merely be given back to Virgin Media, another option was to retain it, at no cost, and link it to the new V6 box. The result? Instant multi-room! As well as giving you a few more tuners (as if more were needed), keeping the old box means you can watch Virgin Media TV in two different rooms, but also that you can watch recordings made on either box in either room.
The boxes are most easily linked via Powerline, which isn't quite as easy as Sky Q's wireless slave Mini boxes (for starters, you need a couple of Powerline plugs or sockets), but it is faster and more reliable. During setup, you have to assign specific names to each box, so you can swap between them on both the user interface on the boxes themselves, but also on the Virgin TV Control smartphone app. Multi-room makes a huge difference if you have another room you sometimes watch TV in, such as a bedroom or a home cinema room.
During setup, you can also determine what resolution the V6 box outputs. If you choose to output in 4K, you must have a compatible 4K TV, of course. Once that has been set up – a short process that asks you to confirm you can see various images on your TV – you can watch 4K content from YouTube, no matter what package you take out.
If you get a Netflix Premium subscription, you can watch 4K Netflix, too. However, you will need a subscription to Virgin TV's Full House or VIP bundles to watch 4K drama on Virgin Media's new peak-time 4K TV channel called Virgin TV Ultra HD, as well as on BT Sport 4K UHD.
Although it looks much the same as the old TiVo user interface, there have been some big changes. Most obviously, SeriesLink+ has changed. Instead of merely compiling recordings in a silo, perhaps adding the latest episode once per week, the V6 instead searches across all of the on-demand and catch-up sources it can find. Sometimes you can set a SeriesLink+ and quickly discover that the entire series is already available on a platform you have access to. That could be Netflix, or 4OD, the BBC iPlayer, or Virgin's own on-demand content. That's really useful, but it does clutter-up the My Recordings area.
Speaking of Virgin's own on-demand content, there's a lot of it, and most of it is archive stuff. However, there is plenty of entire series in the boxsets area of the interface, which includes a ton of TV drama and nature/science documentaries. The best way to find something to watch is to conduct a service-wide A-Z search, or to look by genre, though it can be quite long-winded.
The V6 box is fast. So fast. In fact, it's an absolute breath of fresh air to existing TiVo users, and it doesn't stutter with 4K. Picture quality is always top-notch, and even third-party apps like the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube load in seconds.
Although it's useful to use the Virgin TV Anywhere app to set recordings while you're away from home over the mobile network, in practice it rarely proves that useful. That's largely because it's both slow and almost always forgets the user's login details and password. Can you remember your username and password when you're in a bar? Or on a faraway beach? We're really not sure why Virgin is so security-conscious, or why anyone would want to break into someone else's set-top box.
Unless you're a sports fan and want to watch BT Sport 4K UHD (for which you need a top subscription), the 4K content you can enjoy on the V6 box is relatively uninteresting. Its Virgin TV Ultra HD channel is mostly showcase stuff, though the ability to hook-up Netflix in 4K saves it.
However, the V6 is about much more than V6. What we love most about it is the processing power, which makes it a joy to use. Multi-room is reliable and easy to use, and the plethora of HD channels is impressive. However, though it’s great for live TV, we're not convinced about the rather confusing menu system in which it stores thousands of hours of VOD. Very little of it is must-watch, and there's a lot to trawl through. Is it just there for the sake of it? Perhaps, but with so many sources of entertainment, it’s really hard to argue.