TiVo goes touchy-feely

Jamie Carter
Jamie Carter -

Virgin Media

What’s the most old-fashioned thing you’ve done lately?

Penned a letter? Booked a holiday with a high street travel agent?

Or maybe you’ve been planning your TV week using the Radio Times and a highlighter pen?

The last one I’d forgive you for.

Modern technology may have snaffled and/or streamlined almost every transaction and task that we used to call our daily ‘To Do’ list (long since renamed the ‘To Google’ list), but perusing the TV schedules looking for stuff to ‘red button’ has until now been a decidedly analogue experience.

Page down. Green button? No, blue. Is there an HD version? Go forward a day, then back, then down the channel list. Start again. The simple act of seeing if there was a film worth recording in the next seven days felt like scanning through an Excel spreadsheet of Enron’s accounts.

Scrolling through the electronic programme guide on my Virgin Media V+HD box was a daily chore I just couldn’t accept – and I missed a lot of series, films and documentaries because of it.

Step forward TiVo. Sky subscribers might scoff (they’ve had mobile access to their box for yonks, though only two tuners to Virgin box’s three), but my life has very recently been changed for the better not by the arrival of a TiVo box in my living room per se, but rather by the launch last week of a refreshed version of the Virgin Media TV Guide app.

It’s been around a while in some form or another, but this version lets me set recordings remotely.

At last! For a company that appears to upgrade its ultra-mega-super-fast broadband every month, this kind of app squares the circle, bringing functionality as well as speed.

The app itself is essentially a listing of TV schedules for the next seven days by channel, so the act of dipping in and out of days and channels isn’t actually that different to on the box itself (changing day, in particular, is rather long winded).

Crucially, because it’s done on a touchscreen phone, it’s so much easier and faster to control, and it’s possible to omit channels you don’t ever watch, too.

As well as the option to record a show, there’s a series link button – where applicable – as well as the chance to either email or text a link to a particular show.

If that’s unlikely, what is certain is that it’s so much more appropriate to set recordings and plan TV viewing while on the bus/waiting for an egg to boil/in a business meeting than in bona fide free time.

There is one caveat; the message from your phone or tablet (I used the Android version of the app on Samsung’s seven-inch Galaxy Tab as well as on an iPhone 3GS) takes around half an hour to be conveyed to the box.

And while I love the TiVo box’s option to add up to three hours to a scheduled recording – which solves the problem of sports events that overrun (there’s nothing more irritating than a recording of the first half of a rain-delayed Grand Prix, or a cup tie minus the penalty shoot-out) – the app doesn’t get that deeply involved.

While the TiVo app is an instant hit in my hands, for the TiVo box itself it’s early days.

The 1TB hard disk has made a lot of difference, especially with sport and films increasingly being broadcast in gigabyte-hungry hi-def and 3D, though its progress at learning my habits has been slower than expected.

Its interface can also be surprisingly slow, with the ‘glory’ button for the ‘+’ generation – the series link – now involving several commands, while cancelling a recording takes even longer.

Overall it’s not difficult to use, and should get better with use – and software updates. So TiVo still gets the thumbs-up, but it’s with remote recording that Virgin Media has really come up trumps. RIP, EPG.

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