I tried to subscribe to Sky TV once. Two installers turned up at lunchtime, told me I couldn't have it as the dish wouldn't be able to see the satellite and then disappeared back to their van for sandwiches and an ogle at page three. I looked at the working dish a couple of feet from my window, belonging to a neighbour and realised I'd been dropped by people who considered an early lunch more important. I vowed never to contact Sky again.
As a Virgin Tv subscriber, I have found myself envying Sky subscribers from time to time. In spite of having inferior satellite technology, unreliable Sky+ boxes and poor ADSL based broadband - Sky innovate where it matters, TV content and accessibility. Virgin with its massive fibre-optic network never seemed to make the best of what they had, let alone try to innovate.
Recent times have seen some happy changes though. A Virgin Media customer can have up to 100MB broadband now (before you moan, they're one of the least complained about broadband suppliers - leaving the horrors of their NTL roots far behind them) and the Virgin TiVo is a powerful beast of a box, easily the match of Sky+HD.
After a few weeks with mine, not long after it's launch, I sang its praises here at Dependent on Gadgets and for the reasons I listed there, I still think it's one of the best set-top-boxes on the market. However, I don't think I've necessarily gotten the best out of it. One of the unique selling points of the TiVo is the powerful programme guide. Not only do you see all the usual programme information, you can also get a full list of cast and crew for a given show, and you can then drill down further and see if anything else is coming up in the schedules for a favorite actor, or director. Even better, you can also set up a wish-list and forever more the TiVo will look out for them and record anything that comes up.
Brilliant, but I've barely used it, why?
Most of the time, when the TiVo is on, its because my wife and I want to watch TV - not explore menu after menu. In an age of tablets and smartphones, with their instant gratification, I must also admit it does feel a bit clunky and slow from time to time.
It was with great joy I discovered that last week, Virgin had finally released 'Virgin TV Anywhere', a companion app for the Apple iPad that gives you access to the full functionality of the TiVo over your local WIFI connection and even over the internet! I downloaded and started to explore...
Setting up the TiVo with your iPad is easy, so long as you can connect the TiVo to your router via a network (ethernet) cable (see the end of this article if you feel uncertain!) and you know your Virgin account username and password. The app does a nice job of guiding you through registration (including getting a 'media access key' from the box) and then you're connected and ready to go! If you have trouble, the 'help' section looks well written and should be able to sort you out.
At home, this app essentially turns your iPad into a fantastic second screen for your TV enjoyment and a powerful remote control to manage your TV viewing. Without disturbing other viewers, you can easily comb through the TV guide looking for shows to watch or record up to two weeks into the future.
When you find something you're interested in, you can just as easily disturb everyone and change the channel direct from the app, either by tapping 'Watch Now' on a highlighted show, or by flicking over to an on-screen version of the TiVo remote. All the buttons are there, but if you bought your iPad because you love the feel of a good swipe, there is also a gesture based version of the remote to learn and play with.
A big touchscreen version of the remote and the EPG would be a nice app all by itself, but things don't stop there. You also have access to manage your recordings, both recorded and planned any time you have an internet connection. When connected to your TiVo at home, you can hit the 'Watch now' and start playback of any show on your TV. Sadly streaming of the shows direct to the iPad is not available, but hopefully this is just a question of Virgin getting the correct licenses from programme-makers and this function can be added later. Shows can also be deleted from the drive, series-links and wish-lists can be edited and of course you can use the 'Explore' option to look at that cast list and see what else is coming up from your on-screen hero.
It's this function that has the most value being taken off the TV screen and moved onto the tablet. I've created so many more wish-lists in my week with this app than I ever did before and can't wait to see what gets recorded for me. It's much more of a pleasure to do whilst watching shows full-screen on the TV and anytime someone pops into your mind, it's so much easier to pick up the tablet and add them.
I've already noted that you can't stream your recordings to your iPad and yes, this is a disappointment. Anyone who has seen 'Sky Go' may also be further disappointed, as Sky have managed to arrange for many more of their channels to be available to the iPad for streaming anywhere. Virgin have made a start, some of their 'TV Choice' on demand stuff is available and Channel 5 and a few of the lesser known channels make their live TV available too. Those downloading this app for the streaming, I'm afraid this is not where its strengths lie (but the iPad has other powers for this).
The TiVo is already an excellent device and it's true that you already had all this functionality - but if you also have an iPad (or indeed iPhone - not tested), this app helps you get extra value out of two expensive, but awesome devices littering your living room. Got an Android based tablet? Patience will be rewarded with a version of the app due early next year.
Connecting your TiVo to your Router
In order for the iPad to be able to talk to your TiVo box, it will use your broadband setup. Whilst your broadband is there to provide wireless internet access to the household, the box you were given for this, the router, also automatically manages a private computer network for your devices to all talk to each other over.
The TiVo doesn't have a wireless network connection, it needs a cable. These cables are generally known as Ethernet cables although some will refer to the 'CAT5' standard as well. These cables are cheaply available at Ebay if you can't get hold of one.
Once you have one, the Ethernet socket is easy to locate on the back of your TiVo next to where the power goes in:
Now the other end needs to go into the router. The box Virgin currently supply is called their 'Superhub' which has space for four cabled network devices. Connect the other end to any of these and your TiVo is now networked!
Do post a question in the comments if more detail here would be useful.