Virgin TV's current TiVo set-top box has been around for quite a while now (since 2011 to be precise) and, in the face of the recently launched Sky Q, is fast beginning to show its age. The interface is sluggish, it isn't 4K compatible and can record 'only' three channels at a time. The long-overdue replacement will arrive in December for a one-off payment of £100 (or £50 if you subscribe to a top-tier Full House or VIP bundle).
The Virgin V6 is still powered by the TiVo operating system, so much will be familiar to existing Virgin TV customers - but it is much smaller than its predecessor. While the current TiVo box had a relatively stylish curved front, the V6 is just a plain black box. Unlike rival Sky, Virgin has not used this as an opportunity to enhance the industrial design of its new offering. Pity.
The remote control is smaller, but retains the same design as the current one, and is now RF rather than infrared so you can hide the box away in a cabinet or cupboard and the remote will still work.
Of course the key upgrade we were expecting was 4K compatibility, and that the V6 has. There was no mention at the launch of a dedicated Virgin TV 4K channel, as Sky has, but there is a new app interface and what David Bouchier, Virgin Media's chief entertainment officer, describes as "the fastest way to get Netflix in the UK". It is claimed the V6 box is "ten times faster than the existing TiVo one, half the size and Virgin's fastest, smallest and smartest set-top box yet".
Initially 4K content will be limited to Netflix and YouTube, but there is a hint that there will be "more 4K content coming soon".
As for HDR (High Dynamic Range), it's not a feature of the V6 box at launch but will be added via a software update next year "as more HDR content becomes available", says Virgin. When it comes, the V6 box will be compatible with the BBC's 4K/HLG trial on iPlayer although it will need to be hooked up with a compatible Panasonic TV to get the full benefit.
We have seen an early demo of the BBC's Planet Earth II 4K/HLG clip and it looks spectacular.
MORE: What is HLG TV?
Fire it up and initially at least the V6's user interface will look familiar to current TiVo owners. The channel listings retain the same look and feel, and Bouchier says it is more of an "evolution rather than a revolution".
However, the latest TiVo software has been upgraded and specifically designed for use with apps such as iPlayer, Netflix and Vevo and there's more use of image-based menus with tiles, which are said to be "superfast to navigate". That should address one of the main criticisms of the current TiVo interface, which can be painfully slow.
There's now a new smart search function and SeriesLink+ which pulls all TV programmes together whichever channel or service they are available on. This should make it much easier to find programmes across multiple apps on the service such as Netflix and iPlayer.
Virgin TV Anywhere app
You also get easy-to-access box sets and a dedicated kids app with 1500 hours of children's programmes.
The Virgin TV Anywhere app - again, familiar to current subscribers - has been revamped to work with the V6 box. It allows you to watch live TV, thousands of hours of on-demand box sets, as well as live TV and selected recordings on iOS and Android devices connected to your home wi-fi network. Some box sets, as well as live TV, will also be available to view over wi-fi outside the home.
In addition, the app allows users to remotely set, cancel and delete recordings on the Virgin TV V6 box as they can currently on the TiVo box. And you can sync some recordings from the V6 box to watch offline on your smartphone or tablet.
More after the break
One area where Virgin claims superiority over Sky Q is in recording: the V6 can record up to six channels simultaneously, while watching another (Sky Q can 'only' record four while watching a fifth). Whether or not you will ever need to do so is a moot point - in our experience we rarely have all three tuners recording at the same time on our current TiVo box. Still, it's something you can boast about to your mates when you're down the pub.
While Virgin doesn't offer a 'Mini' version of the V6 box, as Sky does with the Q Mini, the V6 has been designed so that recordings can be streamed and accessed on other TiVo boxes around the home (including the existing model). So while Virgin's multi-room offering may not be quite as slick as Sky Q's, you can hook up to three V6 boxes together around the house if you want.
Do so, and recordings, on-demand and live TV programmes can be watched in one room, paused and continued in another room and continued on a mobile device using the TV Anywhere app.
Virgin recommends that you only connect up to a maximum of three V6 boxes in any one home, with one ideally connected to the Superhub 2 or newer Superhub 3 router via a wired ethernet connection and the second via wi-fi. Ideally the system needs a minimum 100Mb broadband speed to work properly, and Virgin recommends connecting multiple boxes together using Powerline adapters rather than wi-fi if possible for a more stable connection.
Do that, and you can also hook up your existing first-gen TiVo box so you can access legacy recordings on that anywhere in the home via one of the other V6 boxes. Select 'My Shows' on any V6 box and within the sub-menu you will see your 'other TiVo boxes' appear. Click on this and your original TiVo recordings can be instantly accessed and viewed.
Take a look round the back of the V6 and connectivity is pretty straightforward. There's an ethernet socket, HDMI, optical digital out, USB and a Scart out plus a power on/off switch.
And if you should lose the remote at any stage, there's a button on the V6 that will make the handset beep so you can track it down if it's managed to slide down the back of the sofa.
There's also a handy new search button on the remote that instantly fires up the TiVo brain so it takes fewer clicks to get to the programme or recording you want.
Another new feature is Virgin's 'download-to-own' Media Store. It's not the first company to offer this, but it will give subscribers access to major Hollywood movies and a large range of box sets to download, including popular shows such as Game of Thrones.
Users can simply browse the store, buy what they want and watch it straight away on a TV or mobile device. For films, a DVD copy will also be sent to you by post. The Virgin Media Store will launch in February 2017 and will be available for non-Virgin customers on desktop and mobile.
Virgin says the new V6 box will be available to existing customers on a Mix bundle or higher before the end of the year for a one-off payment of £99.95. They will not have to change the package they are on. Current customers on a Full House or VIP bundle qualify for a special discount price of £49.95.
New customers will be able to order the Virgin TV V6 box when choosing their TV bundle from January 2017.
Virgin says it hopes to install around 14,000 V6 boxes in existing customers' homes by Christmas 2016.
Virgin TV TellyTablet
And one more thing… In addition to the V6 box, Virgin had another trick up its sleeve at the launch event. It's the so-called TellyTablet, a portable 14in HD tablet running on Android's Marshmallow OS with built-in rechargeable battery (good for up to eight hours’ use at a time), four speakers, wi-fi, two USB ports and 32GB of memory that can be upgraded with a MicroSD card.
It's pre-loaded with the Virgin TV Anywhere app and can be used to watch live TV, selected recordings and on-demand shows. It also gives full access to the Google Play store and apps within it such as Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Netflix and Hayu.
The TellyTablet will be available from December 2016 for an upfront cost of £299 or as part of Virgin's Freestyle mobile bundle that spreads the cost over 24 months.