Virgin Media V Plus

4th Jul 2007 | 23:00

Virgin Media V Plus

The basics are all there but the content is lacking

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Incomplete as it stands now, but has the potential to be so much more

Like:

<p>Wide availability</p><p>Large VOD library</p><p>Triple-tuner PVR</p><p>Some HD programming</p>

Dislike:

<p>Missing Sky basic channels</p>

If there's one thing Brits like less than a bully, it's a whiny victim. Thus has Virgin decided to occupy second place in Britain's digital TV rankings.

Which is a shame, because it could be taking on Sky with a winning package. The V Plus is an impressive triple-tuner PVR, with a 160GB disk you get all to yourself. It's also HD-capable, albeit using MPEG-2 technology. MPEG-2 is an almost archaic encoding standard when considered alongside MPEG-4, but who cares so long as the picture looks good?

The glossy black revamp chosen by Virgin for the product formerly known as TVDrive is the right look, although it doesn't feel as contemporary as the Sky HD box. Only V Plus, however, can record three channels at once, or record two while you watch one live.

Connection-wise, it's got HDMI, component video, RGB Scart for older TVs, digital audio with Dolby Digital support, analogue stereo audio, and expansion options via USB, Ethernet and SATA. Virgin's remote gamely challenges Sky's design classic and comes off a strong second for usability, while the black-and-yellow seven-day programme guide is easy to use, and looks a bit slicker than the now-ageing Sky Guide.

Virgin's basic channel roster has been hit hard by the recent spat with Sky, and without the Sky basic channels it cannot be considered great value, even including access to catch-up from BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and the weekly selection of six on-demand shows from Virgin Central.

Only XL customers get full access to Virgin's on-demand TV library (and they still have to pay for on-demand music videos). At £5/month it's not bad value, but it should still be free to anyone who's lost channels, at least until a new Sky deal is in place.

At least the image quality is reasonable. Standard-definition looks as good as you might expect, whether from on-demand or broadcast channels, while hi-def transmissions from the BBC and Channel 4 can be considered exceptional. However, Virgin desperately needs more HD content before it can really claim to be a genuine hi-def platform.

The pricing for V Plus is very competitive and it's the obvious alternative if you don't want a dish or can't have one. But that shouldn't be the deciding factor. The lack of channel choice, both in standard-definition (those missing Sky channels) and HD, really limit its appeal.

It also remains to be seen whether the forthcoming Virgin 1 channel (launching in the Autumn) will have the programming budget to seriously compete with Sky One.

As for the VOD option, more content is needed before it can tackle the likes of Tiscali.

High definition rating: 2.5/5. Video on demand rating: 2.5/5.

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