New Virgin Media Box (20th July 2009)

My parents had called them some days ago about several channels taking a long time to display. Apparently many people are experiencing this issue. The error codes were in the range 1201 to 1204.

We now have smaller, shiney, silver, Samsung boxes delivering our Virgin TV service. The UI seems incredibly fast. It’s like 1 second tasks are now 0.1 second tasks and 10 second tasks are 1 second tasks!

After a few days of use, the new Guide and Mini Guide are still blazing fast. Much more stable, too.

Better Picture?

The picture quality seems to have improved with this new box!

Before, widescreen shows would have missing lines from where the 16:9 aspect ratio was being squished into a 4:3 letter box. But now they are totally fine.

When watching regular shows, it looks noticably sharper with smoother movement and better colours. This isn’t a placebo effect, afaict. Every time I switched on the TV over these past few days, I’ve had this reaction. “Wow, that’s a good picture.”

No Software Updates

The dude who tested and replaced the boxes was quite informative. He told me:

“They’re only doing software updates to the V+ system.”

He told me that my box was a reconditioned unit. It is “even older than the one downstairs” even though mine was replaced more recently! Can’t help feeling like I’ve been short-changed instead of compensated.

Yellow Button for Reminders

The old NTL boxes had basically the same UI as the Virgin Media ones. This includes the Mini Guide with four, coloured shortcuts. These shortcuts correspond to the FastText buttons on the remote.

With NTL, the yellow shortcut went to Reminders. In Virgin Media, it does absolutely nothing. A really handy feature gone the way of the Dodo. There’s nothing to replace it; there’s simply a gap in the Mini Guide where this shortcut used to be listed.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

Multiple Reminders at Same Time

If there were several shows starting at the same time, NTL let you set a reminder on each of them. When that time came, it gave you a list of these. You could select which one you wanted to watch.

This was great for planning an evening’s telly in advance. You might not be sure what mood you’d be in.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

TV Guide over Several Days

The current system limits the guide to the current day. NTL’s system used shortcut keys to +24 Hours and -24 Hours. It was often slow but worked reliably.

You could look to see if any shows on today were repeated later in the week. Very handy when planning an evening’s telly, especially since you could set all the reminders first without limitations.

Virgin Media removed this feature years ago. It has never come back.

Only 10 Reminders! (9th August 2009)

Today I found there is a maximum of 10 reminders. There was no maximum limit in the NTL system from several years ago, iirc.

Absence of Icons

Neither system made really great use of icons.

Putting the Reminders alarm-clock icon on the left of shows for which you’ve set a reminder would be an obvious aid. Both in the Mini Guide and the TV Guide.

TV Guide around 6am

Freelancing from home offsets my daily routine. A day often lasts more than 24 hours, so my waking hours gradually drift around the clock. This means I might have lunch near 6am, so the TV might be on from ~5:30am until ~6:30am.

With my previous Virgin Media box, program information would often fail to come in after 6am in these situations. Sometimes the clock in some parts of the system would get stuck at around 06:04 while other parts of the time stayed correct.

The result affects the whole TV Guide, Mini Guide and Reminders. Clicking any item produces the message you get when trying to set a reminder for a show which has already started or finished. The most useful trio of features become dysfunctional and useless. It takes a hard reboot to bring everything back…eventually.

This has gotten much better with the new box. Have only noticed 1 small bug still present. In the Mini Guide, an Intermission which runs across 6am stops correctly at the next show, say at 7:30am. But when the system checks for later shows in order to hide unnecessary arrow indicators on the right, the show at 7:30am disappears.

Scrolling to a nearby channel and then back refreshes the listing, so it’s there. But it disappears again in the exact same way.

Deaf Ears

I’ve seen all these things written about in detail on blogs and internet forums for years. The company refuses to fix them.

I’m paying my bill on every month for a system which is worse than I had several years ago. A system I never asked nor wanted Virgin Media to tamper with!

The very least they could do would be fix bugs and obvious UI mistakes. But they won’t even do that.

Rainbows and Lollipops

The increased speed is pleasing but does not obscure the fact: this system still doesn’t rival NTL’s system from several years ago. The system I used to have and which Virgin Media started out with when they bought NTL.

All Virgin Media have done to the system they inherited is: