Virgin on ludicrous speed..

On Saturday Virgin Media came and installed their new kit.

This included the Superhub 3 (powered by Intel’s Puma 6 SoC which also contains an Atom x86 CPU), a chunky beast with considerably more ports than the Sky Q Hub.  They (for there were three of them) also installed the Tivo V6, a box that’s considerably smaller than the Sky Q Silver box and old Tivo combined.

It’s titchy! But yes, it does have an external PSU..

Superhub 3.0 and HomeWorks (up to 300Mbs broadband)

There are many reports of performance issues with the Superhub 3, all thanks to the Intel chipset.  It mainly affects gamers, so I haven’t had a chance to properly reproduce it – all I know is that I downloaded a 52Gb game file on the Xbox One in super quick time – I was up and running within 10-15 minutes.  More testing is needed when playing multi-player games.  I’ll report back soon.

A speed test after installation resulted in 330Mbs download, 21Mbs upload.  A speed test during the day when things are bit busier yielded a result around 278-286Mbs down, 19Mbs up, which is very reasonable.  A 5am speed test shows great results again.  I’m very happy.  With Sky Broadband Fibre Pro, downloads maxed out at 71Mbs (uploads 19Mbs).

HomeWorks offers a number of benefits to the user – the up to 300Mbs download being one.  The other is non-traffic managed uploads.  I’m currently uploading 275Gb worth of data from my MacBook Pro to Crashplan and it averages around 15Mbs – which is very reasonable given the distances involved (to my knowledge, Crashplan has no European datacentres).  The other benefits of HomeWorks includes next business day engineer visits if things go wrong, access to a general IT support desk, and F-Secure’s internet security suite.

The Superhub 3’s admin interface leaves a lot to be desired, however.  Passwords are shown in the clear when entered, and the whole UI is exceptionally sluggish. Changing the client password was a bit of a pain – the unit enforces a specific password policy which cannot be overridden.  It meant that even though I changed the SSID to match that of my old broadband Wi-Fi, the password had to be changed.  So I had to reset all my gadgets Wi-Fi settings.

Oh, 802.11ac wireless coverage is good in my little place.  Upstairs is covered adequately and there is no need for any extenders.

Tivo V6

Xbox One S (and through the pass-through HDMI port, a Google Chromecast), an Apple TV, a Tivo V6, and an LG smart TV – all you need to stream anything from anywhere. If not, it’s not worth knowing about.

Back when I originally had a Tivo from Virgin Media many moons ago (we’re talking about 3 years ago, just when I was going through the divorce), I found it to be the most sluggish thing ever.  And that’s why I moved to Sky.  Four years later and I’m back with Virgin, and the Tivo V6 fixes all the sluggishness.  It’s now super, super fast.  Navigating anywhere is a pleasure.  With Sky Q, it was the biggest pain in the arse imaginable.  Nothing has changed in 12 months – shame on Sky.  Even Sky’s internet based NOW TV (which I use to pick up Sky Atlantic stuff now) has a better UI than it’s premium satellite sister.  Madness.

The Tivo V6’s UI is the same UI as seen on the older Tivo.  Coming from Sky Q, it’s all a bit strange and new, but as I say, it’s about 65,000 times better than Sky’s offering.  With the Tivo, it’s not a case of downloading on-demand content – it’s streamed in real time via the Superhub 3 (live TV comes in via the co-ax cable).  Older Tivos had a dedicated 10Mbs cable modem connection for on-demand stuff – this one doesn’t need it other than for live TV.  10Mbs these days means nothing in the 4K / UHD world, so it makes sense to get on-demand and internet related stuff from the Superhub.  I am interested to see where Virgin takes 4K TV, however.  Will it be live via co-ax?  Will it be live streamed over the internet?

The Tivo V6 does come with a few problems, however.  I’ve come across a couple of super scrambly, artefact-laden picture quality issues which tend to go away if you pause/unpause playback.  It seems to affect on-demand – I haven’t come across it on live TV yet.  It’s not happened often, but I’ve definitely experienced it. A few others have noticed it on the Virgin community forums, so we’ll see what Virgin has to say about it.  Not a big issue for me as yet – but I’m keeping an eye on it.

The second problem is video output.  By default the unit will attempt figure out what modes your TV supports.  In my case, it knows its a 4K TV and sets it to 2160 resolution.  However, some content (notably standard definition (SD)) appears blockier than usual, and some 4K content (under Tivo’s Netflix app) looks to add weird motion oddness that’s not present on the TV’s own Netflix app.

Tivo V6 offers a number of pass through modes that forces the TV to do any upscaling and other fancy video doodads, but I’ve found that occasionally – especially when using YouTube which can offer 4K, HD or SD content depending on the uploader – the TV loses the signal and I have to turn the TV off and on to get the picture back.  Again, I mentioned this on the forums – it seems that it is a bug, and the Tivo is due a 4K firmware update at some point.  I’ve left the unit in 2160 mode, no pass through and will just use the TV Netflix and YouTube apps which work perfectly.

The Tivo V6 is still new, and there are gremlins.  Just as there were (and still are) gremlins in the Sky Q system.  They aren’t bad gremlins, as it so happens, and doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the device.  My favourite thing about the Tivo is the remote.  It makes the Sky Q remote look like a simpleton’s plaything.  I had to stop using the Sky Q touch remote because I found my thumb was aching a lot, and it was too responsive, resulting in too many mistakes.  So I gave up and went for the more sensible remote.  But even the Sky Q sensible remote wasn’t that sensible.  The Tivo remote has a proper home button like the Sky Q, but more importantly, has a Guide button that takes you to the TV guide.  And it’s so easy to filter the guide from the remote.

In short: the Tivo V6 is everything Sky Q should be, but isn’t.  Better UI, better remote, super quick access to everything, and super fast.  It lends itself better to discovering content more than Sky Q does.  With Sky Q the Top Picks were just not relevant to my tastes.  I can find and discover stuff much faster with Tivo.

Phone Line

I’ve gone for a Virgin phone line.  So far, my experience is better than my previous Virgin phone line in that whoever had the number last was the target of phone spammers galore.  Fingers crossed his new number (which I love, BTW – they did a good job in picking it) will be spam free.

Virgin Mobile

As my contract with EE is at an end in April, I thought about consolidating everything with Virgin.  But the ordering process for Virgin Mobile when signed in as a Virgin Media customer is the biggest pain in the arse in the universe.  It told me that I had no Virgin Media kit installed (I do) and refused to give me the offer of 20Gb for £15/month (better than my £19 for 16Gb with EE, which runs out in April and goes up to £34.99).  So I try to call, but end up running around in circles with the operator.  This clip from the cartoon, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, sums up my experience:

Just as well I didn’t go through with my Virgin Mobile order, however.  It turns out that they don’t allow mobile tethering – something vital for my job.  So I’ve found a great deal with Three (30Gb tethering – unlimited data on phone) and will be moving to them soon – I’ll be porting my number from EE, so that number will not change.  For my iPad SIM, I’m considering pay as you go.  I don’t use anywhere near the data I’m currently paying monthly for, so it seems a bit of a waste.

Apple owes a lot of money, but thankfully a new iPhone model is around the corner..

Personally, I don’t think Apple will get away with an appeal.  But I reckon it’ll make Apple think about where they’re going to want to put their next European HQ.  Probably a country which is in the process of leaving the EU…

Regardless, we can probably expect iPhone 7 announcements next Wednesday.  But I don’t care.  I’ve got my Samsung Galaxy Note 7, and it’s a thing of beauty.  This little (haha – but in all seriousness, even at 5.7″, it’s not as big as you might imagine) thing will have to last me at least a year – if not two.  But that’s okay, it’s got enough oomph in it to last the course.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.. DON'T PANIC!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.. DON’T PANIC!

In comparison to the S7 Edge:

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (left) versus the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (right). Note 7 has a Spigen case, the S7 Edge has a Griffin case.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (left) versus the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (right). Note 7 has a Spigen case, the S7 Edge has a Griffin case.

What I love about the Note 7 is how clean the UI is in comparison to the S7 Edge.  I’m able to put many more app icons on each screen, and the icons are much more “professional” looking.  The S Pen works fantastically well, and I’m extremely impressed with the ability to write on the screen when it’s “off” (Samsung’s “Always On” display feature) and save the notes for later use.  Only slight issue is that the case tends to hinder even my E.T. fingers at pushing out the pen, but I’ll get used to this.  Unlike the Apple Pencil which I still keep in its original packaging because Apple couldn’t be arsed to design a holder with their covers.

While the screen is curved like the S7 Edge, it’s less pronounced and makes it much, much, much easier to grip with or without the case.  It really does feel much nicer in the hand over the S7 Edge.

The S Pen works fantastically well, and I’m extremely impressed with the ability to write on the screen when it’s “off” (Samsung’s “Always On” display feature) and save the notes for later use.  Only slight issue is that the case tends to hinder even my E.T. fingers at pushing out the pen, but I’ll get used to this.  Unlike the Apple Pencil which I still keep in its original packaging because Apple couldn’t be arsed to design a holder with their covers.

Here’s the first image I took with the Note 7.  It should be identical to that of the S7 Edge.

Note 7 image test
Note 7 image test

Finally, a word about the Iris scanner.  It’s a pain in the rear end.  I’ll be sticking with the finger scanner (and others) for the time being.

I’ll post a more in-depth review after a week’s use.

(Note: I was due to post a report on Guildford’s Comic Con, but WordPress’ text editor / image editor is playing silly buggers at the moment.  I’ll to sort the photos out in Photoshop and deal with them that way.. sigh)

Odeon Limitless Reviews: Captain America: Civil War; Eye in the Sky

On Saturday I pootled along to the local Odeon in Guildford to take advantage of my new Odeon Limitless pass.

I had already booked Captain America: Civil War for the Saturday and Bad Neighbours 2 for today (after work), but given that Limitless only allows for 2 advanced bookings (to avoid people booking stuff and never turning up), I’ve had to hold on until Sunday to book Florence Foster Jenkins.  Limitless does, however, let you book multiple same day tickets.  It just so happened that Eye in the Sky was showing straight away after Captain America, so I booked that on Saturday morning.

Captain America: Civil War had a Premium Seating booking (an extra £2.30), Eye in the Sky did not (therefore no additional charges).  Bad Neighbours 2 is standard seating, but I’ve gone for Premium Seating for Florence Foster Jenkins.

Picking up tickets

If you’ve paid for an extra (3D, seat upgrade, etc.) not included within the Limitless programme, you can collect your ticket automatically via the machines in the lobby.  For everything else you’ll have to queue, present your (temporary) Limitless membership card, and get them issued manually.  Not sure whether the card will be able to handle tickets automatically via the machines, but we’ll see.  The Odeon staff didn’t seem to know.  It’s all still very new.

The films!

Captain America: Civil War is currently showing in Screen 1 – one of two biggest screens at Guildford.  Unfortunately the air condition wasn’t working at the time, and combined with a very comfortable seat and a very slow first act, I keep falling asleep until the airport sequence which is when the film picks up the pace and action.  Overall a great film (when I remained awake), but needs a bit of a tinker to bring the running time down (147 minutes) and get that first act into shape.  I’d still rate this as one of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best films – but perhaps not THE best.  We’ll see what Avengers: Infinity Wars brings us.  Also it sets things up very nicely for the Black Panther and Black Widow films.

Eye in the Sky is currently showing in the smaller Screen 7.  Normal seating.  For a lad of my size, I started to get very uncomfortable towards the middle of the film.  I have long(ish) legs, so not much room to stretch out or change “bum: positions.   This may have been in part because I had already been sitting down for over two hours, so I have to rethink about double features in the future.  Not unless they’re both Premium Seating.

Eye in the Sky itself I found more engaging that Captain America.  As Alan Rickman’s last film role, it tells of a joint British-American-Kenyan operation to take down suspected terrorists operating out of a compound in Nairobi using a combination of remotely operated drones (the Eye in the Sky) that are under the control by the US military (specifically Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) and Kenyan ground forces.  It’s a very tense drama.  Some of the spy tech seems a bit far fetched at times, but this is only a very small complaint.  The story as a whole is gripping from start to finish, even if maybe you can see where things are heading.  I wholeheartedly recommend this film.

The Hub by Premier Inn: The future of the hotel

Update (14th January 2017): Have booked to stay again in Edinburgh at The Hub in a few months time. Surprisingly far, far cheaper than staying at any of the IHG owned hotels, of which I avidly collect points for.  Stay tuned for an update!

As a frequent(ish) traveller, I like my technology, and having had my fair share of staying in Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses and whatnot, it’s frustrating seeing the same old stuff every time one stays at these places: all too small TVs (at least they’re flatscreen, right?), inconveniently located light switches and wall sockets, and having to remember to stick your keycard into the wall to make sure that the lights and AC remain on. And then you have a thermostat that’s probably older than you and that it never gets the right temperature that you want, so you’re fiddling with it constantly.

Then you have to wait 600 years in reception checking and checking out.

Yawn, yawn, yawn.  But at least you get a decent bed, and a good night’s sleep, yes?  Maybe.

There’s a new kid in town, and it’s aiming to make staying a budget conscious (usually – subject to supply and demand and seasons, etc.) a tech lover’s dream.

Edinburgh Waverly station - the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.
Edinburgh Waverly station – the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.

For my trip to Edinburgh, I booked The Hub by Preimer Inn.  As the name implies, it’s a sister hotel to the regular Premier Inn, but with more emphasis on technology and efficiency.  But not at the expense of either (nor comfort for that matter).  From check in through to turning the lights on and off, you’ll be exposed to the future of proper hotel comfort using a contactless keycard and a mobile app to control your room’s temperature and lighting.

But that’s not all.

You get a huge comfortable bed, a desk and chair (sometimes the desk is hidden away, sometimes you’ll get a slightly bigger room with the desk in a permanent position), a 40″ smart TV with a dedicated panel for HDMI, RGB connectors and USB in, a control panel that controls all the lights, temperature, and the “Do not make up room” and “Do not disturb” electronic signs that light up outside your room.

Check-in was simplicity itself.  There’s a QR code with your booking that you scan in the check-in machine (don’t worry – there’s staff on hand to guide you through the whole process) and you then confirm a few details on the touchscreen.  You then take a blank, contactless room card and then put it into the reader/writer.  You’re then checked in.  Two minutes!  No queues!

But you can control all that through The Hub’s own iOS (or Android) app if you wish.  It’s a tiny bit buggy, but works more or less most of the time.  It’s perfectly possible, when connected to the hotel’s superfast (and I do mean it) Wi-Fi and sitting downstairs in the deli seating area to set the temperature ready for when you get back to your room.

When you do leave the room, lights and AC are turned off/or set to a low level.  On your return, everything comes back on without you having to stick your contactless room card in a slot or do anything else.  It Just Works(tm).  No more thumbling around for that light switch.

The Hub by Premier Inn's superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
The Hub by Premier Inn’s superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

Speaking of food, I ordered breakfast for all 4 days that I was staying at the hotel.  Breakfast consists one of four choices and comes with a sandwich, bagel or muffin, a hot drink (from Costa – so I could enjoy my favourite mochas every day), and a cold drink (typically orange juice).  I tended to combine this with a pain au chocolate (£2 extra).  The Great British breakfast was delicious – bacon in a toasted sandwich.

The Great British breakfast "box". Pain au chocolate extra £2.
The Great British breakfast “box”. Pain au chocolat extra £2.

I also tried other items on the menu (a tuna/cheese toasted sandwich and a decent, hearty soup containing chickpeas) and I can attest that the quality of the ingredients is excellent, The in house restaurant/deli is effectively a branch of The Proven Dough.  It’s not a brand I had heard of before, but would certainly be happy to use again.

The rooms, by the way, don’t have any kettles (they do have hairdryers, however).  But that’s okay.  You have 24/7 access to unlimited coffee and tea downstairs in the deli/reception area.  I tested this by heading down at 1am and there were still members of staff milling around.  I went back to the room and promptly tripped, emptying the entire contents of the tea onto the floor.  Sigh.

As The Hub’s deli is that – a deli – if you want something a bit more substantial, the location of the hotel in Edinburgh puts you right at the Royal Mile.  Literally a two minute walk.  But you can also use the regular Premier Inn restaurant – which is 30 seconds away, but I would recommend booking in advance wherever possible.

IMG_0061
If you’re waiting for somebody, or need to look something up, or are holding an impromptu meeting – there are Android tablets in reception for you to play with. I struggled with the browser (which oddly told me it was a trial version).

The only downside was that I couldn’t get AirPlay to work with the Smart TV.  I suspect that the implementation by Samsung/Premier Inn isn’t quite compatible with iOS 9.3.  I still had that superfast Wi-Fi, and the 12.9″ inches of my iPad Pro to watch Netflix and Amazon.  So it was no big deal.  A nice idea from Premier Inn, however.

As you can see, The Hub by Premier Inn offers people like me a hotel that makes sense. The Hub by Premier Inn is perfect for the business traveller (the deli/seating area has built in chargers for phones, and electrical sockets for laptops).

Travelodge and Holiday Inn (Express) ought to take note.  The Hub by Premier Inn is the future of the modern mass market hotel.  While still only available in limited locations for now, I hope that Premier Inn will roll out more Hubs to other cities and towns.

I absolutely loved my stay at The Hub by Premier Inn (Edinburgh Royal Mile) and I’m already planning on going back later this year.  What was even better was the price.  For the four nights I was away, it cost me only £218.  Had I stayed at a local hotel, it’d have cost me £320, and given the experience of my manager who popped up to go to the same conference as me (I combined a working day with a holiday) had, I definitely made the right choice.

And on that bombshell: Inside the madness & genius of Top Gear

Until my employers Memset Ltd. moved to Dunsfold Aerodrome a few years ago, I had no interest in Top Gear whatsoever.  I still hadn’t learnt to drive, and the antics of Clarkson, Hammond and May were of no interest to me.

But then we moved into our big brick office, we were directly next to the Top Gear hangar-cum-studio and the Top Gear production offices and garages.  We were also overlooking the start of the Top Gear test track, with glorious views of Gambon corner.

Then they started filming.  VT pieces, then Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Then I started watching the show because I was now very curious about the whole thing.  And you know what, it may be about cars, but as overall entertainment goes, it was very entertaining.  But I did, maybe, learn a few things about cars too.  If only I could learn to drive.

Watching the team film some of the crazier segments – including the “improved” ambulances (one of which was a Nuclear disposal vehicle) up close was fascinating.  It made you wonder what the actual hell are were doing for this week’s show (or one of the other weeks to allow for editing). They were clearly enjoying themselves but were completely professional at the same time.  Watching the BTS of Top Gear was a joy to behold, even if it was behind bars of a gated property.

As the shows continued to film, I continued to watch the shows as they went out.  All was well until one day Jeremy Clarkson decided to something completely stupid and caused the entire Top Gear format to go TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance) and bring on the death of the much loved/hated show.

Which is why I bought Richard Porter’s marvellous book, And on that bombshell: Inside the madness and genius of Top Gear.  Richard was the script editor (amongst other things from time to time) during Clarkson et al. years, having also spent a little bit of time during the Pebble Mill era too.

The book is an amusing history of Top Gear throughout the ages – and I found myself chuckling a few times in public on my way to work as I read through the chaos of the specials, the mad antics of the trio during The Bollocks Hour (which is their downtime period before they start shooting VT links, etc. at the hangar-cum-studio at Dunsfold), and what they were doing with the number 14 Routemaster bus  (currently parked in the TG hangar – I see it every day) as a potential item, and as a party bus for the team after a particularly good season end.

Interestingly, Porter has quite a few good things to say about Matt LeBlanc, who has become one of the six presenters of the new, new, new Chris Evans fronted Top Gear.  All signs indicate that the new, new, new Chris Evans Top Gear will still be filmed at Dunsfold from what I’ve seen (after all, why change that if you’re going to change everything else).  Hopefully they will keep the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car – but then again, maybe they won’t.

Now I’ve finished the book, I’ve moved onto Perry McCarthy’s autobiography, Flat Out Broke: The Original Stig. Perry was the very first Stig (dressed all in black), and way before my time of watching Top Gear. I’ve not far in, but already enjoying McCarthy’s good humour and ability to tell a good story.

In other news – third driving lesson went well.  Didn’t get too horrendously confused with lane changing and signalling during roundabouts.  Managed with the three lane madness of Guildford’s one way system too.  So things are moving forwards quite nicely…