UPDATE (November 2017): Having switched to Virgin Media back in February this year, I’m terminating my Virgin contract early and heading back to Sky. This involves switching back to Sky broadband (Sky Fibre Max) and Sky Q Multi-Room (2Tb box with 1 Sky Q mini box). Stay tuned for more blog posts on this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.