Virgin Media unveiled the next generation of its entertainment service on Wednesday, which centres around a new 4K V6 set-top box and the own-brand Telly Tablet.
The devices are complemented by a series of apps and the launch of the Virgin Media Store, which allows customers to buy films and boxsets.
The Telly Tablet is "really the missing link our way of bringing together all the elements of the TV experience," according to David Bouchier, Virgin Media's chief digital entertainment officer. Speaking at the launch event in London, Bouchier said the tablet with its 8-hour battery life had been designed for binge-watching shows and fitted in perfectly with traditional home entertainment setups.
It's unusual to see a tablet being touted by a broadband and TV network, but Virgin is trying to establish itself as a full-service home entertainment provider, serving up everything you need to watch TV, from the fibre that delivers it to the screen it's watched on. It also keeps the company competitive with the likes of Sky and BT by setting itself apart in its offering.
Not that the Telly Tablet is automatically included in Virgin's basic setup -- you'll have to choose a bundle that includes it in the cost or pay an additional £299 upfront. For that you get a 14-inch Full HD screen, 32GB of built-in memory with expandable storage you'll definitely need to take advantage of, along with two USB ports and a kickstand built into the chassis. Running a customised version of Android Marshmallow, it can also be used as a normal Android slate, but Virgin really wants you to view it as a "personal smart TV".
Speed and power in a plain black box
The tablet might be novel, but it's really the sideshow to the main event, which is the new V6 set-top box. Smaller and 10 times faster than Virgin's previous box, the V6 promises an excellent viewing experience, but won't exactly jazz up your living room with its functional design. No need to worry if you live in a minimalist or design-conscious house -- Virgin has said goodbye to infrared, so you can always stick it in a cupboard and control it with the new RF remote.
Virgin sees the V6 as its move away from cable and linear TV, and towards on-demand connected entertainment The app-based system supports a full version of BBC iPlayer and can play shows or films in Ultra HD. The rejigged interface retains some elements of the previous iteration so existing Virgin subscribers will find a familiar experience. Bouchier also claims it is the fastest way to access Netflix in the UK, thanks to a codec provided by the streaming service itself.
The V6 is capable of recording six different shows concurrently onto its 1TB hard drive, which for now is the most of any box in the UK. You can then stream shows to devices around your house -- including existing TiVo boxes -- or sync them to your phone or tablet to watch them out and about through the revamped TV Anywhere app. The app is also your way to access to live TV on a more mobile device.
A separate kids app has been built for preschool children. This ad-free environment with no in-app purchases can be locked to the screen of your phone or tablet, creating a kind of walled garden for nippers to watch age-appropriate shows in.
There's also the Virgin Media Store, which allows you to access content immediately, but also sends DVDs by post. Virgin says that according to its research, the DVD component was the must-have feature for customers.
The V6 box will be available to existing customers on a Mix bundle or higher, before the end of the year. New customers will be able to purchase the box for a one-off cost of £100 from January 2017, or £50 if they sign up to a Full House or VIP bundle. The Telly Tablet is available for preorder from Thursday.