Their falling out was a gigantic corporate bout of handbags, but the antipathy between Sky and Virgin Media is working out nicely for us customers. Virgin’s determination not to let Sky have hi-def broadcasting all to itself has resulted in the V+ box and, unlike BT’s Vision, it offers a real challenge to the bigger boys right now.
You need to be a Virgin TV customer, obviously, and if you’re going to make the most of your V+ then it’s probably best to have an HD-ready screen too. The box and installation will set you back £150, and it’s a fiver a month after that. Unless you’ve gorged on Virgin’s Extra Large programme package, in which case there’s no additional monthly fee.
Two tuners good, three tuners better
Beyond that, the news is pretty much all good. The V+ packs a 160GB hard drive, HDMI and Scart outputs, and three onboard tuners. The occasion may never arise, but if there are two channels you want to record, while watching a third, the V+ is ready to go. Pause live TV, EPG… all the usual stuff is on board.
Virgin may not have the amount of hi-def programming Sky has, but the size of its ‘on demand’ HD content is growing, and the BBC’s trial HD channel is available too. The box will upscale all standard-def content to a hi-def resolution, making the most of other programming as well.
Sporadic surround sound spasms
HD picture quality is good. The V+ isn’t immune to digital noise and blocking, but it’s generally stable and stacks up well against its obvious rival. 5.1 surround sound suffers a little more – you’ll be lucky to make it through a 90 minute HD film without at least one little spasm from the audio.
Despite that, though, the V+ is a fully viable alternative to Sky HD. Don’t hold your breath for Sky Sports on Virgin any time soon, though.