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Will Virgin Media Ireland give us the TiVo?

With UPC confirming recently that it is to re-brand to Virgin Media over the next few months, it will be interesting to see if they also introduce one of Virgin’s products to Ireland – the TiVo.

TiVo Series 1

I had one of the original TiVo Series 1 boxes that was on sale for a couple of years in the UK from 2000 onwards. It was an amazing PVR and was much better than anything that Sky or the cable companies offered at the time.

It recorded shows from compatible set-top boxes, and learned the type of TV you liked to watch, and would pro-actively record programmes it thought you might like. The on-screen interface and remote were also intuitive and easy to use.

There was a small but active TiVo Series 1 community in the UK at the time, which included people who modified and upgraded their machines to increase the functionality offered. I upgraded my box to increase the record time from 40 hours to 250 hours, and to also install a network card to allow software/EPG updates over broadband. I also installed all kinds of software plugins, including one that allowed me to remote control the box over the internet – including setting programmes to record – something that, 15 years later, we all take for granted.

I loved that TiVo. Indeed, I was so attached to my TiVo that, when I moved to Ireland in 2007, I still kept it for a number of years – even though it didn’t work abroad!

Virgin TiVo

In 2010 Virgin Media in the UK announced that they were offering TiVos to their customers as one of their set-top box options, and today they offer two TiVo options for TV subscribers – a 500GB box and a 1TB box. Today’s TiVos are much more advanced that the old Series 1 that I had, and integrate the cable receiver into the box – allowing customers to record two channels while watching a third.

It would be pretty amazing if, as part of the Virgin Media re-brand, that TiVos were also brought to Ireland. They would be a very welcome replacement to the existing Horizon boxes offered by UPC, which have some known problems.

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UPC mess up house move disconnection

I’m moving house next weekend, into somewhere that already has UPC service. As such I needed to cancel my UPC at my current address.

To cancel you are required to give 30 days written notice (email to resolutionteam@upc.ie), which I duly did, noting the exact day I wanted to the services to cease.

Unfortunately today they’ve cut me off 9 days early! I have no TV or broadband, and because its Good Friday, there’s almost nobody working in UPC today.

I did speak to someone, and asked for my account to be re-enabled for 9 days. But they say the only way I can get TV and broadband connected is if I sign up to a new 12 month contract, which is ridiculous!

So I’m sat here in complete silence. Can’t watch TV, can’t use broadband. I can’t even download a new book for my Kindle.

They claim to have tried to call me 3 times in the last couple of weeks, to confirm the disconnection, but I never received the calls, or any voice mails asking for me to call back – so they decided to go ahead anyway.

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UPC Ireland – Horizon Software Update

I wrote back in January about some of the interface problems with the Horizon box, and thankfully some of them seems to have been solved with a recent software update.

  • The general navigation speed seems to have increased
  • The dreaded “Delete Everything” option has been relocated to the depths of a Preference screen, where it can’t cause any damage. No longer will people select it, thinking it means ‘Delete Series’ and then find their DVR completely empty.
  • The much-anticipated “Delete Series” has finally appeared, and works pretty quickly.

I haven’t checked the other problems to see if they’re fixed, but just these few things make the service a bit easier to live with.

Has anyone else seen improvements?

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UPC Horizon Wi-Free

Over the last few weeks UPC has rolled out a service in Ireland called Horizon Wi-Free.

The service allows UPC broadband customers who are visiting the homes of other UPC customers with a Horizon box to get free WiFi. You don’t need to ask your friends and family to share their WiFi password with you, because the Horizon box uses two different WiFi hotspots – one secured one for the home-owner’s use, and a public open one for visitors.

And once you set up your smartphone or tablet to connect to Horizon Wi-Free for the first time, it should automatically re-connect whenever you encounter another Wi-Free hotspot.

Some things to bear in mind if you were wanting to use Horizon Wi-Free in someone else’s home are:

  • You will need an active broadband subscription with UPC
  • You can connect up to 3 devices to Wi-Free at any one time (a limitation if you have multiple devices and a large family sharing the subscription)
  • You can expect restricted broadband speeds – a maximum of 2.5 megabit download and 0.5 megabit upload

That being said, I find it very useful to have WiFi available on my smartphone whenever I visit nearby family – especially as my family don’t tend to know their own WiFi password.

To set up Horizon Wi-Free on your UPC broadband subscription, you need to log in to “My UPC”, look down the list of “My Products” on the page and click on “Horizon Wi-Free”.  On the next page you’ll see a link to set or change your Wi-Free password. This will need to be a separate password to that used for your My UPC login.

Once you have set up the Wi-Free password, you’re free to ‘roam’ on other people’s WiFi.  You’ll need your UPC account username (as used for My UPC) and your newly created Wi-Free password to connect – but once your device is set up, you won’t need to keep re-entering it.

Here’s some instructions on setting up your smartphone or tablet.

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Improvements to the UPC Horizon Set Top Box

Update 29-Aug-2014 – a software update to the Horizon box in the last couple of days seems to have solved some of these problems – see:UPC Ireland – Horizon Software Update

Horizon is UPC’s premium TV offering, and has several advantages over other TV/DVR systems, such as:

  • Ability to record up to 4 TV shows at the same time and watch a 5th, which avoids recording conflicts
  • HD channels as standard, rather than as a paid-for extra
  • Integrated broadband modem and WiFi router in the set top box, so you only need one box for TV, Broadband and Phone (although of course, as they’re in one box, you have to have everything in one location)
  • Ability to stream live TV via WiFi onto iOS devices and PC/laptops in the home (although no support for Android yet)

However the new Horizon system is now without its problems.  I was involved in the public trail back in the spring of 2013, and fed back all of these findings to UPC – but as of today, none of them have been resolved:

  • The TV Guide is very slow to navigate. There is no way to go straight to a particular, so if you want to find something to record in a week’s time, you need to scroll through an entire week’s worth of shows to find the one you want.
  • The Recorded Shows navigation is slow and involves a lot of key presses.  Deleting individual shows is very slow, and you often end up pressing the remote several times, thinking that the button press has not registered. Also if you want to delete a whole series, you are forced to delete each show in the series individually, which takes ages. There’s also a very dangerous “delete all” option that could accidentally be selected – and it will delete everything off your box!
  • The Now and Next on-screen option is very poor. You can see what’s on now, or what’s on next, but not at the same time!  It’s so bad it’s not even worth bothering with.
  • There are numerous sound problems. If the picture freezes for any reason (a regular occurrence particularly with recorded shows), or you press pause while playing on-demand content, then the sound drops out completely. The only way to get it back is to fast forward or rewind a couple of times.
  • Recorded shows are inaccessible to watch. Sometimes the recording corrupts, and the series/episode numbers show as ‘-1’. When this happens you can’t access the show to watch it.
  • WiFi reach is quite poor. It’s certainly not as good at the old UPC modem I had. There are also problems where the wifi will sometimes stop working altogether (about once a month), which requires a box reboot to clear.  Some devices also have problems connecting.  It’s such a problem in my house that I’m planning to switch back to a separate wifi router.
  • The horizon.tv website is useless. You’re meant to be able to stream all the channels from it (if you’re on UPC internet) but only some of the channels are available. The TV guide doesn’t work properly either – particularly the remote record function.

I’m very surprised, and disappointed, that none of these issues have been resolved in the past six months, and the UPC continue to strongly push the Horizon service knowing that it has problems.

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