TiVo and the U.K. cable operator Virgin Media have made some announcements the past few months about their collaborations across the pond. From November 2010, see Virgin Media Preps New TiVo-Powered Set-Top, and from January see TiVo and Virgin Media Deploy Advanced Cable Set-Top Box.
A spokesman for Virgin Media offered some elaboration. He said that TiVo is providing its software for the new set-tops, but the actual hardware – the set-top boxes – is provided by Cisco. Historically, Virgin Media’s primary set-top box provider has been Samsung. But about a year ago, the operator began working with Cisco, as well. The company’s deployed base of legacy set-tops also includes boxes from a variety of other manufacturers.
"It’s our own box manufactured by Cisco, working with TiVo for the operating system," he said. "It’s inspired by TiVo Premiere."
The TiVo-powered HD/3D set-top is customized for some specifically British purposes such as the BBC’s Red Button. The Red Button icon indicates that interactive features are available. Many U.K. viewers already have set-tops with Red Button functionality, which they use to vote for a favorite reality TV star, or watch video from different camera angles, or get more information about a news story. (For more on the Red Button, click here).
Another aspect of the TiVo-powered boxes is that they have backwards TV-guide capability. The spokesman said Virgin Media has seven-day catch-up services, so the backward electronic program guide (EPG) is necessary so viewers can search for programs in the past as well as the future.
The TiVo-powered boxes also have three tuners. "At the moment TiVo Premiere only has two tuners," said the spokesman. "We’ve needed to adapt the software to work with three tuners. We haven’t made that live yet, but it allows you to record two shows at the same time while watching a third." This is helpful in the multichannel world where content owners often broadcast their most popular, competitive shows at the same time.
Finally, the TiVo-powered boxes come with a 10 Meg modem. For example, "If a customer takes a 100 Meg broadband service, that’s purely for their broadband," explained the spokesman. "You can watch YouTube with TiVo with its dedicated broadband, and it won’t interfere with your main broadband connection. You’ve got two modems."
For interactivity, Virgin Media has a few apps, including a YouTube app and Twitter app, with an Ebay app in the works. Also Virgin Media.com can publish directly to the TiVo platform, as well.
Although Virgin Media and TiVo have announced the official launch of the new box, the spokesman indicated that it’s not widely available, yet. The operator has not started a full marketing campaign to target its almost four million cable TV customers. And although he wouldn’t say how many boxes have actually been deployed, he did say it was an "early adopter" proposition at this point.