If you were one of Virgin Media's early TiVo adopters, you won't have noticed the user interface change much over the last four years. Well, Virgin's decided it's high time for a significant redesign (with TiVo doing much of the legwork), and it'll begin hitting several thousand set-top boxes next week, with a wider rollout starting late October. We were treated to a preview of the update today, and the visual differences are immediately obvious. The red background has been ousted by a new "plum" colour (that's purple, to you and me), and is joined by a new font and minimalist logo that's part of Virgin Media's ongoing rebrand. The whole menu system is displayed in a higher-resolution than before, too, but it's not just a reskin, and should be quicker and slicker to navigate.
The visual refresh is accompanied by new features, which Virgin tells us are a reaction to how customers usage has changed over time. Most of these are changes to the menu tree. The layout is more or less the same, though, with a picture-in-picture of the current channel top right, and the contextual recommendation panel alongside it. This pane is still a work in progress, mind, so it looks kinda funky in the preview build. Basically, the idea behind the new menu system is to make everything accessible in fewer "clicks," which is why catch-up and on-demand categories now have their own spots at the highest level of the tree.
The "What to Watch Now" section is a brand new way of finding what's hot, and uses a similar "intelligent" algorithm already at work in the general search feature. It serves up recommendations based on a combo of your viewing habits and what's popular with other Virgin viewers at the time. Right now, it only scans live TV, but will grow to include on-demand services in the future. "Suggestions," a similar feature that pre-records content based on what you already watch, used to be buried within the general list of recordings, but now has its own spot in the menu for quicker access. Another revamp to the "My Shows & Recordings" section is a new list dedicated to partially watched programs, making it easy to find that episode of Sherlock you couldn't stay awake to finish last night. Recommendations are getting increasingly more attention from various content providers, and they're a big part of Sky's recently updated program guide.
There are some behind the scenes changes to Virgin's TiVo platform that may not be immediately obvious, too, including HTML5 support for newer apps. An extra app store, courtesy of Opera, will also be added to set-top boxes some time in early 2015, and will include video portals like Vimeo and TED talks that are currently inaccessible. Finally, a setup guide has been added for those wanting to take advantage of the upcoming "self-install" option for new or upgrading subscribers. This means if you're comfortable plugging in a few cables and following an on-screen setup guide, you can dodge the installation fee.
To bring them in line with the new TiVo UI, Virgin's TV Anywhere apps will receive a complimentary plum makeover, too. The iOS version is almost ready to go, and might even be updated before the UI refresh hits set-top boxes, but the Android app is still a few months from completion, as it's being rebuilt from scratch. As mentioned previously, the TiVo update will start popping up for the majority of subscribers in late October, but with a couple million boxes across the UK to push it to, you might not see it until late December -- so don't worry if you're still looking at a sea of red in several weeks' time.