Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app: hands-on user review

Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app - TV Guide screen

Disclosure: The nice people at Virgin Media sent me a working copy of what looks like the final version of their TV Anywhere iPad app at the end of October 2012, shortly before the public launch date. In return, I was encouraged to review and discuss the app online, which I am happy to do.

So, what is the Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app?

This new iPad app is part of Virgin Media’s “TV Anywhere” service, which will eventually (I believe) be a comprehensive integration of services and devices, enabling Virgin Media subscribers to watch TV on a range of platforms, and for the devices to interact with each other. At launch, a few pieces of the jigsaw will be in place. For PCs, there will be a list of live channels available to watch, along with a library of “on demand” content; for the iPad there will be a more limited set of channels, and a feature to control home TiVo boxes. I’ll be looking at the iPad app here.

The elephant in the room

Thanks to the BBC iPlayer, and corresponding apps from the other terrestrial channels, we’re all used to watching live and archived content on the iPad. Sky TV subscribers have just about every other channel the important sports and movie channels available to them through the Sky Go app. So does the Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app do the same for Virgin subscribers? No, it doesn’t. Not at launch, anyway. There are 30 live streamed channels available, but that’s it they’re not the big ones which we sports and movie fans would have wished for. Despite what the name of the app suggests, a Sky Go equivalent for iPad users it isn’t. Yet.

What is the Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app good for then?

As the screenshot above shows, the main feature is as a substitute for controlling the Virgin TiVo box on your main TV screen. Yes, the Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app enables your iPad to become a TV remote control.

Is that it?

Yes, it is really – for now at least. But bear with me, because it’s beautifully done, and after using it for a day or two, you’ll wonder how you ever controlled your TiVo box using a handheld remote. You’ll also get really irritated when you realise someone’s taken the iPad to another room and you’re stuck with the old-school remote control. Just taking the TiVo menus “off screen” is a big advantage. Browse the TV guide, see what you’ve got recorded in “My Shows”, check out programme synopses and all the other stuff the TiVo guide gives you, all without affecting what’s on your TV screen. All that stuff about the cast and crew, or the “if you like this?” links – all become so much more attractive to use on the iPad screen. Searching for stuff is even more of a win, thanks to the iPad’s keyboard. No more arduously trying to type words using numeric buttons.

What’s the implementation like?

Visually and ergonomically, it’s been done very well indeed. The iPad’s crisp display adds to the quality feel. Technically, it’s excellent – the response of the system is almost instantaneous. It’s really quite hard to suggest improvements: maybe it’d be nice if the button top right which accesses the forward, reverse and other remote control buttons was a little larger. There are also gesture-based controls, which could be a cool feature, but I haven’t had time to explore this yet. The iPad app can replace the existing Virgin TV Guide app (which was never written properly for the iPad anyway) for programming recordings on the TiVo box. This capability is available even when you’re away from your home network.

I’m having more thoughts all the time about the Virgin Media TV Anywhere iPad app, so check back for updates. I’ll attempt to respond to any of your questions or comments below, or contact me on Twitter at @cherryhintonblu.

Installing Windows 8 over XP on a MacBook Pro

Windows 8 installed on a MacBook Pro

I’ve just successfully (from what I can see) installed Windows 8 on my MacBook Pro, upgrading from the previous Windows XP installation. If you’ve found this page looking for troubleshooting tips, I’m sorry to disappoint you, because I had no troubles whatsoever. But if you’re looking for reassurance that it can be done without any heartache, I can only say that we had no problems here.

My setup was as follows: 2010 MacBook Pro, running Windows XP SP3 on a Boot Camp partition of 150Gb. We’d never upgraded past XP because the Windows installation was almost exclusively used for games, and there’d been nothing to date which had tempted us to drop over £100 on Windows Vista or Windows 7. However, the somewhat keener pricing of Windows 8 made it a different proposition – thank you to Apple, Google and Linux for lowering the bar on the price of operating systems. I always believe in “clean installs” of operating systems (making the PC seem like a brand new one), so I carefully backed up what little data we had on the Windows partition before starting (there was very little, fortunately).

Then I went to Microsoft’s UK store on the Windows XP installation, and downloaded Windows 8 Pro for a very reasonable £24.99. It took quite a while to download, as you’d expect, but almost the only thing I was asked during the process was whether or not this was a “clean install” or whether I wanted to migrate the data from XP. There was a procedure which went through assessing what, on my existing setup, might not be compatible with Windows 8, but the only item on the list which gave me cause for concern was the graphics driver. I didn’t really want to find that Windows 8 would give me a blank screen or something like that; however, I took a chance and decided it didn’t matter. Then it was just a question of following the setup prompts, and that was it; a couple of hours later, I have the nice fresh Windows 8 setup you see above running on my MacBook Pro. I’m quite keen to see how Windows has evolved in the last 11 years.

Update: sorry, completely forgot to mention I had to install the latest drivers too. Go to the Boot Camp Assistant in OS X and create a CD or flash drive with the drivers on. Eject the CD, fire up Windows 8, insert the CD and it will auto-run the installation.

Ryder Cup 2012: I still can’t quite believe I was there

Butch Harmon on Sky TV described it as “the greatest golfing spectacle ever”. Mike Atherton in The Times went even further, saying it might rank as highly in all of sport. It’s now seven days since Team Europe came back from the dead to win the Ryder Cup, and I still can’t believe that I was there.

It started back in June 2011 when my brother sent me an email pointing out that there was to be a random ballot for tickets for the event, and that there was no harm in us trying. Of course, I didn’t get any. Then, a few weeks after being turned down, came a completely unexpected email from the US saying there’d been a second round of the ballot, and I’d not only been given the option of four tickets, but for the whole six days too! The trip was on. As was eleven months of increasingly childlike excitement.

Apart from Tony, Sav and Gibbsy hadn’t needed to be asked twice. The team for the trip to the USA was assembled. And so it was that we found ourselves on the practice tee at Medinah, two days before the tournament proper, watching the world’s best players and wondering just how we’d got this far.

To be honest, the practice days were only useful to scope out the course. There was very little worthwhile golf to see. But on the Friday morning, after a 4:55am start, we knew that one good place to be was the grandstand behind the fourth green …and what a great call that turned out to be. It would be one of the few places on the course which would leave the European team with pleasant memories that day, led by an incredible McIlroy chip-in. By the end of the afternoon, although there’d only been a couple of genuinely disappointing defeats for Europe, there was doom and gloom all round. It wasn’t just that we were 5-3 down, it was the manner of the American victories. They were, quite simply, way too comfortable.

The atmosphere, however, was unforgettable. And although outnumbered hugely, the European fans were magnificent. Curiously, I think it comes from the football culture. The tradition among European sporting crowds is to wait for one or two of the sharper members to come up with a song (or more accurately, a chant), and then all join in, making the crowd seem way more amusing and witty than most of the individuals within it. American crowds tend to just let supporters shout things out, with the result that – sadly – many of the exhortations are ignorant, and some even offensive. The only American group chant tends to be the tedious “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A”, which at this event was quickly put to bed on numerous occasions by small groups of European fans responding with chants like: “One song… You’ve only got one song…”

Needless to say, we had many great singalongs all week, especially on the third tee grandstand on the morning of day two. However, the European fans were outdone for impact during the build-up by the astonishing skywriting display (which we later learned was provided by Paddy Power) which stunned supporters on both sides into silence. Nobody seemed to have seen anything like this before, and it was an amazing start to the day. It was also, unfortunately, one of the highlights, as the Americans increased their advantage. By the halfway point of the tournament, towards the end of the Saturday afternoon, the score was 10-4 to the home team and many people were wondering if it was going to be worth turning up the next day.

The copious amount of beer going down on the course seemed like some consolation at that stage. Then a chink of light shone into the gathering gloom of what had until then been a really hot day. Steve Stricker missed a six-foot putt on the 18th to give Donald and Garcia a win that neither pair probably deserved. Then Ian Poulter stroked in his fifth birdie in a row to give him and McIlroy a storming victory, and the score was “only” 10-6 going into the final day. More importantly, the team and the European fans started to feel a lot better about themselves. No, we probably wouldn’t win – of course we wouldn’t – but at least we might end Sunday getting increasingly close to a respectable score. We tucked into that night’s absurdly unhealthy American cuisine with more gusto than had seemed likely a few hours earlier.

The meal out on Saturday gave us the chance to thank the wonderful Judy Henderson, who we’d had a chance encounter with at the hotel and who had taken us under her wing for the week. Hailing from near Washington, DC, Judy is a massive golf fan who attends tournaments worldwide, often as a volunteer driver, and she offered to take us to and from the course on competition days when she wasn’t working. Meeting her was a delight for all of us in our group.

Travelling from the hotel to the Medinah course on the Sunday morning, it’s fair to say that Judy was in brighter spirits than her European passengers. But the day’s events were to surprise everyone. We camped out by the side of the 6th fairway this time, and watched all 12 singles matches come through in increasing incredulity, as Team Europe not only started getting increasingly close to a respectable score, but even gave glimpses that it might even be game on.

The events of the rest of the day are golfing history. We spent the last two hours sitting on a bank by the 13th green, watching a huge video screen across the lake. European supporters suddenly seemed to be in the majority everywhere. When Martin Kaymer’s putt went in, the crowd was ecstatic. I’ve never hugged so many strangers. We immediately piled over to the 18th green, where the party was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There were songs for every player (“one Belgian golfer, there’s only one Belgian golfer”) and we sang and shouted ourselves hoarse.

I still can’t quite believe I was there.

A Top Ten of Things from the Ryder Cup 2012

1. Martin Kaymer’s putt to win the match. Of course
2. Singing and partying around the 18th green for the next half-hour
3. Rory McIlroy’s chip-in on the 4th on the Friday
4. The jaw-dropping surprise of first seeing the skywriting aeroplanes
5. Justin Rose’s last three holes to beat Phil Mickelson on the Sunday
6. Phil Mickelson’s sporting response to Justin Rose’s last three holes
7. The atmosphere on the third green grandstand prior to play on the Saturday
8. Ian Poulter’s approach shot to the 18th on the Sunday
9. Ian Poulter’s five-birdie finish on the Saturday
10. Having our shirts photographed by so many Americans

Honourable mention too for American Express, whose cardholders’ tent offered good cider, nice TV screens and (best of all) the only decent toilets on the course. My top sponsor award goes to them.