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.