Sky Vs Virgin!

Right. Strap in for a rant. I love a bit of technology, and from a young age, I’ve always been the only one in the house who understanded how to manually tune in a TV, or set a VCR recorder to record or basically do anything with the TV / Video / DVD. By the way, if you never had a VCR and never had to learn how to program one, you’re missing out! Oh man, that’s a blog post in itself. Anyways, back to this one!

It started last year (2017) when we switched from Sky TV & Broadband over to Virgin TV & Broadband. We switched because the cost of Sky had gone up after we had fulfilled our contract with them, and while the TV on Sky was great, we found the broadband a lot slower than what we had previously experienced with Virgin (or the artist formerly known as UPC).

So, we made the switch. It was actually bad timing in a way because we switched in August which happened to be when Game of Thrones was coming to an end, and we are huge GoT fans! Leaving Sky meant we were losing Sky Atlantic, where we had access to the live showings of GoT, so that was a bit of a pain, but that’s an aside!

The main reason I’m writing this blog post is because I have found the Virgin TV remote to be an absolute mess! I’m gonna go deep in this lecture…and it is a lecture. So settle in and get ready to take some notes!

Let me just add before I get into it that it’s only in switching from a Sky remote to this Virgin remote that I realized how perfectly designed the Sky remote actually is.

**Angelic voices sing**

From the shortcuts available in Sky TV via the coloured buttons, to the whole user interface and even the ergonomic design, it just feels perfect. I don’t think that I ever realized because when we would previously switch from Sky to UPC, we’d have the standard long black remote which basically piggybacked the functionality of the Sky remote, so you never felt you were missing out.

**applause from the crowd for a worthy adversary**

But not Virgin. Oh, hell no! Virgin have done away with the old style, long UPC remote and replaced it with a condensed smaller remote which I’m sure they think is sleek…but it’s bad. And when I say bad, I mean very bad. And when I say very bad, I mean very very bad. And when I say ver – you get it. It sucks.

**the crowd throws rotten tomatoes and boo loudly**

So, the reasons? Let’s get into it. Bear with me.

1 Useless Functionality

First off, there’s so much useless functionality in it. For example, on the back of the remote, there is a full keypad. I mean a full QWERTY keypad complete with a number pad. That might be handy if you’re hoping to write your memoirs on an electronic device, but in a TV system where the most you’ll do is search for the odd TV show from time to time? Gimme a break. We’ve had the remote for well over 6 months now and I’ve used the keypad about 10 times, and each time I’ve only had to type in a few letters before the suggestions list kicks in, removing the need to type any further.

What I’ve literally never wanted on a remote…a typewriter

2 Slooooow Interface

Virgin TV is sooooooooo damn slow. Everything. Everything just feels slow. So if you press TV Guide, it’s not like an immediate TV guide on screen. It will come on screen but it takes 1.91 seconds for it to come on (yes, I just timed it)! That may not sound like much, but after 6 months it feels like an eternity. And then when you’re in it, every movement you make takes another second. Nothing is immediate. It feels like there is a little hamster inside the box, working manically to try to make the screen do what the remote wants. Like when you’re in the TV guide and press the channel up / down button to move a page along, it’s another gap where the screen goes black, pauses and then fills the programme info. That damn hampster is just not fast enough. Maybe the hampsters firmware needs upgrading?

Hamster batteries not included

3 Menu Bar

When watching TV, when you pause, info bar remains on screen indefinitely. So if you’re watching something such as Countdown (I’m partial to 8 Out of 10 Cats do Countdown), and you pause the screen to try and work out the numbers before Rachel Riley does, you can’t actually see the screen beneath the info bar.

Subtitles? Who reads subtitles these days???

Or if you’re watching a show with subtitles and pause it at any stage to catch up on the subtitles, the info bar covers it! It’s possible to play with the transparency level of the info bar, and you can choose Standard / Dark / Clear, but I have gone thru them all and literally cannot see the difference between them. This feels like Fr Ted, where he says lay peoples socks are not black, they’re very very very very very dark blue!

Clear? As mud.
Standard. Obviously.
Dark. Seems like clear to me…

In fact, looking at it there, it seems as if it’s the viewing screen above the bar whose transparency changes. What? I mean, what??? The idea should be to allow you read thru the transparent bar??  Not to block out the TV picture!

4 TV Control

My Virgin remote can not control my TV! I can’t explain why. The Virgin box is connected via HDMI and so I assumed it would, but no. There may be a technical reason for this, but my Sky remote still can control the TV’s volume, change channel and choose source, all of which the Virgin remote can’t. I’ve looked up instructions of how to pair the remote with my TV, but it seems more complicated than landing on the moon!

5 Set Top Buttons

There’s less buttons on the top of the box to control functionality. On the Sky box, there was a circular pad with buttons for Menu, Backup, TV Guide, cursor keys and power, so if you were beside it, you could choose what to do without searching for the remote. On the Virgin box, there is just a power button and Channel up and down buttons.

6 Box Resets

Every once in a while, the box resets for some reason. And if like me you have a HDMI splitter, when the box does the reset, it takes the input from whatever you’re watching at that time. So many times I’ve been watching Netflix or Youtube through chromecast, when all of a sudden the HDMI input changes and you’re watching the stupid Virgin logo momentarily!

7. Favourites

Favorites mode, go home! There’s obviously a lot of channels available on Virgin TV, and I am only subscribed to a small portion of them, and so in order to make it easy to browse the TV guide, I had to create a list of favorites. This is done manually, one at a time, by going into the TV Guide and scrolling through. When you highlight a channel, it says “Unsubscribed” beside those channels you don’t have. The ones you want to select, you click OK on and in the drop down menu, choosing to Add to Favourites.

Let me just add about the favourites, in case someone has a bone to pick. It is possible in Preferences to bring up your full list of channels and add them to your favourites, and it’s quick. BUT,  in that list you can’t tell what channels you are / aren’t subscribed to!  😮

Also, if you want to view channels which are not in your favourites list, you have exit the favourites mode, which is a bit clunky! On the Sky box, you had tabs at the top of the TV Guide, where you could choose to see Entertainment, Sport, Music etc and in there was also a Favourites section, which is sadly not an option here.

You can’t Enable / Disable Favourites function while watching paused TV. I just found this out! If you want to Enable / Disable Favourites while watching a show which at some point was paused, you need to return to live TV and then you’re allowed Enable / Disable it. That. Is just. Annoying.

8 Recordings

It’s a mess.

This requires a multiple pronged approach, lettered below!

Recordings Issue (A)

The process of playing a recording is so bloody long and hard to explain, it deserves its own comic strip!

Recordings Issue (B)

This is hard to explain, when looking at a list of recorded episodes of a show, when you scroll down, the highlighted bar stays stationary at top of screen, while the actual episodes and information on them scroll upwards. My brain expects the highlighted section to move down when I press the down button, but it doesn’t. It makes it hard to know how many episodes are recorded from a particular show because it will keep on scrolling between episodes forever if you keep pressing down, even if there’s only 4 episodes. So while you press down, and you think new episodes are appearing, it’s actually old episodes recycling!

Recordings Issue (C)

There’s no quick exit button from recordings menu. So if you’re in a show’s episode listings and you want to get back to watching TV, you have to press Back Up, which brings you to the main recordings screen, and then press back up AGAIN, to get back to full screen TV. This probably sounds anal, but it’s just frustrating with the gaps between pressing Back and the screen actually changing, like a little reminder of bad functionality!

Recordings Issue (D)

There’s no shortcut button to quickly delete shows in recordings. For example, if there’s a show you’ve watched on your Sky box, you press one of the coloured shortcut buttons to indicate that you want to delete it. You get asked to confirm and you do, and it’s gone, instantly.
In the virgin box, you have to firstly select the show by pressing OK, which brings you into a new screen with individual episodes. Then you select the episode by pressing OK, which brings up a new mini-menu. Then in that menu you scroll down twice to the delete option and press OK on it. That then asks if you want to delete it, and you have to confirm yes or no. Yes. F***ing delete it, thank you. That’s SIX button presses!
That may sound petty, but it’s so annoying! If they had just inserted a shortcut feature on the remote this wouldn’t be an issue! And it’s crazy because on the keypad on the back of the remote along with your typewriter, you DO have the four coloured buttons which do nothing! There are NO shortcuts associated yet with them.

Slow clap for Virgin

Recordings Issue (E)

Lastly, for the Recordings part, you can not scroll down a page at a time by pressing the Channel down button! If you happen to press the Channel down button, you leave the recordings page and instead change the Live TV channel. So, what that means is, if you have a lot of recordings (which of course you will have) you have to individually scroll through them all one by one! And each time you press the button it takes about a second for the cursor to move, and sometimes it takes longer than that and you feel like you’re watching your life ebb away as you look for the recording you want!

9 The Radio

The Radio. Now, I know, this is a TV, not a radio, but sometimes it’s handy to just stick on a radio station when you have the TV on, while tidying up,like I COULD do with SKY.
But, there’s a kicker. Are you sitting down? Actually, that might a tad over-dramatic. It’s okay if you’re not sitting.
Anyways, this is the kicker, which may seem like an anti-climax:
you cannot access the Radio when in favourites mode, full stop.
If you exit favourites mode, and you go into the TV Guide menu, you still cannot access the radio.
BUT…if you exit the favourites mode and press the channel up/down button you WILL be able to gain access to the radio!
You cannot add radio stations to your favourites either, I’ve tried that.
This just seems like pure laziness on behalf of the designers of the remote.



In summary, this remote seems like it was designed by someone who hates TVs, maybe they’re a self loathing TV user? Or someone who has never used a TV. It reminds me of when you pass thru a set of traffic lights, where the flow of traffic is so bad, that you just know it was designed by an engineer who has never once used those lights in their life and will probably never have to use them either. It feels like a remote which is still in design phase which has just been released because they were under pressure.

In terms of Virgin TV vs SKY TV, Sky wins hands down. Better remote and better service. But in terms of broadband, we’ve found Sky slower than Virgin, so it’s down to what you want really from it; TV / broadband. But if you’re a gadget fan like me, Virgin’s remote will drive you ballistic!

I reckon my time with paid TV in general is almost up and I’m looking at going with Freeview TV and Netflix streaming. The Humax FVP 5000t looks to have very good reviews. It has TV Guide function and recording capabilities, so I’m interested in trying it. If I do, expect a remote control update! ps, if you work for Humax, get in touch ;D

Lastly, if you’re read this, thank you very much for entertaining my venting! If you have any input or feedback, I’d love to hear it 🙂

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