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Review : Virgin Media V HD Box

Virgin Media sent us a V HD Box a few days ago so that we could investigate the cable's company new proposals; high definition content for free, something that rival companies likes Sky are unable to offer for now.

In a nutshell, VM's proposal is that channels that are currently available on your TV package in high definition, will be offered to you gratis. This means that even those on the cheapest package (which comes free) may experience high definition albeit limited to BBC HD, ITV HD and Channel 4HD.

In comparison, you have to fork out at least £10 per month (opens in new tab), on top of their existing monthly TV subscription, to get HD channels from Sky's bewildering offer of high definition content.

Other potential routes to explore include Freeview HD and Freesat HD, both of which will require the one-off purchase of a set top box with prices starting from around £100.

The package is available as an upgrade for £64 to new and existing customers who don't mind going the DIY way and £84 for those who opt for the easier route of calling the technician to get the installation done.

We went for the first one and after receiving an activation window of 24 hours, swapped our old Samsung set top box for the new one which is now built by Cisco.

The networking giant entered the set top box market after purchasing Scientific Altanta back in November 2005 for nearly $7 billion.

The set top box itself has a black glossy finish and looks rather similar to Virgin Media's 50Mbps wireless router with its odd concave-convex shape.

Great looks but rather inconvenient should you want to stack your set top boxes up. It comes with a nice wand-like remote control, which is the thinnest RC we've ever encountered, very different from the previous oblong models.

Strangely enough, the set top box comes with an external power adaptor, something of an unwelcomed novelty because it increases the amount of cables at the back of your multimedia setup.

Let's hope that the next version will reverse that trend which was possibly introduced to help reduce STB returns. The box is mostly empty which allows plenty of air to circulate through its gaps to cool the STB's electronics. We found out that the front facia is actually transluscent rather than opaque.

We try to open it but were unable to do so because the screws keeping the unit together were not standard one. The model we got was the 4585DVB v1.5 which was manufactured back in February 2010.

We've already covered its main features indepth here. Accessories provided with the Cisco 4585DVB include the manual, loads of cables and connectors and a few fact sheets amongst which is the useful "what to do the first time".

We did encounter some minor issues during the set up which our contact at Virgin Media pinned on the fact that they had circumvented the normal QuickStart process in order to get the box to us quicker (and free of charge!).

Obviously, the main appeal of this new Virgin V HD box, apart from the fact that it has a nice blue LED display, is the fact that it has a HDMI port which can transmit high definition content natively.

As for the USB and Ethernet ports, they could potentially be used in the future and some have even resorted to using the USB port to charge their iPhones. The bonus is that the HDMI plug is v1.4 which means that it supports 3D content when it will be available.

Currently, the cheapest (opens in new tab) you will pay for Virgin Media's entry level "triple" bundle will be £29.99 a month for 12-months, a price that includes 10Mbps broadband, 65 TV channels and unlimited weekend UK landline calls.

Alternatively, if you only want the telly (opens in new tab), this will cost you £17.49 a month, due to the fact that you will need the compulsory Virgin Media landline.

But the box is not worth much if it is not supported with a decent HD Ready screen and quality high definition content.

Virgin Media's the only provider to give you HD Catch Up TV where available but there are only three HD channels on the M+ and the L packages (arguably including the one where the World Cup matches will be retransmitted) while the XL one has 12 in all, a number that will keep growing we've been told.

What we'd like to see in the future? Certainly a set top box that integrates the many services offered by Virgin Media. It can bring together four services on one bill but yet, you need three separate boxes to enjoy wireless broadband and cable television.

We'd yearn for something that could bring together the functionalities of FON's superb multipurpose router and the V HD box. A box that has more than HD tuner, can stream Youtube, record to or become a NAS, download files, access the internet, act as a wireless router and a PVR all at the same time.

Désiré Athow
Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.