Virgin Media to finally launch brand new rival Sky Glass this year
Virgin Media’s new IPTV box will compete with Sky’s latest hardware
Virgin Media has a dramatic upgrade up its sleeve for 2022. The broadband company plans to launch a brand new box to compete with Sky Q and Sky Glass in the coming weeks, with redesigned hardware and software. The company, which merged with the O2 mobile network last year – offering O2 Priority reservations for concerts and free meals to Virgin Media’s full-fiber broadband customers for the first time – has unveiled its new set-top box since September.
Virgin Media has no plans to launch its own television, like Sky Glass, which brings together interns to broadcast Sky’s full catalog of terrestrial channels as well as on-demand packages and third-party streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and Disney +. alongside an audio system, a hands-free microphone array and a QLED display. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Virgin Media O2 CEO Lutz Schüler said the company is taking a different approach.
Rather than integrating the streaming experience into its own television, Virgin Media will offer customers a dedicated streaming device, dubbed Virgin TV Stream, which will connect through the HDMI port, like Amazon’s Fire TV line or an Apple. TV. This will bring Virgin Media’s TV offering to any TV in the house – something possible at the moment with Sky only if you purchase Sky Glass and add multi-room support to your contract, which is handled by a similar device that plugs into an HDMI. socket and brings the same user interface, the same streaming channels and the same catalog of apps, box sets and on-demand movies as Sky Glass itself.
Would Virgin Media take a different approach if people showed more interest in Sky Glass than in its solution?
“I’m telling you, if the UK market turns into Sky Glass, we have our answer ready. Don’t underestimate us, ”CEO Schüler told The Sunday Times.
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But in the meantime, Virgin TV Stream is looking to blend traditional linear TV with popular US streaming services, like Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney + into a single, manageable interface. Speaking to the Royal Television Society in Cambridge last summer, Schüler said he sees Virgin Media as an aggregator – offering the best connectivity (over 15 million Virgin Media customers can now access download speeds of new generation of over 1000 Mbps – compared to the UK average home broadband speed, which sits at just over 70 Mbps) and an interface to bring together shows, movies and documentaries of a certain number of suppliers.
Virgin TV Stream will launch “in early 2022” and will deliver “a seamless app and streaming-based experience powered by the company’s state-of-the-art ultra-fast and gigabit connectivity,” Virgin Media O2 previously confirmed in a press release issued in November. . However, he hasn’t revealed the final hardware design or the new “streaming-based experience” that will be presented to viewers when they fire up their new kit for the first time.
However, there are a few clues about the purpose of this brand new box.
It’s unclear if Virgin Media’s new kit will replace the existing 360 TV box
Virgin Media boss O2 Schüler has previously confirmed that his next-generation product is designed to target “the younger segment”. However, we still don’t know exactly what form this new material will take. With the announcement of Sky Glass in October 2021, the company finally detached its popular pay-TV service from the satellite dish. Sky Glass is able to broadcast live terrestrial channels alongside films and on-demand box sets from Sky’s catalog. The new system, which is built into a custom-designed 4K TV with an integrated audio system, also supports a number of streaming platforms, including Netflix, Disney +, Prime Video, and, soon, Apple TV +. Adding terrestrial channel shows to the playlist will make the software scour your streaming services to find old syndicated episodes, bringing everything together in one interface.
Since the recordings are not stored on a local hard drive inside the QLED TV, but streamed from the cloud, they sync across your devices, such as iPhone and iPad apps, as well as small set-top boxes. called Stream Pucks designed to enable multi-room viewing at home.
Of course, Virgin Media doesn’t require a satellite to be drilled into the side of your house, so in this regard, Sky Glass is only catching up with its TV rival, rather than overtaking it. However, Virgin Media is a bit dated compared to Sky Glass in many other ways, including the fact that its boxes still rely on physical hard drives to store recordings. These spinning discs can fail – lose all the episodes, movies, and sporting events you hoped to see again in the future. And since these players have limited space, you also need to delete old recordings to make room for a new series … something you don’t have to worry about when streaming from on-demand services. like BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub.
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Virgin Media’s 360 TV system does not allow customers to download recordings to other devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, to take them with them on a long trip. This is something Sky viewers have been able to do since the launch of Sky Q and continues with Sky Glass.
It is not yet known whether Virgin Media’s next Stream TV box will replace TV 360 or be sold alongside it. Based on some of the things we’ve heard from Schüler, it’s not hard to imagine Virgin TV Stream as a NOW-style contender. NOW, owned by Sky, formerly NOW TV, offers access to the full range of pay-per-view Sky TV, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports channels with monthly subscriptions. Viewers can pick and mix these subscriptions from month to month, depending on what they want to watch.
With some of the smaller NOW dongles, which are roughly the same size as a USB flash drive and connect to the HDMI port, viewers can take their favorite shows to their friends’ house or travel with them to watch them in a hotel, for example. example . Customers can also suspend their subscription and return at a later date (when the new season of their favorite exclusive show returns, for example), which is not possible when signing an 18 month contract with Sky Q or Sky Glass, for Example. Virgin Media’s 360 TV already enables a number of smart features comparable to Sky Q and Sky Glass, including the Prime Video and Netflix streaming apps built into the hardware.
However, he doesn’t have an answer for those who don’t want a long contract for their TV but want to watch some of the biggest exclusive box sets from HBO, AMC, ShowTime and some of America’s other behemoth networks.
Whatever form Virgin Media’s next-gen TV hardware takes, we know for sure that ITV will be present and correct. Late last year, Virgin Media O2 issued a press release confirming that the two companies had “signed a new, long-term, multi-year agreement that offers deeper integration of ITV programming, support for ITV programming. ‘IPTV, enhanced advertising capabilities and continued access to ITV’s wide range of products. on-demand channels and services for Virgin TV customers “.
Speaking about the closer partnership, Schüler told Express.co.uk: “We have been a long-standing ITV partner for many years and this new agreement strengthens our relationship. It paves the way for future product innovations and offers more to our customers and our business, as well as improving the toolbox available to advertisers. Our goal in television is to provide incredible entertainment to our customers in a transparent way, underpinned by the best connectivity. As we continue to invest and innovate, having ITV’s vast selection of must-have, fully integrated and easily accessible programming plays an important role in providing our customers with a fantastic experience both today and at home. to come up.”