12 things to expect from Virgin Media's next-gen box

When TiVo meets UK cable

TiVirgin

Although Virgin Media are remaining coy on the details of its forthcoming next-generation TiVo-enabled boxes, there are plenty of assumptions that can be made.

With the partnership signed and sealed and development well underway on an interface that brings the Virgin Media hardware and the TiVo user experience together, what can you expect to find on the next-generation cable set-top boxes?

1. Recommendation and automatic record engine

Central to everything that has made TiVo such a dominant force in US PVRs is the much-vaunted recommendation engine. Users grade the kind of programmes that they watch, giving it up to three thumbs up or down, and TiVo's system then uses the recommendation to find and record the kinds of programmes that you like.

On top of this, TiVo uses the (anonymised) information from all of its user base to work out what people who watch the same kinds of shows as you are watching to make even more guesses on your behalf.

The upshot is that your PVR will always be full of programs that you may (or may not) like to watch based on your viewing preferences.

TiVo suggestions

But how will TiVo recommendations work on boxes without a PVR? This is something that Virgin Media is working hard to solve – but the recommendations can apply equally to available Video on Demand (VOD) meaning that things like BBC iPlayer content, catch-up TV and, potentially, TV Choice on Demand will be graded and provided as TiVo recommendations.

Plus, expect to see TiVo recommending shows you might like to watch on the linear channels, even if it cannot record them for you.

2. 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon

Another useful addition to TiVo that is likely to appear in Virgin Media's user interface (UI) is functionality that allows you to see the cast of any given show and then what other shows and movies they appear in.

So, for instance, should you be watching Kiefer Sutherland in 24 and want to see if any of his extensive range of movies are being shown elsewhere in the listings (or available on VOD of course) then you can. You can also then surf onto his co-stars in those films and see what TV and film they are appearing in that's available and so on.

3. Context specific recommendations

Another offshoot of the recommendation engine is that when they are combined with some content hand-picked by an editorial team and the cast and crew information you can have a dynamic feed of relevant content that actually sits nicely with whatever it is you are looking at.

So, if you happen to be looking for a movie starring a particular actor, you could well get recommendations on the page that point to other work by some of the cast, other movies of the same type and movies that people who watched that film have also watched.