Virgin Media is making high-definition TV more affordable, with a new budget HD V Box. Unlike Sky, Virgin's HD service doesn't require an extra monthly fee, but you have to pay for the box and a setup charge.
Although the new budget set-top box doesn't embrace the ability to record programmes (you'll need the V+HD Box for PVR functionality), it's 3D-ready and includes HDMI, Scart, USB and Ethernet ports. Made by Cisco, the box offers what Virgin calls a "best-in-class" power-saving function that cuts power usage by around 95 per cent compared to stand-by mode.
The new box will cost £49 plus an installation fee of £35 and will be available from 22 March. Oddly, Virgin is offering its more feature-packed V+HD box at the same £49 (previously £99), but only for a limited time.
The company has previously tried to explain that its HD upgrade comes at no extra cost, in comparison to Sky's £10 monthly charge. In reality, Virgin Media's HD channels were only free to its premium 'XL' customers, with an extra £5 monthly fee for 'medium' and 'large' subscribers (not a reference to the customers' physical size). This fee was to 'enable' the V+ box's PVR functionality, and with the new V HD box lacking that feature, the £5 a month top-up will no longer be required for non-XL customers.
Virgin Media's executive director of digital entertainment, Cindy Rose, said: "We want to make the best high-definition TV available to more people at affordable prices and without the additional monthly subscription fee.
"If you really love telly you'll probably want our V+HD box because you can then record programmes on up to two channels while simultaneously watching another. Our new V HD Box is ideal for anyone who wants to experience the power of HD without the extra monthly fee."
Virgin Media has announced a number of new channels for its HD service this year, with ITV1 HD, Sci-Fi HD and the timed exclusive Film 4 HD joining hi-def offerings from ESPN, BBC, FX, MTV, National Geographic, Living (another Virgin exclusive), Eurosport and Discovery. The selection is still some way behind Sky's planned 50 channels by the end of 2010, however.
Virgin Media has also signed a partnership with TiVo, with the new software presumably coinciding with a replacement to the company's V+HD box. You can pre-register for the V HD box at virginmedia.com/hd but we'd advise you to go for the similar priced, and superior, V+HD box at the moment.
Update: This story has been changed to clarify the charging system.