Virgin Territory

I’ve been in London for just over a month now, and so far things are going well. As anticipated and hoped, it’s been a much needed and refreshing change of routine, and the last few weeks have been pretty busy as you can imagine. As I result, I’ve got a few posts I want to do on various aspects of the past month, so this is the first one.

As our new home is one we’ve inherited, we’re gradually getting rid of old stuff and replacing it with either our own things from the boxes we’re unpacking, or new things that we’ve been buying. There is still a lot to do, and a fair amount we still haven’t unpacked, as we’ve nowhere to put it all yet. But we’ve managed to fish out all the important stuff. And we now have a new cooker and fridge freezer, which are working nicely, so that’s allowed to us to get back to having proper meals again! Cheese on toast, microwave ready meals and fish and chips from the local takeaway are lovely and all… indeed, the chippy down the road is likely to remain a regular haunt of ours, they’re very good… but you don’t realise how much you miss things like proper roast dinners or frozen desserts until you’ve had to go without for a bit! We’ve also had a builder friend of ours round to visit, with whom we’re arranging to have lots of work done, especially central heating and new electrics and lighting as the first priorities. Extension leads have had to make up for the distinct lack of sockets! So things are moving forward, bit by bit.

But in particular for this post, I thought I would review my initial experience with Virgin Media, having mentioned about switching to them in my last post. And I’m happy to say that, on the whole, switching to them from BT has been successful so far. They’re not absolutely perfect – who is? – but on the whole we’re very happy with what we’ve got. And, thanks to a staff benefits scheme my employer is signed up to, I was able to get free installation and a £10 per month discount for the first year, so that’s an added bonus. Virgin were very communicative in the lead up to the install as well, and the engineer who came was friendly and did a tidy job. We have a few wires bundled up together in the living room at the back of the house, but that’s because they’re all crowded into an extension lead right now. That’ll get tidied up later.

So we have a steady and fast internet connection at last. Just like the leap we made from dial-up to broadband at our old home many years ago, this is another big step up like that. Downloading things like music and audiobooks feels almost instant now, videos download and stream speedily, and uploading clips to Youtube is now considerably faster as well. My recent VIP tag video, at over 20 minutes and around 2Gb in size, would have taken a good 8 hours at least to upload at my old place, if not 10 (and I would probably have lowered the resolution a bit or edited it down a lot more, to speed that up). But here it took just over an hour. Most videos I upload are even shorter than that, so will be quicker still.

It’s nice to have a wider selection of TV channels as well – sure, that means more rubbish as well, but also a wider choice of good stuff too – and I like being able to employ Series Link and wishlists of people or programmes I like, in order to record things to watch, and it’s good that you can record multiple things at once. The ability to pause and rewind live TV is also very handy, I like that too. I’ve considered adding in the movie channels, but I don’t think I’d watch them enough to warrant the extra expense. It’s probably better just to rent the occasional film instead, as I don’t watch lots of them. But I’ll see how that goes.

I also love the fact that you get audio description, which has even been present on some of the classic sitcoms I’ve been stumbling across, as well as lots of other things. And you can turn it on for shows you’ve recorded, which is handy. I don’t personally need it, but it’s useful for my mother. And I don’t mind leaving it on, because I don’t find it disruptive. As they don’t speak over what characters are saying, they’re not interrupting anything. And having never been able to use it widely before, it is interesting to listen to it. I think there’s more work that goes into it than people realise, as you’ve got to be clear and concise and only speak in the right places, so it would effectively have to be scripted in itself to get it right.

It’s not always perfect though. Obviously there are still quite a few shows it isn’t provided for, sometimes understandably (e.g. live shows). But even when it is available, occasionally it’s not used to best effect. For example, they had the Heroes And Villains episode of Only Fools And Horses on the other day (the first part of their 1996 – and what should have stayed their final – trilogy). It’s the one where they dress as Batman and Robin. Anyway, it starts with a futuristic dream sequence, and that part of the episode had barely any description. There was an initial mention of the poor people huddled outside – but then the describer disappeared for a few minutes, completely omitting key visual elements of the sequence, including the appearance of the older Rodney and Del, and the big building they were in. There was plenty to describe and no speech to interrupt, so there was more than enough capacity for it. So that seemed odd, as it omitted some important and funny aspects of the sequence. The describer did come back about halfway through that sequence though, and was present for the rest of the episode.

That’s the fault of the programme makers and broadcasters of course, not Virgin. However, their Tivo box too isn’t without its own issues. In particular – as many reviews will tell you, and which I was aware of before buying but am happy to live with – the menu system, while nice and clear and easy to read, is rather slow to navigate. Not so slow as to be unusable, but still sluggish. As I say, I can live with that. But if you want to try and use apps like iPlayer, Netflix or Youtube on it, forget it – the box doesn’t seem able to cope with them very well, so it’s really frustrating trying.

It’s easier to watch those apps on a computer, where they work flawlessly, or – as I will eventually be getting – a smart HD TV with apps like that built in. We were going to upgrade the TV here anyway, regardless of whether we had Virgin or not, as it’s another thing that’s really old, so that’s fine. Put it this way, I can’t comment on the HD quality of the pictures on Virgin until we get a TV that allows us to connect using HDMI instead of a Scart lead. I also know Virgin have a new box out at the moment to replace their Tivo which is apparently faster – it’s just not available on my particular package yet from what I can see. I expect it’ll trickle down to it later on though. And I’m happy enough with what the Tivo is able to do for me at the moment.

Their phone service also seems to work fine as well, and thankfully they’ve let us keep our old number from the BT line (funny how BT are incapable of installing broadband, yet they make cancelling their services effortless!). Plus, because we informed Virgin that we are disabled and (in my mother’s case) elderly, and thus vulnerable customers, we have been able to get an emergency call box installed as well. This is basically a small box which acts as a go between – that is to say, you plug your phone into that box, and then another cable from that box plugs into the router.

Basically, Virgin’s phone service comes over the internet – but that means if the internet service goes down, so does your phone line. So if that happens, this extra box takes over, to ensure you are still able to call the emergency services. It contains a special mobile SIM card, which it automatically switches to when necessary. It is solely restricted to the 999 number – you cannot call anybody else in that situation – but it at least ensures that, should the internet go down and something terrible happens, the emergency services can be contacted. And I can still call in as well, because the mobile SIM card in the box allows you to tecieve calls from anywhere, via a special mobile number on the bottom. So I can still reach my mother while I’m out and about if I had to that way. Hopefully we’ll never, ever need to use those emergency features, but it’s nice to have it there as peace of mind. And it was free, so you can’t argue with that. It just means we have a couple of extra wires around, but we already had lots anyway!

There were a couple of bumps in the road while installing that extra box though. First, we had no warning as to when the engineer was coming to connect it – by chance he happened to come through the gate when we were about to go out shopping! He was very nice though and was in and out quickly. It was only the next morning, when we went to use the phone, that we found it was completely dead. Taking out and reinserting the wires sand restarting the hub didn’t help. So it was now time to have my first experience calling Virgin’s customer service department, which I had to do on my mobile of course. Given time spent with BT and others in the past, I wasn’t relishing this. But to their credit though, getting through to someone at Virgin was really quick and easy, and they were very polite and friendly, as you’d hope for. That was a very pleasant surprise! We went through some diagnostics and a hub restart, to no avail, so the guy said they would send someone out. Technically, the next available slot was a week away! But as we’re listed with them as disabled or vulnerable customers, we are entitled to their emergency call out service, whereby someone comes round in 4 hours. So he made arrangements for that.

However, by the evening, 8 hours later, after I’d finished work, nobody had come. So I rang again, getting through quickly once more. This was a different guy to before, also friendly, and as well as doing a few more tests,  he tried to establish why nobody had come, eventually leaving a message for the local area manager. Then, however, he rang me back, and asked if I had another phone I could test it with. By luck, we still did – we had an old phone in s black bag with other junk we wete getting ready to dispose of, because it wasn’t working properly. But it might just do enough to test, so I pulled it out and tried it.

Ir worked, and it was only by doing this that I figured out what the issue was. It wasn’t a fault on Virgin’s network. Nor was it with a problem with our phone either – though I think the Virgin guy was left with that impression, as it was only after we ended the call that it fully became apparent to me what was going on. The truth was that the guy who had connected the box had done it wrong. The phone should connect into a wall socket style adapter plug from which another cable connects it to the phone socket on the hub. The engineer, however, had ignored the adapter, and plugged the phone straight into the box using a different cable. It was only by using the other phone, for which I had to use the adapter, and finding the adapter loose among the other wires in the corner, that I realised it, as I knew we had used it before. So when I then added the adapter into the setup with the phone we had already been using, it all worked. No new phone needed after all.

The issue had been closed, I assumed, until Virgin texted me the next morning to say an engineer was coming. Thankfully they gave the option to reply to stop them coming,?which I did. But the engineer rang a bit later anyway to double check, and I explained the confusion, for which he apologised. So that was that – until a few days later, when I got a letter through the door advising us that we had to fill out a form to be registered for their priority fault repair service in the first place, and get it signed by a medical professional or social worker. That may explain why we didn’t get a quick call-out initially, if we weren’t registered for it to begin with! It’s a pity we, or the guy who had promised to us initially, didn’t realise that. Still, we’ll get that signed as soon as we can, we may have an opportunity to do so this week.

All in all, therefore, I’m happy with what we’ve got so far. Although the Tivo interface is slow and we had an initial hiccup installing the emergency backup line, generally speaking our experience with Virgin been fine in these early days. Speedy internet, plenty of TV to choose from, and a much better experience phoning their customer services than with BT. So hopefully it’ll continue that way.

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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