“Stream” from Virgin Media, the new streaming TV box for VM’s broadband customers, has been announced today, and will be available to order starting tomorrow, April 27.
The stream box features an apps-based interface, voice control, 4K / UHD support, (Some) Freeview channels without an aerial, and – you can get it without any no long-term contracts (for the TV part, at least).
- Update: See our full Virgin Media Stream Box review
The Stream box marks Virgin Media O2’s first meaningful step into the broadband-based, streaming TV world, and will be offered alongside their more traditional TV solution, the Virgin TV 360 box.
And if this box brings up memories of Sky’s streaming solution – Sky Glass – the two are indeed somewhat similar in what they offer, except that Virgin Media – as Chief Operating Officer Jeff Dodds said on stage – “Are not going to try and sell you a new TV”.
Instead, the Stream box will be available with no monthly costs or a long-term contract, except for a one-time activation fee of £35. Then, you pick and choose the paid channels and services you want, with rolling 30-day contracts, and a 10% ‘cashback’ on top every month.
However, just like Sky Glass, the Stream Box doesn’t have any direct recording capabilities – instead, you add programmes to a “Watchlist”, which then pulls content from the cloud – assuming that content is still available.
Having been at the Stream from Virgin Media launch event, I was able to take a close look at the box and its user interface – so you can read my first hands-on impressions down below. But first, let’s look at what this box can do…
What Is ‘Stream’ From Virgin Media?
Virgin Media’s existing (and past) TV boxes, used a cable to bring you content (and, later, a combination of that cable and broadband for some of the 3rd party streaming services).
The new Stream box relies entirely on broadband to stream the content down to you – including Freeview channels (see the full list of Stream’s apps and channels).
If you look behind the box, you’ll find an HDMI port – that’s the main cable you connect to your TV – and a USB port, which is used to power the device, and can also be used to connect the box to a wired Ethernet port with a suitable adapter.
The box then offers you a single interface that curates streaming services and content from the various supported apps and channels – such as Netflix, Disney+, Sky Sport, BT Sport, StarzPlay and others.
The main screen shows you content recommendations based on editorial choices from Virgin Media’s human editors, as well as algorithmic recommendations based on things you’ve watched in the past.
In addition to apps, the main interface lets you access Live TV – which is similar to the TV Guide you’re already familiar with, with live channels from all the major broadcasters, along with a selection of smaller Freeview channels.
Since the box doesn’t have a hard drive, you can’t record anything directly – but you can Start Over programmes that have already started, as well as Pause live TV.
You can also add programmes to your watchlist, and watch them in the future – but, again, the programme won’t actually get recorded, so it will only be available to you as long as that programme is available on the matching streaming service.
If it’s removed from ITV Hub at some point, for example – you will no longer be able to stream and watch it.
The “Catch-up” tab is where you can find programmes from the past 7 days (or more) that are still available to watch. And Box Sets & Movies, as the name implies, puts full series and films that are available to you – either from services you’re subscribed to, or as Pay Per View offers.
As expected these days, the Stream box has Voice Control (and voice search) that you can use via the remote, and – unlike Sky Glass (or Sky’s NOW) – the Stream box DOES support user profiles, so each member of the family can see their own recommendations and watchlists.
The box also supports 4K / UltraHD on supported services (such as Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video), but most of the built-in Freeview and Sky channels are HD-only. The BT Sport channel does support 4K/UHD, with more supposedly coming in the future.
Stream from Virgin Media: Technical Specs
Rear and Front panels:
- 1x HDMI v2.0b with HDCP 2.2 copy protection
- 1x Micro-USB connector (supporting power and wired network pass-through)
- 1 multi-colour LED (on front panel)
- 1 button (on/standby and for pairing)
- Switchable Dual-band 802.11ac (WiFi 5) 2×2
- Bluetooth LE 4.2 remote control
Video and Audio:
- 4K/60 fps with HDR (HDR10 & HLG)
- HEVC and VP9
- Support for Dolby Digital (inc. Dolby Atmos passthrough)
- Power consumption/Power saving features
- Size: 80mm x 80mm x 16 mm
- Casing made with up to 85% post-consumer recycled plastics
- Low power usage (<5W)
It’s worth noting that Virgin Media also hinted at some gaming functionality that’s present in the Stream box – so, in the future, customers might be able to play games on the box – but nothing official has been announced yet on that front.
‘Stream’ From Virgin Media: Pricing Details
At launch, Stream is available to both new and existing customers who take a Virgin Media broadband-only or broadband and home phone package.
Currently, the Stream box is NOT available to existing Virgin TV customers who are under contract, so you can’t switch from the TV 360 box to this one, for example.
Customers can add Stream for a one-off activation fee (£35), with no ongoing costs beyond the streaming services they choose to subscribe to.
If you choose to remain with the “inclusive” Freeview channels (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and others – including CNN), you won’t have to pay any monthly fees (other than the TV licence, of course).
If you decide to add paid channels and services, you only have to sign up for 30 days, and can cancel – or switch to other services – at any point.
If you’re already subscribed to Netflix, Disney+ and the other 3rd party streaming services, you can either log on with your existing details, or switch your subscription to Virgin Media and pay via your VM bill.
Stream also includes monthly “Stream credit”, offering customers a 10% saving on their subscriptions when they add them via their Virgin Media bill – so that’s your incentive for signing up via the Stream box, and not directly with the streaming services.
The major streaming services offer their regular pricing here (so £7.99/m for Disney+, £6.99/m and up for Netflix, etc.), but there are also a few content packs you can sign up to (again, with a 30-days rolling contract) –
- Sky Sports HD pack (£38.75 a month) – All 8 Sky Sports channels in HD
- Sky Cinema HD pack (£14.99 a month) – All 11 Sky Cinema channels in HD
- Sky Sports HD + Cinema HD pack (£46.25 a month) – All 8 Sky Sports and all 11 Sky Cinema channels in HD
- BT Sport pack (£18 a month) – All 4 BT Sport channels in HD, plus BT Sport Ultimate in Ultra HD
- Essential Entertainment (£12 a month) – 25 channels in HD including Sky Showcase, Sky Max, Sky Sports Mix, Sky Witness,
Sky Documentaries, Sky Comedy, MTV, Gold, Comedy Central, Discovery, Eurosport & Nat Geo
- Kids pack (£4 a month) – Nick HD, Nick Jnr, Nick Jnr Too, NickToons, Cartoon Network HD, Cartoonito, Boomerang
- Starzplay (£4.99 a month) – Top US drama series and blockbuster movies with original STARZ content
At the moment, customers can only order ONE Stream box – so, unfortunately, there are no multi-room capabilities (instead, Virgin Media emphasized the fact that the box is so small, you can take it around the house with you – but that’s not very helpful if you have multiple people watching in different rooms).
If you leave Virgin Media’s broadband at any point – the Stream box will stop working, and you will need to return it.
Virgin Media’s Stream Box: First Impressions
During Virgin Media’s launch event, I was able to take a close look and get a hands-on feel for the new Stream box. This is not a full review yet – but a few early thoughts.
The first thing you notice is how small the Stream box is. At 80mmx16mm, it’s really tiny, especially when compared to existing boxes from Virgin Media and Sky – but still not as small as the streaming “sticks” we know from companies such as Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV.
The remote is a bit bland, but functional, with all the buttons one would expect. Curiously, it has a red “Record” button, even though the box can’t actually record.
I’m assuming the Record button is used to add programmes to your Watchlist – but that is bound to confuse a few people, at least at first (just look at how confusing people were with the ‘recording’ features on Sky Glass).
The user interface (on the TV screen) looks very clean and easy to understand, and feels quite snappy when you switch between tabs or load up 3rd party apps like Netflix.
It’s all quite similar to what we now know from streaming devices like the Roku or Fire TV, with rows of thumbnails that contain content recommendations.
Stream aims to pull together everything you’re watching into one central interface – so you can access (and add to the watchlist) content from Freeview channels, services like Netflix, and Pay per View content.
A separate “Continue Watching” row shows you programmes (or full series) you’ve started watching, letting you jump to the next episode directly (by then opening the relevant app).
The Voice Search is also quite snappy – you can ask it (by pressing a button on the remote first) to open a specific app, or you can search for a specific programme or film by saying its name – at which point the service that holds it will open up automatically.
As with similar platforms, whenever you choose a programme – be it from Netflix, iPlayer, ITV Hub or others – the relevant app will load. There’s very little content that’s actually playing “through” the Stream UI, and not via a 3rd party app.
This is the same thing Sky Glass is trying to do (successfully or not is a matter for debate), and I’ll have to wait for a full review before I can give my verdict on whether this implementation works for everyone – but the effort has been noted.
One possible pain point is the subscription process – at this point, if you want to sign up to a channel or streaming service that’s supported on the Stream box, you have to do it via the Virgin Media app and your account screen – you can’t do it directly on the TV.
All in all, this is a very interesting streaming solution from Virgin Media, and a major answer to Sky Glass (though Sky have recently announced that the Sky Stream puck – a similar streaming box – will be sold as a standalone device later this year).
It remains to be seen whether this will be a success – why “rent” a streaming box from Virgin Media, when you can outright buy a streaming stick from Roku/Amazon at around the same price as VM’s activation fee?
Plus, while there are no long-term contracts for the TV part here, you’re still bound to a long-term broadband contract with Virgin Media – something you don’t get when you buy a streaming stick.
The main attraction here, when compared to those other streaming solutions, are the streaming Freeview channels (so that’s a solution for those who can’t use a Freeview aerial, though you don’t get ALL the Freeview channels), and the ability to easily mix and match content from Sky, BT Sports and others.
I will write further analysis and news on Stream from Virgin Media in the coming days – so make sure you Subscribe to our free newsletter.