The launch of its V HD box makes it pretty clear that Virgin Media isn't taking the increasing uptake of Freesat and the recent launch of Freeview HD lying down. The tagline "Amazing HD with no monthly fee" delivers a non-too-subtle message: Sky may think its okay to charge extra for HD channels, but Virgin Media is having none of it.
Predictably it's not that clear-cut. Although there's no additional charge for receiving the HD channels available from Virgin Media with a V HD box, there is still a monthly fee for its television package. This is on top of the set-up and installation fees, too.
The V HD box itself costs £49, with a £35 installation fee that can be reduced to £15 with a quick-start pack should an engineer visit not be required. Then the cheapest TV package is £11.50 per month (or £5.50 with an £11.99/month Virgin phone line). That would make a typical first year's total cost a little over £220 - a far cry from "free" but short enough of daylight robbery to be worth considering.
The Cisco-built V HD box itself is certainly a well-made piece of kit. Its design isn't going to win awards for originality, but the tasteful black finish will fit in with most AV set-ups without drawing undue attention.
The rear is home to a number of ports. Of prime importance is the HDMI output, letting you hook the V HD box up to your TV at either 720p or 1080i and a digital optical output enables connection to a dedicated audio system should you have one. There's also a SCART output, but only a fool would connect a high definition set-top box using such an archaic connection. Rounding out the set is the cable input and both a USB and Ethernet port that don't serve any purpose currently.
The front panel houses a surprisingly large number of buttons, giving quick access to most of the system's functions. The remote control provided by Virgin Media is a pleasure to use, with all of the important buttons smartly located in easy reach for single-handed use. Cleverly the volume controls change your TV's output, rather than that of the V HD box. The EPG is worthy of praise for its uncluttered, logical layout.