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Pros and Cons of the Big 3 TV Providers

If you’re about to get a new digital TV package in time for Christmas – or maybe you live in the Meridian TV area, the next area of the UK to switch to digital in February, here are some assorted pros and cons for each of the main 3 suppliers Sky Digital, Virgin Media and BT Vision.

The first consideration of course is availability, not something anyone can advise on but you can check your postcode on the site of the supplier you’re interested in below.

Sky Postcode Checker Virgin Postcode Checker BT Postcode Checker

Sky will probably be a yes as they have around 98% coverage, Virgin Media is less certain as your street needs to be cabled and with BT you’re very likely to find availability of broadband but you need to check there is fast enough broadband in your area to support the TV service BT Vision. You also need decent Freeview coverage as all of the live TV in BT Vision comes from Freeview, but in theory by the end of 2012 we should all have that.

What’s the Box Like?

Sky+HD Box

The Sky+HD box is a very smart piece of kit, both in looks and performance, with Series Link recording and all of the other standard PVR features plus remote recording so you can set it from your phone or online. Total memory capacity is 500GB but half of that is reserved for storing on-demand content so you have 250GB at your disposal.

Virgin TiVo Box

The Sky+HD box was the leader in the field until the Virgin Media TiVo box came along, which does all of this and more thanks to increased online functionality and clever personalisation. The standard size box has 500GB of memory, catch-up is great on TiVo (see below) and YouTube is very easy to access on it, although the remote control with full keypad is badly needed for searching purposes (coming soon).

BT Vision+ Box

The BT Vision+ box is essentially a Freeview+ box which takes whatever Freeview channels are available in your area and adds the pause-rewind-record PVR functions. It then connects to the BT broadband and downloads TV and movies for viewing on demand. Memory size is 160GB.

Catch-up TV

BBC iPlayer

The UK’s most popular catch-up service is of course the BBC iPlayer, which is not available on Sky but is through Virgin Media and BT Vision, however Virgin come out the clear winner on this one due to the different ways you can search for the content in the TiVo box. For example you can scroll back through the EPG 7 days and view everything that’s been on – any programme available on catch-up is marked with a symbol and you just select it.

On Demand

The BT Vision service is made up of live Freeview channels which you can pause, rewind and record and on-demand content which comes through the broadband connection, so this should really be their strong area but compared to Sky Anytime the range is not as good. Having said that BT Vision comes at a pretty small price as an add-on to broadband and phone so if you’re not too fussy but just want some decent TV to dip into when there’s nothing on live TV it’s very good value.

Sky Anytime is available from Sky and Virgin Media, however at the time of writing it’s only on the higher Virgin packages whereas all Sky TV customers get it, so the edge goes to Sky on that one. TV Choice, again just on Virgin TV L and XL, also has some good on-demand content.

HD and 3D

Sky has by far the biggest choice of HD channels, over 50 compared to around 20 on Virgin Media, but HD comes as standard on Virgin and BT as opposed to an extra £10.25 a month from Sky. This means if you want HD TV but are only bothered about the main terrestrial channels like BBC and ITV you could be better off with Virgin Media – for the whole choice you need to spend the extra. 3D TV is still an unknown quantity in terms of how much it will catch on outside of movies and sport but Sky Digital are also the clear winners here as they have a dedicated 3D channel, available as part of their full Sky World package. BT Vision has some HD and 3D content on demand and the Vision+ box is HD compatible so you can use it for Freeview HD.

Sports and Movies

Sky Sports and Movies can be added to all 3 providers’ packages, see the separate comparison page here for Sky Sports and here for Sky Movies.

Special Offers

All 3 providers run regular special offers – Sky deals tend to revolve around Marks & Spencers vouchers ranging from £25 to £100, Virgin Media favour the money-off approach where they often run a £60 off any Triple bundle deal and BT (although they give Amazon vouchers from time to time) tend to go for a certain amount of time free or half price. The best place to find these offers? Click below to go to the best offers page for each provider;

Sky offers »

Virgin offers »

BT offers »

In summary – subject to availability Sky has all the HD and 3D you could wish for but with an extra monthly charge, Virgin has the zingy new features of the TiVo service with fewer HD channels but HD is included in the normal cost and BT Vision gives a little bit of everything for those who stick to the mainstream channels, depending on the Freeview reception in your area.

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