back to article BT vs Sky vs Virgin

When the final old-style analogue broadcasts cease in 2012 the default way of receiving TV will be Freeview. For years there have been alternatives for those willing to pay more, and you can end up with as many channels as Lady Gaga has costumes. Like those outfits, you might think: is it necessary to have so many? Pay TV …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. TeeCee Gold badge

    Virgin pricing.

    Crikey, I read that twice and still haven't got a clue, do you need runes and entrails here or is there a secret to working it out?

    That little lot makes mobile telco contracts and double-glazing HP agreements look positively transparent.

    Incidently, re Sky: "Planning permission is not needed for mini-dishes". I think that applies to any dish up to a given size. Something around a metre across IIRC. This can be important if either you live in one of the more far-flung areas of the British Isles or you like to watch telly when it's absolutely peeing down outside.

  2. Puffin

    Sky Anytime+ only for Sky Broadband customers - that's stupid

    I can't get Sky Broadband where I live, so I have Virgin cable. Fine. I also have a Sky+HD box. But I can't use Anytime because, despite the fact the box hooks to my home network just fine, they won't allow streaming via anything other than their own Sky broadband service. This is a total nonsense and really pretty disappointing. I can't see any justification for this really. Shame is, in comparison to the truly unfrorgiveably unusably awful crap boxes from Virgin, the Sky+HD box is an absolute joy. So I'm stuck with half-a-service from each provider not making up the whole experience. Fantastic. :(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "unfrorgiveably unusably awful crap boxes from Virgin"??

      Think you're a bit out of date - the Samsung V+HD box I've got is works fine and I personally think is better than Sky's offering.. I am considering upgrading to the Tivo though as it has more storage space and more than a weeks tv guide (the only 2 things I find a pain sometimes)..

      1. Puffin

        "unfrorgiveably unusably awful crap boxes from Virgin" - yes!

        I've got whatever they gave me as their "current" / "latest" box. It's so completely unusable it's shoved in a back bedroom and really never used. Completely unbearable crap. I only have to keep it so that they give me the tripleplay discount. Cheaper to get 3 services than just two. Madness.

        1. CmdrX3

          Some are, some aren't

          The original V+ boxes were absolute piss, but the Samsung as someone mentioned is far far better. It is much quicker and doesn't have half the bugs although it still isn't perfect and still needs the odd reboot. I managed to get the Samsung because I complained to VM, and got an engineer out. He came out and said the new Samsungs were coming in so he put one of those filter things in and said call back in a month as they should be in high supply. I did and got one... even got the same engineer. TIVO is looking good, so hopefully that doesn't get fucked up as well, although if I don't win one of the the free 1000 then I ain't subscribing anyway.

  3. Dino

    live tv? what for??

    use usenet... though many flip out when they have to pick what they want to watch so watch less tv.. always a good thing.. heh..

    less tv more time for beer.... hic!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One box to do it all?

    Sky, iPlayer, youtube, 5 etc and Fetch VOD in a freeview HD+ box. The remote is a bit pants, but recent updates have fixed niggles. Plus it looks nice next to the Mac.

  5. Chad H.

    Why no?

    Why no freesat, freeview and top up tv inclusion?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Because somebody is feeling very lazy.

      Yes the default way to watch TV after the analogue switch off will indeed be Freeview, but I don't understand why the author thinks that nobody will bother with Freesat.

  6. Andrew Barratt


    Just out of interest, if these boxes start downloading fairly large amounts of data is that going to be counted against my monthly bandwidth limits? 100gb a month could get used up pretty quickly with HD Tv on demand.

    1. Jared Hunt

      For an answer to your question


  7. EddieD

    I used to have Virgin...

    But then I had 4 outages, lasting 5-8 days each, in the space of one month, I was left without television from 20th December until 6th January, no refund, even after a letter to the boss, so I cancelled my subscription, and have been telly-less for two years, and I love it. Okay, I have reasonable broadband, so there is iPlayer and other services, but I

    Like everything else with Virgin, when it works it's very very good, but when it's bad, it's horrid.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      @I used to have Virgin...


      I have Virgin for cable TV & internet for last 12 years or so and they have been pretty reliable, and on the few occasions it has broken down, it was fixed quite quickly and efficiently.

      Still, it must be said the cable TV box I got is sluggish to user inputs, which is pretty crap for anything designed with this century's hardware.

  8. Tom_

    Good article

    The article is great, but the selection of services that it describes puts me right off paying for TV.

    It's really complicated.

    90% of the offered channels are unwanted.

    It sounds like you get stuck with a service, even if it's crap.

    I think I'll stick to Freeview and my crappy DVR.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Crappy DVR

      I used to have BT Vision, without subscription, just because it was the cheapest way of getting a decent PVR. At the time (2008) they were promising a firmware upgrade that would allow people without BT broadband to use the box. That never materialized and I left BT, so I couldn't use the PVR anymore. I've bought another PVR which isn't a patch on the BT one.

      So has anybody yet come up with a way of using the BT box without a BT broadband connection?

  9. Adam Cooper

    Bad Virgin Boxes

    Every time I've ever had to use a virgin set top box I've been constantly frustrated by the sluggishness, layout and navigation. My Sky+ box (circa 2007) has outperformed them in every case. It's quick, I can see more channel schedules on a given screen and it's not got ads filling up vital screen space.

    Are the Virgin HD boxes much improved on this? Or am I still limited to viewing 5 channels worth of schedule at a time?

  10. Stu J

    Virgin? Seriously?

    Virgin cover "50% of the country". Yes, and the other 50% aren't just people out in the sticks, there are huge swathes of the country not covered:

    OK, unless you can get Sky Broadband, you can't get Anytime+, but at least you can still get bloody TV! And as the only other option is the Phorm-toting-BT-wankers, that leaves you with one choice if you live in one of the not insignificant towns or cities which Virgin couldn't be arsed with - in Cheshire alone you've got:

    Chester (population 77,000), Crewe (population 67,000), Northwich (population 19,000), Winsford (population 33,000).

    But hang on - Sky aren't thick are they - all of those towns (and many of the surrounding villages) have exchanges enabled that are enabled for Sky Broadband. Problem solved.

    Maybe if Ofcom truly want competition in the combined Broadband/TV space, they should be kicking Virgin and Sky to roll out cable/LLU more exchanges.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not Only, but also...

      Not only is their coverage crap, but they have seriously curtailled plans to expand it. When we moved to our current address five years ago we were told they had plans to cable our area and would get back to us with a firm date. A year later it changed to their having plans, but it being so far down the line that no date would be forthcoming. A year after that I checked again and was told they had absolutely no plans to cable our area.

  11. Carol Orlowski

    About as close as you can get..

    would most likely be the PS3.


    Freeview Inc PVR (PlayTV)

    Upscaled DVD



    ITV Player



    PSN Video Store



    Not bad for 1 box that's £180.

    1. Rob Beard
      Thumb Up


      PlayTV is a single tuner device and you need to buy it separately to the console (and last time I checked it was in the region of about 50 quid!).

      Not so keen on the streaming on the PS3 either, the quality isn't that great as it's stuck at something like 240p via the web browser.

      On the other hand, with PS3 Media Server running on my server I can enjoy stuff in HD quality and I can't fault it for Bluray. :-)


      1. Anonymous Coward

        Streaming is HD on PS3

        at least it is on iPlayer, I streamed HD stuff the other night.

        You can pick up PlayTV VERY cheaply, £15 is the going ebay price, that turns your PS3 into a freeview PVR.

  12. DrXym


    I was a subscriber to Sky for a long time but when I worked out how much it was costing me a year I simply couldn't justify it.

    I first bought a bog standard DVB-S tuner and later a Freesat box. It works, there are enough mainstream channels to keep any normal person amused. Biggest wrench for me was I liked Discovery, History, & UK Gold but not for the money it cost to get them.

    Biggest technical issue with Freesat at present is that free-to-air UK services have to broadcast from narrow beam Astra2D and there isn't enough capacity. Channels like the forthcoming Film4HD had to wait for a slot to free up. Astra 1N is supposed to launch midyear so if all goes well the situation should improve a lot this year.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The other options...

    A HTPC running MediaPortal, XBMC or MythTV. While the setup cost might be a little higher its free after that. With some of these options you also have the advantage of things like proper web browsing, streaming from many other sites, playing every kind of file under the sun. With XBMC & Myth you can record on one box and playback on another networked box. 14 day EPGs. Setting recordings via smartphone. Playback via smartphone. Advert skipping. Multiple menu layouts.

  14. phoenix

    Humax HDR Fox t2

    Freeview; free, reasonable quality on a box with a 500Gb HDD. £289 quid with a portal launching soon to access iplayer et al. Get one

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Excellent box

      Great service...considering. After slagging off the 9200 Freeview PVR I have to admit that the HDR is the best and most reliable PVR I've ever owned. At least as reliable as the Sky box and in my experience that's saying something.

      But of course FreeSat doesn't have the content of a PayTV service and sometimes that's for reasons that are downright annoying (the whole Astra 2D/Eurobird debacle as another poster mentioned).

      I think that the two big deciders are money and HD. Sky's HD offering is way better than any other platform it seems - I'm surprised VM haven't done more here. I can genuinely say that over 90% of what I watch is in HD these days and I definitely can tell the difference. The two tuner issue is annoying but mainly because there are no +1 HD channels. I never watch live TV anyway but am often reliant on late night repeats to catch something originally broadcast in prime time.

  15. The BigYin
    Thumb Down

    Virgin on the ridiculous

    I am a new Virgin customer and I wonder just what kit they sent you. Firstly, my HD (Samsung) only have 80gb of space. The UI is slow (ask it for "motor sport" and it takes 15+ minutes to search the schedule), the search feature is hidden in a sub-menu you cannot access without losing live TV. All the "on demand" features are fragmented into sub menus that make perusal difficult and cause you to lose live TV. You cannot hid channels you do not subscribe to, all you can do is "favourite" some and that means favouriting everything that you subscribe to. The box (despite having the ports) cannot use Ethernet or USB.

    The router (a re-badged NetGear) reboots for every single change. Want to set a fixed IP? Reboot. Want to change the SSID? Reboot. Want to... Reboot. Pain in the bloody ass.

    I'd give Virgin at most 50%.

    If thinking of getting BT, Sky or Virgin, don't waste your money on the TV packages. It's 100+ channels of utter crap. Use the catch-up services instead.

    1. The BigYin

      Minor correction

      It's 80hour of storage, no 80gb. So that does match what El Reg got - everything else still stands though.

      And a few more I forgot: Schedule information is incomplete, it does not tell you if the show is a repeat or not, often misses the year and there is not quick way to jump to other showings. You cannot search on the summary, actor or anything else (and have I mentioned the search is slow?). The UI is fugly. Really, really fugly (and there's just now excuse for that).

      And the inability to use Ethernet means you cannot consume media you may have on another other networked appliance (e.g. a NAS). Hello....Virgin...this is the 21st century calling. Get with the sodding program.

    2. Gangsta

      The Title is Required...

      First off the Box has 160GB of space - 80 Hours.

      The UI is maybe a bit slow ( but not as much as you say)

      You can't watch LiveTV while searching OnDemand (Probably a marketing decision rather than a technical one)

      You can't hide Unsubscribed channels - So what? If you're on the V+ package you probably have XL anyway.

      Why would you need to use Ethernet and USB? The software has no function for that - the recordings are encrypted for a reason.

      Have you heard of a Wireless Router? Never trust bundled routers.

      Yes I agree 100's of channels are rubbish and catch up is good. But we can't abandon LiveTV channels.

      1. Rob Beard

        Virgin router

        I have a feeling that the original poster has been lumbered with the crappy Virgin Super Hub. Yes you can use another router BUT you have to attach it to the Super Hub as Virgin WON'T supply a separate modem anymore (at least not for 30Mbit or faster services). The Super Hub has a cable modem built in. I hear that hopefully around May Virgin will be releasing an updated firmware so that Super Hub customers can disable the router side of the hub and use it as a bog standard modem with their own router.

        Sky are just as bad with their broadband, you can use a 3rd party router but they insist you plug it in to the ADSL router that they provide. I understand that the older Sky routers can be hacked so you can get the login details and use a standard ADSL router but I gather with the newer modems it isn't possible (although do correct me if I'm wrong, I have Virgin broadband and only setup two Sky broadband connections for friends).

        Fail icon for the Virgin Super Hub.


      2. The BigYin


        "The UI is maybe a bit slow ( but not as much as you say)"

        Yes, yes it is as slow as I say. I know because I spent a frustrating time trying to set up recording for WSB by searching for "motorsport" under the "TV Channels"

        "You can't watch LiveTV while searching OnDemand (Probably a marketing decision rather than a technical one)"

        Yes, I know this and I really don't care why it is that way; it's a PITA and affects my experience as a user.

        "You can't hide Unsubscribed channels - So what? If you're on the V+ package you probably have XL anyway."

        I can't view them and I don't want to have them cluttering up the guide, that's why.

        "Why would you need to use Ethernet and USB? The software has no function for that - the recordings are encrypted for a reason."

        You assumed I want to lift media off the V+ box and you assume wrong. I want to view media I already have on my network. The V+ box is running on a Linux distro, including "smbfs" would have been a snap.

        "Have you heard of a Wireless Router? Never trust bundled routers."

        I'll agree on that, I'm using the bundled one at the moment but considering buying another one and chucking DD-WRT on it.

        Most of the above will be moot once I get around to setting up Myth with Freesat. The V+ box will either be returned or can just gather dust.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    BT Vision

    I've had BT Vision for ages (silver set-top box) and it's been great for me. It was totally free at that time. So I got broadband (which I needed anyway) plus a free freeview DVR with the option to watch the occasional film on demand.

    Being freeview (for telly) and streamed (for on-demand) the quality isn't brilliant but it's ok on my CRT telly. I would like LoveFilm and iPlayer, but as far as I can tell only the latter is coming soon. I'll see how the YouView boxes perform when they come out to get LoveFilm.

    Sky and Virgin would be better choices if I wanted proper HD and better film options but I can't get either of them and I'm happy without.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "... you can end up with as many channels as Lady Gaga has costumes. Like those outfits, you might think: is it necessary to have so many?"

    Or like those outfits, you might think: most of these are f*cking awful

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cause or effect?

    "Sky, despite being a broadcasting behemoth, has been the slowest to get proper video on demand onto its network."

    Err, shouldn't that really read: "Sky, BECAUSE of being a broadcasting behemoth, has been the slowest..."

  19. Dem

    How can Sky justify...

    ...that I own my Sky+ HD box as in if it breaks it's down to me, but that if I un-subscribe (as I have had to do for a while due to a household financial meltdown) they turn off the recording function? Either I own the box or I don't. There is now a nice big shiny hard drive inside the box with very little to do. Its not even as if the charge for the Sky+ part anyway.

    Given their intransigence, and given that my finances will again change, I may just look at using someone else and throwing 'my' Sky+ HD box in the bin. Still, look on the bright side, I suppose Sky could have turned off the HD part as well.

    1. jason 7

      You cant even remove the HDD........

      ....and re-use it as the original ones I've upgraded for friends are locked.

  20. jason 7

    Why pay.......

    ....all that much money for (let's face it) shitty TV?

    Dont folks have better things to spend their ever dwindling money on?

    Do you really need it?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Why not..

      ..understand that other people might think differently to you have and their own ideas of what to spend their money on?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bugger all this nonsense

    I just get stuff off the Internet (legally, wherever possible). I can't see the point of broadcast TV nowadays so I don't watch it, which has the added bonus of saving me almost £150 a year because I don't need a TV licence.

  22. Mr_Happy

    VM for me

    A true 50 meg broadband service none of this upto 20meg rubbish

    VOD on your TV, you don't have to sit upstairs on your PC to catch up TV

    TIVO possibly the best DVR on the planet

    OK so the bundled phone service is a bit expensive but with VIP most of the calls are free anyway

    The only downside on the TV side to watch Sky Movies and Sky Sports in HD you have to pay and extra £7 for each box due to Skys silly rules, otherwise no extra charges to watch the HD channels on VM

  23. bex


    the new Samsung box is much better than the old V+ box and the picture seems better.

    One thing to note with sky is the picture quality on the none HD channels sometimes is so bad its unwatchable, not a problem you have on virgin

  24. Karnka

    Wrong price

    The TiVo is an extra £3 / month.

    Worth every penny by the way.

  25. Andy 97
    Thumb Up

    So glad I got rid of $ky

    BT Vision has a few problems, but overall I only pay for what I use and even my current wife is happy with $ky sports now.

    Better still, I don't have Murdoch in my living room and my kids can watch their [rubbish] cartoons without adverts *and* I can remove items from the EPG that I'd rather the kids not waste time viewing like religious, adult or shopping channels.

    What's not to like?

    the on demand uses my ADSL and even with traffic shaping, at peak times the playback can suffer.

    I would recommend BTV to anyone, but for the non-technically astute, the setup could be a bit of a right pain in the arse.

    Oh, the disconnection process with $ky is quite a pain - even worse than leaving AOL in the mid 1990's.

  26. Monty Burns

    More research needed El'Reg!

    "Currently, there has yet to be one gadget or provider that delivers all the options as far as television goes"


    I have an i3 box running windows 7 Media Centre with 2 DVB-S2 tuners in it. I have then configured this (google it, i'm not telling you how) to decrypt Sky signals (including HD), added Youtube, Skyplayer, Iplayer, 5, 4OD etc into 7MC. I've also added the LoveFilm plug-in and then set it up to play all my "other media" ;-) using FFDShow

    I can also configure this for as many LNB's/Cables/tuners I have fitted so I can even decrypt 7 (1 LNB for the dreambox) to record 7 Sky channels at once if I want to!

    I will grant you though, this isn't an easy setup and not for non-techies to setup but its pretty much the perfect device for ALL media. Its also not that expensive! I set mine up for £400 ... when you consider at launch the Sky HD boxes were, what, £299.... and mines much, much better!

  27. JK1440


    I'm currently without a TV/Broadband provider, as I'm working away from home and saw no need to continue my Sky contract while away.

    I'm no fan of Murdoch, and I don't live in an area where I can get Virgin cable. I've not decided which provider I will choose next time, but I can say one thing: there is nothing that would make me go back to BT.

    From 2006 to 2008, BT extended my contract with them *three times* without my permission and without informing me... although they remembered to bring it up when I phoned to cancel my subscription.

    Sky's service, on the other hand, has been exemplary and I always get unfailingly helpful advice when I do have to call. This made such a change from being passed from pillar to post by incompetent BT call centre staff until my call was dropped because the clock ticked past 21:00. Several times.

    I used to think the B in BT stood for British. I now know it stands for B[censored]

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Goodbye to $ky

    Totally agree with the result here. Had Sky HD for 3+ years, and the box has been continuously flaky in most of that time (even after a PSU upgrade.) Also due to piss-poor copper lines my "up to" 24Mbit internet ran at around 2.

    Now that Virgin finally got round to converting the analogue cable in this area to something a bit less 19th century I can have a proper VoD service and an internet service that actually DOES what it says on the tin.

    Having Murdoch out of my life is just icing on the cake.

  29. Anonymous Coward


    communal instals, no less

  30. Dragon
    Thumb Up

    Its Simple

    If you want speed go with Virgin. I have been on cable since it was blueyonder, in all that time I have NEVER lost an internet connection due to problems with Virgin. Also if they needed to complete upgrades they do it at hours that suite you so you do not lose your internet.

    I will never go with sky, their internet is crap

    I would only go with BT if I had a gun pointed to my head or if I moved out of a cable area.

  31. Homer 1
    Paris Hilton

    The fourth option is...

    The Pirate Bay!

    And it's free!


    Paris, because she makes her OWN video entertainment.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    virgin? not a fan...

    well we switched back to virgin from sky for tv and broadband last december and it is still rubbish and slow. been with telewest, blueyonder now virgin and it doesnt compare to sky including sky broadband. im on the 10mbps with virgin and get 10 mbps yeah but have been getting regular disconnects from xbox live wired connection which didnt happen with sky bb. and then theres the traffic management crap. sky broadbend never let me down with speeds averaging around 7 mbps . no disconnects no download limits. the sluggishness of the tv is a joke too. and the blocky on demand progs. never thought i would say this but "cable" is shit in this country. unfortunately.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like