Virgin Media vs Sky
If you’re looking for quality broadband, TV and phone, Virgin Media and Sky are two of the main contenders. These two media empires offer a wide variety of choice, whether you’re after just one or two services, or a big brilliant bundle of all three. So how do you choose between them?
It’s not easy, but we’re here to help as we pitch the two providers against each other on the issues that matter to you most. From availability and broadband speed to TV channels and home phone options, we review which provider offers the best services and value for money to help you choose between them.
At a glance
Before we delve into the details, let's see how Virgin Media and Sky measure up on headline facts and features.
|Broadband||Up to 152Mbps||Up to 76Mbps|
|Usage||Unlimited – subject to fair usage and traffic management||Truly unlimited|
|Broadband without landline?||Yes||-|
|HD Channels||Up to 56||Up to 66|
Evening & Weekend
|Hardware||TiVo box, SuperHub||Sky HD+ box, Sky Hub|
|Free extras||Virgin TV Anywhere app; Wi-Fi on London Underground; security software for 12 months||Sky Go app; public Wi-Fi at 10,000+ Cloud hotspots; Sky Shield security software|
|Prices From||£10 per month||£16.12 per month|
Limited availability is a major snag for Virgin Media, although coverage is growing all the time. According to Virgin itself, just over half of all homes and businesses in the UK can access its TV and fibre optic broadband services at the moment, with particularly strong coverage in and around major cities and towns. There are some big gaps on the UK map however, notably Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, plus rural areas in England such as East Anglia, Dorset, Yorkshire and Northumberland.
Coverage is more extensive at Sky, which uses the BT Openreach network to run its ADSL and fibre broadband services. Standard broadband is available to 99% of UK homes and businesses, while the fibre network has now reached around two thirds of the population.
Winner: Maps don’t lie: you’re more likely to get coverage for Sky than Virgin, so it must take the point - but it all comes down to availability in your own area and you can check if either or both providers supply your neighbourhood using the broadband postcode checker below
Virgin Media 0 - Sky 1
You can see how broadband from both Virgin Media and Sky compares in our at-a-glance table below, before reading on for more details.
|Download Speed||Up to 152Mbps||Up to 76Mbps|
|Monthly Allowance||Unlimited||Truly Unlimited|
|Fair Usage Policy||Yes||No|
|Router||Virgin Super Hub||Sky Hub|
|Contract||18 Months||12 Months|
|Prices From||£5 per month →||£3.75 per month →|
All Virgin Media broadband runs on superfast fibre optic cables: it no longer operates a standard ADSL network. Virgin is also the only UK provider to offer broadband both with and without a landline, so you can save on the cost of line rental if you don’t need a home phone. Virgin broadband runs on an 18 month contract, with the exception of special student deals which run for nine months to work around the academic term.
All the broadband services include unlimited downloads as standard and new customers are issued with the Super Hub: a sleek combined broadband modem and wireless router that can support up to 20 wireless devices and up to four wired connections at once. The Super Hub also features secure encryption technology so you can password protect your connection from unwanted intruders, and parental controls to monitor devices on the network.
Depending upon coverage in your area, Virgin offers a choice of three levels of speed:
- Up to 50Mbps (from £5 per month)
- Up to 100Mbps (from £20 per month)
- Up to 152Mbps (from £20 per month)
An important caveat with Virgin is that unlimited usage isn’t truly unlimited, as both file sharing and uploads may be subject to traffic management at peak times (between 4pm and 11pm on weekdays and between 11am and 11pm on weekends). Standard downloads aren't slowed down in this way, however.
Broadband at Sky works a little differently. You have the choice of two ADSL services and two fibre services. The entry level option is Sky Broadband Lite, which offers a tiny 2GB monthly download cap and is included for free with TV and phone bundles.
The other options are far more generous and offer unlimited downloads on 12 month contracts, with the choice of three speeds:
- Up to 16Mbps (from £3.75 per month)
- Up to 38Mbps (from £10 per month)
- Up to 76Mbps (from £30 per month)
As with Virgin, the actual speed you can receive is determined by your location so you should always use a postcode checker to see what’s available at your address. Sky customers get the Sky Hub – a high tech wireless router that promises simple set-up, the best signal available and intelligent power consumption to save energy when not in use.
A nice feature with Sky is that your broadband coverage doesn’t end when you leave the house. Customers get free, unlimited access to thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots with a network called The Cloud, which includes Café Nero, Pizza Express, Eat, Pret and Wagamama. Sky customers will also be comforted to hear that unlimited really means unlimited: there’s no fair usage or traffic management policies to restrict your downloads or slow you down.
Winner: The broadband battle is a tough one, as Virgin offers the fastest internet access around at the moment coupled with a top quality router and option to go broadband-only, while Sky offers truly unlimited access, an equally good router and free public Wi-Fi. However, since the future of broadband is all about speed, we’re awarding Virgin the point for being the pioneer of superfast cable broadband and offering it at a reasonable entry-level price. However, if superfast fibre speed isn’t terribly important to you, Sky offers an affordable solution to get online with ADSL broadband and unlimited usage.
Virgin Media 1 - Sky 1
One of the biggest dividers between Virgin and Sky is the number of TV channels each one offers. Both providers give the full range of free-to-air ‘Freeview’ channels (around 60), including the five terrestrial channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) and many more digital-only channels, including Dave, More4, E4 and ITV2. And then Sky skips ahead, as you can see from the TV summary table below.
|HD Channels||Up to 56||Up to 66|
|Digital Recorder||TiVo box||Sky+ HD box|
|Features||Record, Pause & Rewind||Record, Pause & Rewind|
|Apps||Virgin Media Player||Sky Go|
|Prices From||£14 per month →||£16.12 per month →|
Virgin Media splits TV options across three packages, TV M+, TV L and TV XL, with the cost and channel choice increasing with each size. TV M+ is the basic Virgin Media TV package, featuring 141 Standard Definition (SD) channels including Sky 1, Sky LIVING and Sky News, plus 11 basic HD channels.
TV L has 155 SD channels including Sky 1, Sky 2, Sky LIVING, MTV and SyFy, plus 11 basic HD channels. TV XL is the most complete Virgin Media TV package, featuring 225 SD channels including Sky 1, Sky 2, MTV, SyFy, FX, National Geographic, Comedy Central and The Disney Channel, plus 43 HD channels including Sky 1 HD, Discovery HD and ESPN HD.
Premium channels such as Sky Sports can be added to any Virgin Media TV option, or as part of some bundles, such as the VIP Collection. While you can get up to 43 free HD channels with Virgin Media cable TV, you’ll have to pay an extra £7 if you want to access the HD equivalents of any Sky channels in your subscription.
Sky has built its reputation on TV and it’s easy to see why with the sheer volume of choice on offer. Even the entry level Sky Entertainment pack boasts 247 free-to-air channels and up to 36+ subscription-only channels, including Sky1, FX, MTV, Syfy and the exclusive Sky Atlantic.
For an extra £24 per month you can add the Entertainment Extra+ pack, which brings your total selection of subscription-only channels to 80. The Entertainment Extra pack+ includes favourites like MTV Hits and Sky Sports News, plus a large selection of kids’, documentary and sports channels.
You’ll get 11 free-to-air HD channels available with all Sky bundles, but you'll need to pay extra to access the up to 50 HD Sky channels, unless you opt for Entertainment Extra+ where HD channels are included in the price.
Winner: As you might expect, Sky trumps Virgin on channel choice, although the gap is closing all the time. Sky maintains some tempting exclusives, including Sky Atlantic and Sky Sports F1 HD that show no sign of becoming available on Virgin, which will seal the deal for many TV lovers.
Virgin Media 1 - Sky 2
Sign up with either Virgin or Sky and you’ll receive a high tech set-top box that allows you to pause, rewind and record live TV, plus access On Demand content like BBC iPlayer and 4oD. Take a look at the spec of each box below to see how they compare.
|Features||HD and 3D ready||HD and 3D ready|
|Playback||Pause and rewind live TV||Pause and rewind live TV|
|On Demand||Yes, no broadband required||Yes, using broadband connection|
|Storage||Up to 250 hours||Up to 185 hours|
|Multiple recording||3 channels at once||2 channels at once|
|Recover deleted shows?||Yes||Yes|
|Record an entire series?||Yes, with WishList||Yes, with Series Link|
|Free installation?||Yes||Yes, when purchased online|
|Upgrade to:||1TB TiVo box (£49.95, up to 500 hours of standard TV)||Sky+HD 2TB box (£149, up to 1180 hours of standard TV)|
Winner: There’s no denying that both boxes are pretty great, but Virgin Media’s TiVo takes the lead on innovative features. TiVo allows you to record more channels at once, access internet apps and discover new content tailored to your taste with the Suggest function. Access to On Demand content is direct at Virgin so your broadband connection will remain unaffected by Wi-Fi activity and extreme weather, unlike at Sky, where you might see a dip in performance.
Virgin Media 2 – Sky 2
Landlines are gradually falling out of favour as more and more people rely exclusively on their mobiles, but many still like to have a home phone too, so it’s not obsolete just yet. Virgin Media and Sky offer a selection of inclusive call options alongside their broadband and TV services, and you can also take just home phone from Sky, but not with Virgin.
At Virgin you can choose from four home phone packages: M, L, XL and XXL. The M package (Talk Weekends) is included as standard with broadband and Virgin Media Collections, subject to line rental at £15.99 per month, and features unlimited weekend calls to UK landlines and Virgin mobiles. Phone L (Talk Evening & Weekends) gives unlimited calls to UK land lines and Virgin mobiles all weekend and each evening for £4.60 per month, while Phone XL (Talk Unlimited) delivers unlimited free calls to UK landlines, 0870 numbers and Virgin mobiles all day every day for £8 per month. The weightiest option is Phone XL (Talk Unlimited+), which includes all this, plus 0845 numbers and all UK mobiles for £15 per month.
Sky Talk offers three options: Weekends, Anytime UK and Anytime International. Sky Talk Weekends comes as standard with broadband and bundles, subject line rental at £15.40 per month. It features unlimited weekend calls to UK landlines, plus reduced rate calls to UK mobiles and international landline numbers. Anytime UK costs an extra £5 per month and includes unlimited calls to UK landlines (including 0845 and 0870 numbers) plus reduced rates to mobiles. The final option, Anytime International features the above, plus unlimited international calls to landlines in 50 countries and mobiles in Canada, Hong Kong and USA, for a £10 per month.
While you can take a Sky Talk plan without broadband or TV, it doesn’t work the other way around – you’ll have to pay line rental and take at least Talk Weekends if you want broadband or a bundle from Sky.
Winner: Virgin’s phone options are a touch cheaper than Sky’s plus there’s the option for free mobile calls, rather than just a reduced rate at Sky. Virgin doesn’t offer an international option, but there are so many ways to keep in touch for free now, with the likes of Skype, that we don’t consider it a negative and award it the point.
Virgin Media 3 – Sky 2
Bundles of broadband, TV and phone from the same provider offer the opportunity to save money and simplify your bills. Both Sky and Virgin Media offer a wide range of multipacks featuring superfast broadband, dozens of TV channels and inclusive call options.
Virgin offers five Collections of broadband, TV and phone, ranging from £10 to per month (plus £15.99 line rental) on 18 month contracts. As the price steps up so does the broadband speed and number of TV channels, while Talk Weekends is included in all Collections except the VIP, which includes Talk Unlimited.
Each Collection can be tweaked to create the perfect mix for you, with different Talk options and channels, like Sky Movies and Sky Sports for an additional fee. Your main Virgin Media Collection options include:
- Starter Collection
- Essential Collection
- Essential Family Collection
- Premier Collection
- VIP Collection
Over at Sky, there’s a selection of multipacks called Bundles, ranging from £16.12 to £51.75 per month (plus £15.40 line rental) on 12 month contracts. The Bundles focus on different TV tastes and include Broadband Lite (2GB) and Talk Weekend as standard.
Each can be tailored to include unlimited and fibre broadband, and different Talk options, which sees the monthly price increase. Your main Sky Bundle options include:
- The Original
- The Family
- The Movies
- The Sports
- The Complete
Winner: This one is close to call because Virgin’s packages are tailored towards broadband speed, while Sky’s are focused on channel choice. Adding premium channels really bumps up the cost at Virgin, but so does adding superfast fibre at Sky. You’re likely to find a good match for your household at either provider, so the winner for you just comes down to availability and your preferred broadband speed and channel collection.
Virgin Media 4 – Sky 3
A big benefit of joining a media giant like Virgin Media or Sky is the range of perks they offer to new and existing customers. Yes, you pay more than some of the no-frills, budget brands, but you’ll get access to some exclusive features that could actually save you money in the long run. Let’s see what’s on offer at these two rival firms.
Both offer ways of watching TV in more than one room - but just brand these services differently. Virgin Media offer Multibox, where for £6.50 per month extra you can get a free VHD box with no pause, rewind or record functions, or pay £11.50 per month plus £49.95 for a 500GB TiVo box. You also have the option of streaming recorded content between boxes in different rooms.
Sky Multiscreen costs £11.25 per month, which gets you one free Multiscreen box with no pause, rewind or record features. Additional boxes are available for £49 each.
If you want to watch your TV on the go, the free Virgin TV Anywhere app (which is compatible with your PC, laptop, iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad - but not with any Android devices yet), allows you to watch Virgin Media TV anywhere in your home via your Wi-Fi connection.
Alternatively, the free Sky Go app (compatible with your PC, laptop, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad & selected Android devices) works in the same way - carrying your Sky programming via Wi-Fi. Should you opt for Sky Go Extra (£5 per month), you can download TV content and watch offline - a feature which is free to Multiscreen customers.
If public Wi-Fi is important to you, Virgin Media offer free, unlimited Wi-Fi access at 120 stations on the London Underground. Sky, meanwhile, offers free, unlimited public Wi-Fi at 10,000+ hotspots with The Cloud.
Finally, online security packages: Virgin customers get free anti virus protection and parental controls with the F-Secure SAFE suite for 12 months (worth £79.99 a year), which can be used on up to five devices.
With Sky, you get the free Sky Shield free advanced parental control software for the life of your broadband service. The software protects against phishing, malware and spyware. In addition, there's a free trial subscription to McAfree Security Suite for new customers (worth around £54.99 a year) - but you would have to purchase it after the trial period to continue protecting your online activity.
Winner: Both providers offer an impressive line-up of extras but Sky just nudges ahead with Sky Go Extra, better public Wi-Fi in conjunction with the nationwide Cloud network and Sky Shield software for the duration of your broadband contract.
Virgin Media 4 – Sky 4
Final score: A draw
We know you were probably hoping for a clear-cut winner but these two fiercely competitive brands are equally good on different elements, which frustratingly leads to a draw overall. However, now you’ve got a detailed review of how they compare – you can pick the provider which performs best on the features that are most important to you.
Availability could make this tough decision for you, but if you’re in luck and both providers cover your area, see how broadband speeds measure up at your postcode using the checker below. Then make a wishlist for your ideal telecoms package and pick the provider and bundle that offers the closest match within your budget.
If you’re already with either of these two providers and now considering a move to the opposition, find out all you need to know in our guides to switching from Sky to Virgin Media, or from Virgin Media to Sky. You can also let us know what you think of Virgin Media and Sky in the comments section below.
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