Sky TV packages explained
Thanks to the six base Sky packages, coupled with a plethora of possible add-ons, there are more available Sky TV combinations than it would be sane to list.
However, that doesn’t mean choosing a Sky TV package needs to be complex. Just identify what sort of telly you and/or your family will get the most from, pick a base bundle, then add on from there. Base bundle? But what if I don’t want broadband and phone? What if I only want Sky TV?
Well, that’s not a problem. You can have Sky TV on its own, but…
Sky TV without Sky Broadband and Fibre is like Starsky without Hutch
Sky offers the best TV in the UK, with nearly twice as many channels as its nearest rival. However, (what we think is) the best thing about Sky TV is its ability to deliver the TV and movies you want to watch on demand. Sky on demand, along with Sky Box Sets, provides you with access to every episode of around 300 TV shows, and any movie that’s currently showing, at any time.
However, this content is not delivered through the satellite dish, it’s delivered through your internet connection. While it’s technically possible to have BT or Virgin Media broadband as well as Sky TV, you may find yourself passing up savings and other benefits available only to those who bundle all their services from a single source.
Sky TV bundles
Sky offers six TV bundles, with the ability to add on speciality channels to any of them. Let’s take a quick look at each bundle.
The Sky Original Bundle
Funny Sky didn’t call this ‘The Basic Bundle’ but on closer inspection it’s easy to see why. It may be the least possible TV you can get from Sky, but it’s still a lot of telly.
The original bundle offers around 250 channels in total. Granted, around 50 of these are ‘plus-one’ channels – same content lagging an hour behind – and many of them are considered ‘Freeview’ – that is, you don’t technically need a Sky subscription to watch them.
The yellow yolky part of this TV egg, however, is Sky’s own channels. The likes of Sky One, Sky Arts and of course Game Of Thrones channel Sky Atlantic are brimming with awesome content.
The Sky Variety Bundle
Next up is the Variety Bundle. While offering everything the base-level Original Bundle does, the Variety Bundle adds 12 kids channels, 13 documentary channels, eight music channels and five sports channels (though not Sky Sports itself).
It’s good. There’s plenty here. The problem we have with Sky’s Variety Bundle, however, is that for a measly few pounds extra each month you could have the Family Bundle, which, we’re sorry to say, makes the Variety Bundle look a bit… well… pathetic.
The Sky Family Bundle
The Sky Family Bundle is the absolute sweet spot for those looking to pick up a Sky bundle, but perhaps aren’t all that fussed about movies or sports (although you can always add these on if you wish).
That’s because the Sky Family Bundle offers everything you’ll get in the Sky Variety Bundle, but has five times as many channels in high definition (HD) and an entire channel dedicated to 3D, if you’ve got the gear at home to make use of it.
It is also the first bundle in this list to offer access to Sky Box Sets. Along with Sky Atlantic, Sky Box Sets really are the jewel in Sky’s crown. A ‘box set’ is exactly what it sounds like. It’s every episode ever made of a TV series, and Sky has over 300 of them that you can watch any time you like.
The Sky Sports Bundle
We’ve sort of been going in ascending order throughout this rundown, but we’ll need to take a couple of steps back to talk about what Sky deems worthy of the official Sky Sports Bundle title.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that this would contain The Family Bundle, plus all six channels of Sky Sports (Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and Sky F1 and Sky Sports HQ – the sports news channel). But no. The Sky Sports Bundle, as Sky terms it, is The Sky Original Bundle, but with Sky Sports tagged on.
If you want everything in the Sky Family Bundle, plus Sky Sports (what we’d recommend for sports fans with a family) you’ll have to do exactly that: choose the Family Bundle, then add Sports at the checkout.
That’s an important point because, currently, nowhere during the online buying and checkout process does Sky tell you that by selecting The Sky Sports Bundle you’re not getting Sky Sports in HD.
You actually have to select The Family Bundle instead, then click the ‘Add HD’ button (which is greyed out and unclickable if you haven’t selected The Family Bundle).
Both The Family Bundle and the addition of the ‘HD Pack’ (if you’re adding Sky Sports or Sky Movies) add significantly to the monthly cost.
We’re pretty certain that a lot of people buying this bundle don’t realise they’re getting standard definition until they get it up and running. And, of course, once it’s in the house, it’s hard not to just relent and pay the extra twenty quid or so a month to get what you thought you were buying in the first place.
The Sky Movies Bundle
What’s been said about The Sky Sports Bundle can be equally said here. It’s The Original Bundle with the addition of Sky Movies. If you want better telly beyond movies, go for The Sky Family Bundle, then add Sky Movies at the checkout.
That's also the only way (by adding the ‘HD Pack’) that you’ll be watching your movies in HD.
The Sky Complete Bundle
You get everything. Can’t really add an awful lot more to that. Every channel Sky offers, bar the specialist ones (by specialist we mean specific pay-per-view channels like Manchester United FC’s MUTV, adult channels and Sky’s Asia Pack).
So that’s 50 entertainment channels, all in HD. All the Sky Sports channels, also all in HD. Over a thousand movies on demand, 300 Box Sets. It’s excessive and it’s expensive, but if money really is no object you’ll certainly never be bored.
Sky channel add-ons
Let’s get one thing straight here – Sky has to pay vast sums of money to get hold of the content offered by these channels, whether that’s sports, movies, or channels syndicated from around Asia.
Sky has two ways to offset this cost: 1) Distribute it among all Sky TV customers or 2) Only charge those who want them. Happily, Sky has opted for the latter.
Sky Sports (along with Sky Movies) is the priciest of all the add-ons. You may have read that Premier League football and Formula One rights specifically cost sums of money so large they barely compute. There’s a relationship there.
Sky offers seven sports channels in total: Sky Sports 1 to 5, Sky F1 and Sky Sports HQ (SSNHQ). Whether you receive these in HD will depend on which set-top box and which base bundle you have.
We’ll say again: You need to select The Family Bundle as your base if you want to watch Sky Sports in HD. Sky will not take any care whatsoever to inform you that this is the case, so be sure and factor that both into the buying process, and into the ultimate cost.
Sky Movies claims proudly (pretty much wherever you look) that you’ll get ‘the biggest box office hits 12 months before online subscription services’. Is that strictly true? Not really.
If you were to take one movie as a sample and measure the time it takes to appear on Netflix after it’s been screened on Sky Movies then maybe. But there are dozens of ways to watch new movies these days and many of them, though charging on a movie-to-movie basis, offer movies long before they appear on Sky.
Still, timing isn’t everything. A little patience and Sky’s moving window of 1000+ movies both current and classic are more than enough.
Like the Sky Sports add-on, and indeed The Sky Sports Bundle, do bear in mind that you won’t get any of this unless you go for the Sky Family Bundle as your base layer and add the ‘HD Pack’ on top. If it’s HD you want, ignore the headline prices – you’ll be paying more. A lot more.
Sky Sports and BT Sport are bitter rivals in the business world, but co-exist happily either in the form of BT Sport through Sky or Sky Sports through BT.
BT Sport is currently the only place you can watch Champions League football matches, while Sky Sports is the only place for Premier League. Football superfans will want both, and by adding BT Sport, they can have it all.
ESPN used to be right there on Sky channel 417. Unfortunately for Sky customers who love their both quirky and American sporting action, ESPN is now exclusively on BT Sport. But fear not! By adding BT Sport to your Sky package ESPN comes right along with it.
Liverpool TV, MUTV, Chelsea TV
Let’s put this out there right away: team-specific football channels are expensive. Really expensive, if you measure one of them against the all-in cost of the 400+ channels you get with the Sky Family Bundle.
But, for the true fan, it’s going to be money well spent. Just be clear that no team-specific footy channels are included in any of the Sky base bundles. You’ll need to add them on. The good news is you’ll likely only need one of them.
The Sky Asia Pack
Perhaps not cheap by the standards of the other channels included in the base bundles, but you get a hell of a lot for your money. This is not a collection of channels showing endless re-runs of Mughal-e-Azam and Damini, this is a collection of quality channels screened in India.
With seven of the most popular Indian TV channels included, there’s enough here to literally watch nothing but Indian TV all year round.
Adult channels on Sky
Yes. The naughty ones. And they aren’t cheap either. The internet. Ever heard of the internet? We’ll leave it at that.
Watching stuff in HD on Sky TV
If we’re to be critical of Sky on one issue, it would have to be its lack of clarity on what you can watch in HD, what you can’t, and how much it’s all going to cost.
Funny to think, isn’t it, that we’ve had HD channels now for going on a decade, and yet, you name the service – Sky, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Apple TV – everyone still wants you to pay more for what really is and should be the standard.
And we’re sorry to say that Sky is worse than some others in this respect. Not in the availability of its HD content – there is boatloads of it – but in the way it obscures the true price of some of its TV packages and bundles by providing everything in standard definition unless you stump up additional monthly cash Sky won't tell you about until you're right there at the checkout.
The long and short of it is you’ll need either The Sky Family Bundle or The Sky Complete Bundle at the base of your package in order to watch Sky Sports, Sky Movies or any of Sky’s exclusive entertainment channels in HD.
The Sky Original and Variety Bundles do have some HD content, but only the Freeview stuff such as BBC HD, CBeebies, ITV HD, 4HD and so on.
Watching stuff in 3D on Sky TV
What can be said for HD (above) can also be said for 3D. Sky used to have a dedicated 3D channel, but since the world seems to have steadily figured out that 3D is a bit of an eye-strain, even this one channel has been relegated to on demand content.
Since you can only access Sky on demand with The Family Bundle or better (only The Complete Bundle is better), fans of 3D content will need to shell out for a little more than just the basics.
Sky Box Sets
After building a vast collection of VHS tapes, followed by an equally vast collection of DVDs, we weren’t sold on Blu-ray. There is a limited number of times we’re willing to buy all our favourite movies and TV series – Blu-ray was where we drew the line.
Just as well really. As a format, it’s almost dead already as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Blinkbox and even some kooky speciality services like WWE TV and Crunchyroll provide subscribers with a combined service that renders the purchase of a physical disc utterly obsolete.
Sky Box Sets, available to all Sky customers with The Family Bundle or better, provide instant access to every episode ever made or over 300 TV shows. No human can or should watch it all, but the sheer quantity available means there’s something there for everyone from Glee to True Blood.
Sky on demand
Sky on demand is – like HD, Box Set and 3D content – available to anyone subscribed to the Family Bundle or better. To anyone with an internet connection of 6Mbps or more, Sky on demand offers instant access to over 1,000 movies.
It means you can watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it. Which as well as being true, is also fun to say.
Not to be confused with on demand or Box Sets, Sky pay-per-view, referred to by Sky as Sky Box Office, typically screens content that’s even more premium than the stuff you already pay a premium for on its premium sport and movie channels.
It’s for special events, basically. Boxing matches and special wrestling events are the main flavour here, and at a cost equivalent to what you’d pay for Sky Sports across a whole month for a single event. Only superfans need apply.
Now TV is Sky’s streaming service for non-Sky customers. The way it works is you pay a small sum each month to gain access either to Sky’s entertainment content (the shows it screens new each week), to Sky Movies content (all the stuff available on demand to Sky customers), or to Sky Sports content.
You can stream Now TV to your phone, your tablet, or to a games console plugged into your main living room telly.
If all this is available to non-Sky customers on Now TV, why on earth do you need a Sky subscription? Well, what Now TV is good at is providing you specifically with access to a programme or programmes you want to watch. Watching episodes of Game Of Thrones as they’re screened (or soon after, at least) is worth a few quid a month, is it not?
It’s when you begin to add everything together that Now TV becomes a comparatively poor choice. Movies, sport and entertainment will cost you a veritable bucket of cash compared to what you’d pay on a regular Sky subscription, and you have none of the advantages of a Sky+ HD set-top box, with its 400+ channels and ability to record and play back.
The Sky Go and Sky Go Extra apps
Every Sky customer gets Sky Go. It’s an app that allows you to watch some, but by no means all, Sky content on your mobile or tablet – provided it’s hooked up to a decent internet connection.
Sky Go Extra differentiates itself by allowing you to download and save the content you want to watch for later. Pretty useful if you’re planning to be out of wi-fi range for an extended period and need some entertainment – but not while driving please!
Please note, however, that you should take a little time to properly identify whether downloading content and watching it later is really of any use to you. Sky will throw in Sky Go Extra at the beginning of your contract for free, but will start charging you for it after two months unless you manually cancel.