How do I choose a TV package?
Like anything in life, if you want to do a good job you’ve got to put the work in. Happily, there’s not that much work needed to find the right TV deal for you and your household. It’s just that if you don’t want to be guessing, there is some…
1. Research your household’s viewing habits
You know what members of your household like to watch – of course you do, you live with them. However, for the purposes of this exercise, you’re going to have to look a little deeper than ’Jack likes kids stuff ‘cos he’s 8’.
Sit down, interview your household/family and make sure you get it right. The last thing you want to hear Jack say is “I wanna watch The Clone Wars on Netflix” and you’ve chosen a provider without the right box to do it.
So find a notepad, sit them all down and ask:
- What are your favourite shows, movies or streams?
- Do you watch stuff not shown on regular TV (Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Twitch etc.) – streamed to your computer or mobile, say? If so, what?
- Do you prefer to watch TV in a living room setting or do you prefer to watch in your own room?
Write down the answers and keep them handy for step two…
2. From your list, identify special requirements (4K, HD, Asian, Netflix and so on)
If you’ve ever booked a plane ticket, you’ll be familiar with the process of having to choose a meal suited to your food ideology, allergies or religion. This is a bit like that – if you have to have the Kosher meal and your preferred airline doesn’t serve it, you’ll either go without or choose another airline.
In the case of TV packages, this manifests as discreet services or features that you can’t get with all providers. For example, you can’t watch Netflix on a Sky box, but you can on a Virgin box or a BT YouView, and there’s a comparatively pathetic assortment of Asian channels available from most providers, while Sky (with the inclusion of the Asia Pack add-on) has them by the bucketload.
3. Think carefully about your budget
It’s time to give the financials some thought. In an ideal world we’d probably all take out Virgin’s VIP. If money is no object, go right ahead and do that – there’s more content in either of these packages than you’ll be able to watch in nine lifetimes.
For most of us, though, money is a factor, not only because it makes good old fashioned sense to keep our monthly costs down, but also because everyone loves finding a good deal – there’s something immensely satisfying about it.
In our TV package comparison, you’ll find the best deals in the country right now. But how much should you expect to pay? You can get a vast majority of channels for around £20-£30 per month these days. Sticking to Sky or Virgin means you’ll also get the best selection.
It’s when you add on premium channels like sports and movies that things start to get considerably more expensive. Sky Sports on its own (which you can also get on Virgin, TalkTalk, BT and Plusnet) costs about the same as all the other channels put together, so you should seriously consider whether you really need these if budget is paramount.
The primary reason you should have a budget in mind, however, is to prevent yourself getting carried away. A figure in mind before you compare packages gives you what psychologists refer to as an ‘anchor’ – a point from which to make reasonable judgements as to what you can and can’t afford.
4. Get TV only or bundle with broadband, phone and even mobile
You will save money if you get your TV, broadband, home phone and even mobile SIMs from one provider. It’s good for the provider – it gets them more valuable customers – and it’s good for you, since you can take advantage of, say, cheaper SIM tariffs only available to broadband and/or TV customers.
There’s no getting away from it in many cases. Sky TV without broadband is like a sink without a tap, and in the case of TalkTalk and BT TV, you’re not even allowed to have it unless you’re also a TalkTalk/BT broadband customer.
If you have existing services beyond TV, opening your mind to the idea of bundling two, three or even four services from the same provider will expand your options and save you money.
5. Decide how many screens you’ll want to watch on
When you interviewed your household, did anyone express a keen interest in watching telly on their own, in bed or in their own space? If they did, there is an additional layer of complexity to consider here.
For one, needing a multiroom TV solution means you’ve narrowed possible providers to just three: Sky, Virgin and BT. TalkTalk does not allow or provide for multiroom viewing. The additional complexity then comes in the form of how many additional rooms members of your household will want to watch in.
On Virgin TV, you’ll be charged £7.50 each month plus an extra £49.95 for each additional V6 box. However, with the option fo using Virgin TV Go, it is possible to cast your Virgin TV shows to another TV wihtout the need for an extra box.
Sky offers a dedicated miniature multiroom box option in the form of the Sky Q mini. This costs £12 for one extra box, but will cost an extra £99 per box if you want more than one. Plus, if you want to watch in HD, you’ll need to buy an ‘HD Pack’ for every additional box. It’s about £6 per month and because you’ll be paying for this for the entire length of the contract, things can quickly add up.
Sky Q is a specialised multiroom solution that also enhances your home wi-fi and allows you to record and access recordings from every room. Think of it like a big ’ol home network. A home network of wall-to-wall entertainment in every room.
With BT, you can sign up to Extra Box, which again, comes with a £5 monthly fee, and costs an extra £49 per month per box - or £99 if you want a recordable YouView+ box.
6. Match your household’s viewing habits to the right package
You probably have a fairly decent idea of what you’re going for by now – two or three categories of programming that are important, along with one or two features you’d prefer to have. There’s a wealth of information on those ‘special features’ we talked about (Netflix, Asian Channels etc.) further down this guide, but for now it’s time to play with some fun tools to help you find what you want.
In the next section – How to choose a TV provider – you’ll find a tool for each of the main providers that will allow you to see exactly what channels are available from each provider. So head down there and have a fiddle…
How do I choose a TV provider?
Choosing a TV provider has one thing going for it: It’s nowhere near as baffling as choosing a broadband deal because there are a lot less providers who offer it. On top of that, only two providers – Virgin and Sky – offer a lot beyond the standard Freeview channels.
BT would argue with that, and to some extent it would have a point – BT Sport is very good indeed. But, not everyone likes football.
Pros and cons of Virgin TV
Virgin TV offers up to 260 (ish) channels and is generally accepted as the second-best TV provider in the UK. Sky offers almost double the channel count on its top-end packages, but cannot match Virgin Media’s top broadband speeds.
Virgin does offer the ‘meat’ of Sky’s TV offering, but falls short in two key areas: Sky’s exclusive channels – we’d love to be able to say they don’t matter, but we’re talking the likes of Sky Atlantic here, arguably the most sought-after channel of all thanks to its exclusive screenings of Game Of Thrones, True Detective and others. And Sky Box Sets, which offers free, on-demand access to 300 TV shows and 1,000 movies at any given time. Virgin cannot get even close to that with its relatively limited on-demand offering.
- Bigger selection of channels than anyone bar Sky
- You can bundle with the fastest widely available broadband in the country
- You can add both BT Sport and Sky Sports (all the football)
- You can watch Netflix on Virgin’s V6 box
- No satellite dish required
- Paltry on demand offering compared to Sky’s
- Virgin has no native sports service like BT does
- Virgin TV is only available to 50% of the country
For Virgin TV's full TV channel listings, see our channel checker tool at the bottom of this page.
Pros and cons of Sky TV
There aren’t a lot of downsides to Sky TV. Some might not want a satellite dish on the side of their house – unavoidable, sadly – while others might simply not need that much choice, or prefer the much, much faster broadband speeds offered by Virgin Media.
Other than that, Sky has the best content, the most content and the best equipment. It even offers mobile SIMs with free calls and texts for existing customers. It is also, hands-down, the best TV provider. However, it is not the best provider of broadband - that's Virgin.
- Double the amount of channels as its nearest rival
- Exclusive channels such as Sky Atlantic (Game Of Thrones etc.)
- Sky Box Sets offers 300+ on-demand TV series and 1,000 movies
- Sky Q is excellent
- You’ll need a satellite dish – they’re not pretty
- Broadband speeds are capable, but a long way short of Virgin’s
- Sky doesn’t provide HD content unless you buy the additional ‘HD Pack’
- You can’t watch Netflix on any of Sky’s boxes
For Sky's full TV channel listings, see our channel checker tool at the bottom of this page.
Pros and cons of BT TV
The vast majority of BT TV’s channels are Freeview. That is, you don’t actually need to pay anything to get these channels. In this respect, BT TV pales in comparison to Virgin TV’s offering, and is utterly obliterated by Sky’s.
However, BT TV does have some unique things going for it. For one, you can have it pretty much for free if you sign up for BT Broadband or BT Superfast Fibre (previously Infinity). It won’t make the channel selection any better, but something for as good as nothing always tastes sweet.
You’ll also get BT Sport. BT Sport shows Europa League football and has exclusive rights to the majority of Champions League matches. If football is all that matters to you, BT TV is a decent choice. You’ll still have to add Sky Sports onto that, though, if you want to watch everything.
BT TV also has a top-end box on offer, which allows you to watch selected sport events in 4K ultra-high definition, provided you have a 4K TV and an internet connection of at least 30–50Mbps. You’ll need fibre, basically.
- Exclusive access to Europa League and Champions League football
- If you’re not TV crazy, Freeview selection offers plenty to watch
- Can add BT Mobile SIMs to your package and save money
- BT’s top box offers 4K viewing on selected events
- No free on-demand options beyond BBC iPlayer and ilk
- The bottom-level YouView Box doesn’t offer recording
- Adding on Sky Sports is expensive
For BT's full TV channel listings, see our channel checker tool at the bottom of this page.
Pros and cons of TalkTalk TV
Like BT TV, only worse, TalkTalk TV shares the same BT TV box (YouView) and offers the same Freeview channels, but unlike BT, which has BT Sport, offers nothing at all that’s unique or exclusive. You also have to be a TalkTalk broadband customer or you can’t have it at all.
Hang on. There must be something, right? It can’t be that bad. That’s the point – there’s nothing bad about it at all. It’s just there’s nothing good about it either – nothing noteworthy. It’s a good option if you’re already a TalkTalk broadband customer and not fussed about channel count, free on-demand content, multiroom or anything else, but otherwise forget it.
TalkTalk does offer on-demand movies and TV, but it’s on a pay-to-play basis. TalkTalk recently bought Blinkbox, the online movie and TV store formerly owned by Tesco. Now called the TalkTalk TV store, you can rent and buy movies and TV, which you can then stream to the TalkTalk TV box. But then, you can do that with Amazon, Netflix, Now TV and others already, so it’s hardly unique.
- It’s cheap
- Only basic channels, no exclusive content
- Very basic set-top boxes
- Base-level YouView box doesn’t offer recording
- You have to be a TalkTalk broadband customer
- No multiroom options
For TalkTalk's full TV channel listings, see our channel checker tool at the bottom of this page.
Why you might choose TV from someone else
Are you the type of person who favours a python over a dog? Do you run Linux on your PC instead of Windows? Are your children called Agamemnon and Boudicca? Maybe, then, you’re the sort that just has to be different.
There really is no reason to look beyond the options we’ve outlined above. It represents the full gamut of decent telly packages in the UK, and if you read between the lines, what with us running out of things to say by the time we got to the numbingly basic TalkTalk TV, you’ll have already realised there isn’t a lot more out there.
However, there are some hipster choices, like Freesat or EE TV. We wouldn’t recommend them, but if you must, you must…
Frequently asked questions
Here’s all the bits left behind. You don’t really need to know the answers to most of the following questions in order to choose a TV provider and package – we have all the important stuff covered further up – but just in case, here are some finer points we’re sometimes quizzed on…
Can I watch Amazon Prime Instant video on Virgin TV, Sky, BT TV or TalkTalk TV?
No. Amazon Prime Instant Video does not currently offer an app that can be accessed via any set-top box offered by the four main UK TV providers. The best way to watch Amazon Prime Instant Video on your TV is via a device such as a games console, Apple TV, Firestick, Roku or Google Chromecast.
Can I watch Netflix on Virgin TV, Sky, BT TV or TalkTalk TV?
You can watch Netflix on all subscription TV set-top boxes except those from Sky. Netflix is available in the ‘On Demand’ menu on YouView and YouView+ (BT TV or TalkTalk TV) and on channel 204 on Virgin’s V6 box. You will need an additional Netflix subscription to watch it in all cases.
Can I watch my subscription TV service on my mobile or tablet?
Sky offers both Sky Go and Sky Go Extra apps, the former free, the latter for a small additional charge. With Sky Go you can’t download content in advance and watch it later (useful to save on mobile data), with Sky Go Extra you can. Sky Go Extra is also free if you subscribe to Sky Multiroom.
BT TV offers the BT TV app. On it you can watch anything you could watch on your BT TV subscription, including BT Sport.
Virgin Media offers its Virgin TV Go app. It provides access instantly, anywhere, to all content you subscribe to. Virgin TV Go, however, does not allow you to download content in advance in order to watch it later, so could prove very costly if you have a restrictive data tariff on your device.
TalkTalk TV Store has an app. Remember this is pay-per-view content only and does not allow you to watch channels offered in your TalkTalk TV contract. It does, however, allow you to download over wi-fi and watch while on the move – probably the most important feature there is.
Can I watch digital TV on my laptop?
Absolutely. If it has an app, it’ll be available on Windows or Apple operating systems. For which apps do what with what provider, check out the question and answer directly above this one.
Do I need a satellite dish to get Sky, Virgin, BT and TalkTalk TV?
Only Sky requires a satellite dish. Services from BT TV, TalkTalk TV and Virgin TV require only the set-top box supplied when you sign up and an internet connection to deliver up everything they have to offer.
Do I need a broadband connection to watch digital TV?
Not necessarily. With Sky and Virgin you can get ‘TV-only’ packages (without broadband or home phone). However, you won’t get the full benefit without a broadband connection since on-demand programming tends to rely on it.
With TalkTalk TV and BT TV, you do need an internet connection, though not because the boxes themselves require it, but because in both cases you cannot sign up to these services without being a BT or TalkTalk broadband customer.
Can I get Sky, Virgin TV, BT TV or TalkTalk TV without a subscription?
No. You can access a lot of Sky’s content through Now TV if you have access to the internet and a device such as a smart TV or games console onto which to download the app and play the content. Now TV is cheap and quite an effective means to access Sky content if you don’t want to go the whole hog and subscribe. You cannot access Virgin TV, BT TV or TalkTalk TV without a subscription. At all.
Can I record TV and movies on Sky, Virgin, BT or TalkTalk TV?
Yes in all cases. However, BT and TalkTalk’s most basic packages come with the basic YouView box, which doesn’t offer recording. So you’ll have to get the next package up in both cases.
Do I still need a TV license to watch digital TV?
Yes, you do. It is an offence to watch or record programmes as they're shown live on TV or online without a TV licence, and it is an offence to watch or download catch up TV or on demand services on TV or online without a TV licence.