While it may not quite be there yet when it comes to competing with Virgin and Sky TV for sheer variety, BT TV has made great strides to catch up. Still, you'll be making some compromises you perhaps wouldn't have to with those other providers, so it's a good idea to know exactly what you're getting, and what you'll be missing.
A couple of years back, BT TV was barely a player in the market – a freebie you got with your BT broadband and phone that you weren't entirely sure you should be all that grateful for. It offered little beyond the basic Freeview channels, so if you didn't have a TV with a Freeview tuner, then it was something, albeit not much of a something.
BT TV has, however, grown considerably since then, offering the (at the time) UK's first 4K-capable set-top box, as well as adding steadily to its channel count and bolstering its now rather outstanding BT Sport offering with Premier League and Champion's League football, along with dozens of other sports and events. This page, then, is basically a snapshot of how the service looks in 2018.
BT TV might not have the channel count of Sky or Virgin Media's top-end bundles, but there's nevertheless a whole lot of stuff here to like. Here are our top ten picks of channels you should check out on BT TV. You can see the full list of channels on BT's own website.
Pretty straightforward really. Along the top there are the three main TV offerings you'll get with a BT bundle. You can't actually buy BT TV on its own (though you can bolt BT Sport onto Sky TV, Virgin TV or TalkTalk TV), but rather you can only get it as part of a bundle. In that bundle, you'll see the TV component described as one of the following:
They're oddly named, Freeview channels. Unless you have some sort of special equipment (such as a Freeview box, or a set-top box from BT, Sky, Virgin Media and the like) you won't get them on a lot TV sets more than a few years old. And in that sense, they're not really free. Ditto, included under the umbrella of 'Freeview' are the BBC channels, for which of course you must pay a license fee. Also not free.
Freeview, then, is pretty much the sum total of what you'll get with the two most basic BT TV packages – the BT TV Starter + Sport and the BT TV Classic – and forms a large part of BT TV Entertainment and BT TV Max packs. What you'll find is that BT TV is often thrown in with your BT broadband and phone deal for free or heavily discounted. When that is the case, it is one of these two packages you're likely to get.
Included in the Freeview category are familiar favourites, many of which you'll no doubt be used to getting via terrestrial TV: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, ITV 2. We're not going to list them all here as the tool you see right on this page has that functionality covered. Suffice it to say there are lots of them, including less 'traditional' fare such as Dave, Film 4, Challenge, Quest, Really, Pick and a smattering of high-definition (HD) versions of some of those other listed channels.
You'll also get BT Sport 1, 2, 3 and BT Sport ESPN. Though not 'Freeview' per se, we're including them here as the come in every single package BT TV offers. More on BT Sport further down.
So, here's how BT TV and others often define the value offered in each TV 'pack' – which as we've discussed, is a part of a BT bundle, including broadband and phone. BT refers to the channels you'll get in addition to the Freeview ones outlines above as 'Premium channels'. That name really isn't very helpful – who, after all, would argue that BBC1 isn't premium?
What BT is really referring to here, then, is any channel that isn't classed as Freeview. Any channel that you couldn't get through a TV aerial and a Freeview box, even if you wanted to. Which also explains why some 'Premium' channels are, well, subjectively at least, not all that premium.
Remember: to get any Premium channels at all, you'll have to take out a BT bundle that includes either the Entertainment, or Max TV pack.
With the BT Entertainment pack, you'll get – in addition to all your Freeviews – Alibi, AMC, Comedy Central, E!, Gold, Lifetime, SyFy, TLC, Universal and W. There's some great stuff in there, especially AMC and Universal, where you'll find a lot of high-quality shows unique to those networks being shown for the first time. AMC, for example, are the folks behind Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Preacher, Mad Men, Better Call Saul – too many to mention.
Go all out and choose BT TV's most capacious offering, BT TV Max, and you can add to that high definition (HD) versions of all of those channels (bar Gold), and an HD version of Dave.
So-called 'lifestyle channels' – generally featuring cooking and exercise and health channels – are as thin on the ground with BT TV as they are pretty much everywhere these days. You'll get Good Food and Good Food HD, but only if you subscribe to BT TV's top package, BT TV Max.
You'll get a fine assortment of factual and documentary channels. Admittedly, it's nothing like as copious as that offered by Virgin Media or Sky, but it's plenty if you're not one of those people who absolutely must watch factual programming at all times. With the BT TV Entertainment package you'll get Animal Planet, Crime & Investigation, Discovery, The History Channel, Investigation Discovery, Nat Geo Wild and The National Geographic Channel.
Similarly to the Premium entertainment channels, the BT TV Max package adds in HD versions of all of those channels, plus History 2 and History 2 HD.
BT TV's a bit all-or-bust when it comes to children's television. You'll get CBBC and CBeebies on the Freeview side with all BT TV packages, but when it comes to additional Premium kids' channels you'll get none with the Entertainment package at all. Not a sausage!
If you want extra kids' channels, then, you'll need to plump for BT TV Max. With it, you'll get Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito, Disney, Disney Junior Disney XD, Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon. A pretty good selection, all told. Not as good as Sky or Virgin's best packages, but pretty good nonetheless, and more than enough for most.
Confession: we've never really understood the point of music TV. If you want music, listen to music. Nevertheless, it exists. In fact, there are more than a dozen music channels out there if you know where to find them – and MTV for practically every genre, plus VH1, karaoke channels... ...you name it.
If music TV is your thing and you want BT TV, we have some bad news for you. BT TV's music channel selection is pitiful, offering only MTV in the Entertainment package and adding MTV HD and MTV Music (yes, that does translate as Music Television Music). If this type of programming matters to you, we can't really say anything other than you're better off with Virgin Media or Sky.
We would consider 'Premium' movie channels a more adequate description of what BT TV offers in its Entertainment and Max packages. The words 'Premium movie channels' conjure for us the sort of thing offered by Sky Cinema – a healthy clutch of movie channels showing recent releases, themed box sets, and classics and favourites. That's not what you get here, though you can add Sky Cinema onto BT TV for an additional monthly cost.
What you do get is Movies 24 and TCM or 'Turner Classic Movies' – fine if you like straight-to-TV melodrama of mid-twentieth-century cinema. Some of it's really good, don't get us wrong, but films that are fifty or sixty years old probably aren't what you're looking for from a 'Premium' movie channel.
In the BT TV Starter and Classic, you'll get BT Sport 1, 2, 3 and BT Sport ESPN – we mentioned this further up the page in the 'Freeview' section. The BT TV Entertainment package adds to that Eurosport and Eurosport 2, while in the Max package you'll get all that plus BT Sport Ultra HD (which you can watch if you have a 4K TV – FYI most people don't), and Eurosport 1 and 2 in HD.
BT Sport will show all 351 UEFA Champions League & UEFA Europa League games broadcast live each season, plus the Premier League, FA Cup, European Rugby Champions Cup, Ultimate Fighting Championship, MotoGP and more besides.