BT TV vs Virgin Media TV
By Marc Shoffman | Thursday, June 10th 2021
BT and Virgin are among the heavyweights in the battle for pay TV customers, offering top technology and content. But there are plenty of differences between the pair, from the channels you can watch to how much you can record.
Pay TV customers are a demanding bunch and BT and Virgin cater for much of their needs with the usual catch-up, streaming and recording services but their offerings start to differ when you look at the channels and technology on offer. We’ve laid out the key differences for you.
BT TV channels
The starting point for BT TV packages is that you have to have BT broadband in order to get BT TV – it is not available as a standalone TV service. All BT packages come with a YouView+ box which you can use to pause, rewind and record programmes. BT offers several different TV packages to which you can bolt on various extras, from Amazon Prime and Netflix to BT Kids and NOW Kids.
There are five flexible packages, all of which come with NOW TV memberships. If you decide you want to change your package from month to month, you can.
It’s worth knowing that customers who want to sign up for the Entertainment, Sport or VIP packages can only do so with a Fibre broadband service. This is due to the speed requirement for watching NOW TV, which is supplied via your internet connection. Customers who can only get standard broadband will only be able to sign up for TV Essential. Equally, customers wanting the UHD capability of the VIP package will need a download speed of at least 44Mbps.
BT TV Essential
This is BT’s most basic TV option, ideal for any one who just wants access to the standard Freeview channels, including BBC, ITV, Film4, Dave, CBeebies and many more. The option to bolt on extras such as NOW TV Memberships, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is also available.
BT Classic Entertainment
This bundle comes with Freeview channels, but also includes a selection of premium channels, including Eurosport (1 & 2), Comedy Central, GOLD, Discovery, National Geographic, MTV and AMC. Again, customers can also add extras such as NOW TV Memberships, BT Sport and BT Kids.
BT TV Entertainment
BT’s TV Entertainment pack comes with Freeview channels and also NOW TV Entertainment, meaning customers can watch shows on the coveted Sky Atlantic, along with dramas on AMC, exclusive to BT.
BT Big Entertainment
The Big Entertainment bundle offers even more, with Freeview channels, AMC, NOW TV Entertainment and NOW TV Cinema all included.
BT TV Sport
BT’s Sport pack is the way to go for sports lovers. With all four BT Sport channels and BoxNation, Sport allows access to coverage of the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, Premiership rugby and much more. It also comes with AMC and Freeview channels.
BT TV Big Sport
Big Sport is the ultimate option for sport fans, coming with all BT Sport channels and NOW TV Sport, as well as Eurosport 1 and 2. This gets you all 11 Sky Sports channels, including F1 and Premier League, Golf and Cricket, as well as major sporting events on Sky Main Event.
The VIP package is for customers wanting the whole shebang. With Freeview channels, AMC, NOW TV Entertainment, NOW TV Cinema, NOW TV Sport and BT Sport, it covers everything possible. For optimum picture quality, it also comes with access to Full HD and UHD BT channels, and the NOW Boost which provides full HD for Sky Sports and Sky Atlantic.
Optional bolt-ons with BT
For those TV packs that do not include it already, you can also add any of the NOW TV Memberships, with a choice of Entertainment, Cinema, Sport, Kids and hayU on a rolling monthly basis, as well as Amazon Prime TV, Netflix, BT Kids and BT Sport. You can also choose to bolt on NOW TV Boost and BT HD, to get access to full HD subject to having a sufficiently fast broadband speed.
Virgin Media TV channels
Like BT, Virgin no longer lets you purchase its TV packages without also taking Virgin Media broadband. Virgin’s offers five TV packages, starting with the entry-level Big Bundle package and ranging up to the jam-packed Ultimate Volt bundle.
The Big Bundle
This basic package comes with 54Mbps broadband, and gives you all the standard Freeview channels. It is ideal for those wanting a decent broadband speed and a basic TV offering to which you can choose to add extras if you want.
The Big Bundle + Drama and Docs
This bundle is a step up from the entry level Big Bundle and gets a bit more interesting, giving you 172 channels, including more premium stations such as FOX, Discovery, Sky One, Sky Arts, Gold and Comedy Central. It also comes with 108Mbps broadband.
The Bigger Bundle
More channels are included in the Bigger Bundle, with a total of 211 channels, including all of the above as well as more premium channels, such as Sky One and Sky Witness, in HD. It also comes with 108Mbps broadband. The Bigger Bundle is also even bulkier when it comes to sport, incorporating BT Sport HD, along with Eurosport 1 and 2 in HD and Sky Sports News HD. It also provides channels such as Sky Documentaries and music channels from MTV.
The Bigger + Sports Bundle
As its name suggests, this brings you all of the above and also Sky Sports. It comes with 219 channels and additional Sky Sports channels, namely Main Event, Premier League, Football, Cricket, Golf, F1 and NFL. You can choose your broadband speed with this bundle, with both 262Mbps or 516Mbps on offer.
The Ultimate Volt Bundle
This is Virgin’s premium package, crammed with everything possible. Not only do you get all the sport channels, but you also get all the Sky Cinema channels in HD, all the Sky Kids channels and all the BT Sports and Sky Sports channels in HD. Plus, you get an incredible 1130Mbps average broadband speed and a unlimited O2 mobile data SIM thrown in for good measure.
Optional bolt-ons with Virgin Media
Virgin’s TV packages also provide access to apps and streaming services such as YouTube, BBC iPlayer and subscription service Netflix. If you take one of the cheaper packages, you can purchase extra channels such as BT Sport or Sky Cinema on a rolling monthly basis. Plus, if you want to upgrade to a faster download speed with one of the cheaper packages, you can.
Technology and equipment
All BT’s TV packages come with its latest YouView+ box that lets you pause and rewind live TV and record up to 300 hours of shows. The YouView+ box lets you record two live channels at the same time. But you can only watch one live channel while another is recording. You could however still watch a recorded programme while two are recording in the background.
All Virgin Media users get its latest TV 360 box that comes with a whopping 1TB of storage. You can do the usual pausing and rewinding of live TV, plus it gives you up to 500 hours of recording space, while you can record six shows at once and watch a seventh at the same time (should you ever need to). The 360 box is also 4K ready for 4K definition and offers voice-activated search functionality.
It’s all very well having lots of decent channels, but you also want to know you will be valued as a customer and that any issues will be resolved quickly and adequately.
Both BT and Virgin Media’s TV services have a few issues with customer complaints. The latest Ofcom data from 2020 shows Virgin Media had the most complaints per 100,000 customers for pay TV at 12. BT had the second most at eight. Both are above the industry average of five complaints per 100,000 customers.
The main issues raised about Virgin Media were complaints handling, followed by billing, pricing and charging, and faults, service and provision.
If issues do arise, both have pretty long customer service hours. BT is available to hear concerns seven days a week over the phone from 8am to 9pm (8pm on weekends) and offers live chat online between 7am and 11pm daily.
Virgin Media offers live chat online between 8am and 10pm daily or you can call the customer helpline on 150 from a Virgin phone any day of the week between 8am and 10pm.
Customers of both BT and Virgin get pretty similar extras. Each offers seven days of catch-up TV on apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Channel 4 and Channel 5 and they will also let you access YouTube and Netflix. Both also offer movies to rent on demand and have apps that let you stream content on the go.
Virgin Media goes slightly further for households where people may want to watch different programmes at the same time. BT will provide just one extra YouView box for an added subscription. In contrast, Virgin will provide up to two 360 Mini boxes for an extra £15 per month.
If you can tolerate the odd customer service issue, both BT and Virgin Media provide some excellent channels and technology, and are closely matched in most other areas.
BT has recently revamped its TV offering and now includes NOW TV as standard in many of its packages, in effect giving you the best of Sky TV without the need to actually subscribe to Sky. Virgin is slightly more old-school, in that it includes a range of Freeview and premium channels to which you can choose to bolt on Sky Cinema or Sky Sports if they aren’t already included in the bundle.
Virgin has the edge over BT when it comes to technology in that its Virgin 360 box can record up to seven channels, plus you can choose to have an extra two Virgin Mini 360 boxes against BT’s offering of just one additional YouView+ box when it comes to multiscreen options.
One thing Virgin still lacks however is access to Sky Atlantic. Sky is not yet ready to hand over this gem to its leading competitor, nor does Virgin support the NOW TV app on its 360 TV box. If this is a deal breaker for you, then BT TV is the way to go.