Dan Howdle | November 3rd, 2022
With streaming services now firmly rooted in the entertainment landscape, and countless new shows and movies being streaming exclusives, finding your next binge isn’t quite as easy and seamless as it used to be. Virgin Media has taken note of this, and launched Stream from Virgin Media: a new, contract-free digital TV solution, for new and existing broadband customers.
Stream, by Virgin Media, isn’t the first plug-and-play TV device on the market. The device it uses could easily be mistaken for an Apple TV box, or compared to the likes of the Amazon Fire Stick. Competitor Sky has combined TV and Apps in one place since 2016 with its Sky Q service, too. So what’s fresh about Virgin Media’s new offering?
|£4 per month
|Free channels and services
|Freeview, iPlayer, All4, Vimeo, Youtube, etc.
|Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, BT Sports, Kids Pack (Cartoon Network, Nick HD), etc.
|Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BritBox
|Stream box resolution
|Up to 4K UHD
|Additional box cost
|Limit of one Stream box per account
|No contract, no fixed term
Virgin Stream is an entertainment service combining Freeview Live TV with apps like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as paid-for subscription services like Disney+ and Netflix, all in one bespoke interface. With customisable personal profiles, you can see all your favourite shows, as well as recommendations and new releases, all on one screen, without the need to flip-flop between individual apps.
For a one-time fee, Virgin Media broadband subscribers can receive a Stream box, which operates like a set-top box with easy self set-up. Once connected, the service blends live TV, catch up TV and on-demand services into one, curated to your tastes and interests. Premium TV channels and subscription services are obviously charged separately, but the Stream service itself has no monthly rolling costs.
Stream’s navigation interface resembles that of Android TV, and has voice control similar to Google Assistant. If you have a Smart TV with a homescreen like this, what you’ll gain from using Stream instead is limited, but if you don’t have a Smart TV, Stream could be a nifty alternative to a full Virgin Media TV bundle.
The Stream box, once plugged into your TV and power supply, connects to your wifi network wirelessly. It’s a simple set-up process and you should be able to start watching TV within minutes, though you can schedule an engineer to visit if you need some extra support.
The box itself comes packed with a remote control, with a built-in microphone to make use of Stream’s voice search functions to quickly find your desired show or video. A dedicated Profiles button allows you to quickly switch between users.
One attractive feature of Stream is that you don’t need an aerial connection to access Freeview. This, in addition to 4K compatibility, makes Stream a nice alternative to a TV contract. However, unlike a full TV set-top box, you can’t record shows with this service. If you can’t catch your favourite show live, you’ll have to rely on catch-up services like iPlayer or All4.
At the moment, you can only have one Stream box per Virgin Media account. There’s no option currently for multi-room viewing, so you can enjoy Stream services in one room at a time only. Additionally, Stream will only work on your specific broadband connection, so no gifting the device to someone else with Virgin broadband.
You also can only access the Stream service if you don’t already have a Virgin TV package on your contract. Unlike Sky Q with its Sky Q Mini boxes, Virgin Stream is designed as an alternative to having one of its TV packages, rather than as a perk or an add-on to your bundle.
For how comprehensive its features are, Stream is pretty straightforward to navigate once you have it installed. Here are the three steps you need to follow to get Stream and streamline your telly-watching experience.
If you’re a new Virgin Media broadband customer, Stream is available as an add-on at point of purchase. If you’re an existing broadband customer, you can call 0800 952 2039 to request Stream on your account. There’s also a form on Virgin’s website if you’d prefer.
Remember, you can’t get Stream if you already have a Virgin Media TV package.
Your Stream box will come with a quick start guide to help you get installed. Here’s the highlights:
With set-up complete, you’re ready to start watching. Stream’s home screen will show you highlights and recommendations from Live TV, catch up and subscription services all in one place. You can even set up multiple profiles so each member of the family can get their own recommendations. Parental Controls are available too.
Virgin Stream supports almost all popular subscription services (except Apple TV+). You’ll use the My Virgin Media app to manage your subscriptions, which will then appear on the Stream service.
One benefit touted by Virgin Media is discounts on your additional streaming services. Customers who subscribe to paid services through Virgin Media will receive 10% of the subscription cost back as credit on their Virgin Media bill. Less a discount, more a rebate, this may still be the incentive you need to hop across to the service. Unfortunately, there’s no carrying over your profiles if you already use any of these subscription services. Subscribing through Virgin Media will create new accounts, resetting your preferences and recommendations.
Offered only to Virgin Media broadband customers without an existing TV package, Stream’s eligibility means it might not be available to you, even if its features tick all your boxes. Similar services are available from a number of other providers, though. Here’s our top picks:
NOW TV, powered by Sky, is one of the most popular streaming TV services in the UK. Available as a standalone app for those with Smart TVs or who like to watch telly on the move, NOW TV’s subscription-pass model allows you to access bundles of entertainment, movie, kids and sports channels on a rolling monthly basis, allowing you to get the best Sky TV has to offer without a Sky TV bundle.
For those looking for a direct alternative to Virgin Media’s stream box, NOW TV also has two plug-in style devices: the NOW TV Smart Stick and the NOW TV Smart Box. Like the Virgin Stream service, these devices come with remote controls, voice control, and the ability to access subscription-based services like Netflix, Disney+ and even music apps like Spotify, all in one place. NOW TV devices don’t have Freeview, however, so live TV options are limited to what is available within apps like iPlayer, or through Sky TV passes.
You can link up to six NOW TV devices to your account, an increase on Virgin Media’s one-per-account rule. However, you’ll need a NOW TV Boost to watch on multiple devices at once. For £5 a month, you can watch on up to three devices at one time. You’ll also need Boost to watch content in Full HD, which is a small setback, and only the NOW TV Smart Box can reach 4K quality. You don’t need a Sky TV or Sky Broadband account to access NOW TV, though, which feels like an advantage over Virgin Media Stream.
A very similar offering to Virgin Media Stream comes in the shape of TalkTalk TV. Also an add-on to TalkTalk broadband packages, TalkTalk TV combines Freeview TV with catch-up and subscription-based apps, perfect if you don’t want to commit to a full TV bundle. You will need an aerial connection for Freeview though, versus Virgin’s wifi-only option. TalkTalk charges a one-time activation fee of £25, and a monthly £4 per month access fee, though there are no contract terms, and this can be cancelled anytime. TalkTalk TV is a worthy competitor to Stream, if you are in the market for a new broadband contract with TV perks, without a full entertainment contract.
If you don’t need the bells and whistles of having all your subscriptions in one place, or aren’t interested in watching Freeview TV live, you may wish to cut out the middleman and manage your subscriptions yourself. Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ regularly have new-subscriber benefits like free trials, and are compatible with most devices. Even low-end Smart TVs are equipped with app compatibility, meaning you can install your favourite apps direct to your telly, or screencast these apps from your phone.
If you don’t have a Smart TV, or aren’t looking to upgrade, low-cost devices like Google’s Chromecast, a Roku stick, or Amazon’s Fire Stick will also give you smart-style access to your favourite streaming apps without ties to a broadband or TV contract.
Currently, Virgin Stream requires a £35 one-time activation fee. Access to premium channel bundles starts at £4 per month.
Virgin Stream is 4K ready, though you will need a 4K TV to watch content at this quality. Additionally, access to 4K content will be dependent on availability, and subscription level in the case of services like Netflix.
You can call 0800 952 2039 to request Stream on your account, if you already have Virgin Media broadband. There is also a form you can complete on the Virgin Media website. If you are a new customer, you can add Stream to your package, as you make your order.
Yes, as the Stream box connects by wifi, you can move it to any room you like. You can only have one Stream box however, and it will only connect to your specific wifi connection. You can’t take Stream with you on holiday, for example.