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Sky vs Virgin Media: TV, broadband and phone

We hear this one all the time. Sky or Virgin Media. Which one is the best? 

To which we reply, the best for what? Do you value broadband over TV? Where do you live? All of these things matter. 

In all honesty, it’s not so much which provider is the best, it’s all about which packages and services are the best for you. 

Because we’re sick of hearing people ask us the same old question, we’ve rounded up each company’s strengths and weaknesses and listed them below to help settle this argument once and for all. 

*Ding Ding* Round One.. Sky and Virgin Media, who's the hardest?
*Ding Ding* Round One… Sky and Virgin Media, who’s the hardest?

Sky vs Virgin Media: TV 

Both systems are very similar in that you’ve got the ability to pause, rewind and record live TV and record one show while watching another. Actually, Virgin Media TiVo goes one better in this department, as it allows you to record up to three shows at once. Or record two shows while watching another channel, whatever you prefer. 

Both TV platforms come stocked with libraries of catch-up and on-demand content. Popular services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD are available to Sky and Virgin Media subscribers and you have the option of buying pay-per-view content from the Sky Store or Virgin Media On Demand. 

Content-wise, you have the option of adding premium Sky Sports and Sky Movies channels to Sky and Virgin TV subscriptions.

Prices vary but you can get all of the 116 Premier League football matches Sky Sports currently has the rights to and all 11 of the Sky Movies channels on either platform. Football fans also have the option of adding BT Sport, if they want the complete Premier League package. 

Sky does have one ace up its sleeve content-wise and that’s Sky Atlantic. Unofficially known as ‘the home of HBO,’ the Sky Atlantic channel is currently exclusive to Sky and shows hit programmes like Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Girls

It’s worth noting that Virgin Media has a cheaper, entry level service called V HD. While this gives you access to much of the same content as you can get on Virgin Media TiVo, but you don’t have the ability to record anything. 

At a glance, your options look like this: Virgin Media V HD bottom of the league with Sky+HD and Virgin Media TiVo tied for the cup. 

Sky vs Virgin Media: Broadband 

Virgin Media has long held the advantage over the competition when it comes to broadband. It’s the UK’s only ISP to sell cable broadband, a mixture of fibre-optic and coaxial copper cable, to deliver superfast speeds to its customers. 

Unlike the majority of other ISPs, which mainly sell copper-based ADSL2+ broadband, tests have shown that Virgin Media can deliver speeds closer to their advertised headline speeds. 

Virgin Media isn’t the only fibre provider in town these days. Sky launched Sky Fibre in April 2012 after Openreach, BT’s network arm, had kicked off an extensive upgrade of its old copper network

The technology behind Sky Fibre is FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet), which is slightly different to Virgin Media’s cable broadband. While both technologies are fibre-based, the so-called last mile of each connection is different. 

In a nutshell, this means that the top speed currently possible on Sky Fibre connections is 76Mbps while the fastest speeds Virgin Media can offer customers is 120Mbps. 

They say you get what you pay for and when it comes to superfast broadband in the UK, that’s true. Sky and Virgin’s top tier broadband products are in the region of £30/month and that’s before you consider the added cost of line rental. 

If money’s tight and you’re not fussed about fibre, you can pick up Sky Unlimited for £7.50/month. While you won’t get next-gen download speeds you will get truly unlimited download that aren’t affected by traffic shaping in any way. 

All of Virgin Media’s services by contrast are affected by traffic shaping, which is applied to people who use P2P networks and newsgroups. Customers who exceed peak time thresholds may also see their connection temporarily throttled. Virgin says that only a small number of its customers ever see their download speeds reduced as a result of heavy use. 

For more information on traffic management, check out our feature

Sky vs Virgin Media: Home Phone 

Mobile phone use overtook home phone use in 2007 and most of the UK haven’t looked back since. For those who are living in the past and like the idea of a phone that only works in the home, Sky and Virgin Media have you covered. 

Both companies come with a basic service that give you free calls to UK landlines at weekends. Virgin Media has an evenings and weekends package and an unlimited service that lets you call at any time of day. Sky Anytime offers unlimited minutes but has no middle ground evenings and weekends option. 

Sky and Virgin Media offer cheap calls to international destinations. Virgin Media also offers an extra service that makes it cheaper to call mobile phones from your landline at reduced rate of 10p/minute. 

Speaking of mobiles, Virgin Media has another interesting calls package. It’s actually an app, available for iOS and Android mobiles. It’s called Virgin Media SmartCall and it lets you make calls for free over WiFi. SmartCall leverages the free minutes on your Virgin phone, so you’ve got the potential to save some extra pennies on mobile calls. 

Sky vs Virgin Media: Best Value

Let’s not beat around the bush, Sky and Virgin Media are premium service providers and premium services don’t come cheap. 

In terms of which are the least expensive TV, broadband and phone bundles, here’s how things break down. 

Sky – cheapest TV, broadband and phone services

  • Sky Broadband (up to 16Mbps on your phone line): £7.50
  • Sky TV Entertainment Pack (275 channels) inc. a 320GB Sky+HD box: £21.50
  • Weekend Calls: Free with line rental 
  • Line Rental: £15.40
  • Total price: £44.40/month

Virgin Media Starter Collection

  • 30Mb broadband: £20.00
  • Virgin Media TV M (60 channels) inc. a 500GB TiVo box: Part of Starter Colletion bundle
  • Talk Weekends: Part of Starter Colletion bundle
  • Line Rental: £15.99
  • Total price: £35.99/month

Based purely on price alone, Virgin Media is the winner here. Looking an the component parts of each bundle, you can see that you get a more channels for your money with Sky, but a bigger broadband bang for your buck with Virgin. 

Generally speaking, this trend is apparent when add more expensive services like Sky Entertainment Extra+ or Virgin Media 120Mbps broadband. Sky will always have more TV channels and Virgin will always be able to offer more megabits. 

Sky vs Virgin Media: Can you get it? 

Another thing to consider is availability. Roughly 12.5 million UK homes are connected to Virgin Media’s network, compared to the 17 million homes that can get Sky Fibre. Approximately 23 million UK homes can get traditional phoneline-based Sky Unlimited broadband. 

While you’re more likely to be covered by the Sky broadband footprint, there is a small chance that you might not be able to fix a satellite dish to your home, for structural reasons or if your landlord won’t allow it. 

Before you start comparing packages and prices, make sure you can get them both. If you don’t live in an area covered by one or the other, then to be blunt, your choice has already been made for you. 

Sky vs Virgin Media: Verdict 

For TV lovers it’s a tough call. Sky TV offers more in terms of channel choice, specifically Sky Atlantic which for now is an exclusive channel. 

On the other hand, the Virgin Media TiVo box has the advantage of letting you record more. The entry-level V HD box doesn’t let you record anything however. 

When it comes to broadband, Virgin Media wins hands down. Tests by Ofcom have shown that Virgin Media delivers the fastest broadband that are available on the mainstream domestic market. 

Though the latest test didn’t include Sky Fibre, we would expect its services to be comparable to BT and Plusnet’s FTTC services, as they use the same technology. 

One thing to watch out for is Virgin’s traffic management policy. If you’re a heavy downloader you might fall afoul of this during peak times. Sky broadband by contrast doesn’t feature any kind of traffic shaping. 

Finally, when it comes to home phone services, Virgin Media offers a greater range of call plans and has even launched SmartCall, a service that lets mobile users make use of any free landline minutes that would otherwise sit around at home, gathering dust. 

In a nutshell, if you’re more interested in TV we suspect that Sky will make you very happy whereas if broadband and calls are more your thing, then Virgin Media is your weapon of choice. 

Image: The U.S. Army/Flickr 


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