Cable TV, satellite TV and digital TV packages Sky, Virgin and BT compared

Types of digital TV package

When choosing a digital TV service, there are lots of things to consider. Free TV services from Freeview or Freesat don't require you to pay a monthly fee or be tied into a contract. However, if you want a wider selection of channels, you’ll probably want to consider a digital TV package from the likes of Sky, Virgin Media, BT or Top Up TV Anytime. 

These paid-for digital TV services have a monthly subscription fee, but enable you to access premium channels. You can also choose to bundle your TV service with your home phone or broadband connection with Sky, BT and Virgin.  

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How do TV package providers match up?

Sky and Virgin Media offer the widest range of TV channels. Both allow you to bundle phone and broadband services with TV. Virgin’s TV service is available through cable, while Sky's TV service will require a satellite dish.

Sky and Virgin also offer high-definition (HD) channels, although with Sky's service you need to pay an extra monthly fee. Freesat and Freeview HD offer a small number of free HD channels. 

BT offers TV bundled with broadband and phone services as standard, including on-demand content for additional monthly fees, or on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

Top Up TV Anytime offers Freeview TV with additional on-demand content, as well as sport and movie services from ESPN and Picture Box. The additional content is offered on one-month rolling contracts, so you aren’t tied in if you decide you don't like the service.

See our video guide to choosing the best TV for our expert top tips. 

TV equipment

The equipment and setup needs vary by provider, but the minimum you'll require is a set-top box or an integrated digital TV. 

Each TV package provider has its own equipment. Basic set-top boxes allow you to view TV only, whereas personal video recorders, known as PVRs, allow you to record and store programmes to play another time.

Some boxes also allow you to view and record TV programmes in HD, but you may have to pay more for a more advanced set-top box. The table below shows equipment provided and equipment costs for each TV service:

Set-top boxes and PVRs
EquipmentInitial costMonthly costEquipment functionality
Equipment included in basic packages
Top Up TV Anytime£39.99aNonePVR view, record, pause and play back up to 120 hours of content
BT Vision+£90bNoneHD-ready PVR view, record, pause and play back up to 80 hours of content
Sky+£49cNonePVR view, record, pause and play back up to 185 hours of TV
Virgin HDFreeNoneHD-ready set-top box view TV
Premium equipment options
Top Up TV Anytime£69.99NonePVR view, record, pause and play back up to 320 hours of content
BT Vision+No premium optionNo premium optionNo premium option
Sky+HDFreed£10dHD-ready PVR view, record, pause and play back up to 185 hours of TV (or 60 hours in HD)
Virgin V+ HDFree£5eHD-ready PVR view, record, pause and play back up to 80 hours of TV (or 20 hours in HD)

Table notes

Initial costs additional set up costs may apply. Free = equipment provided.

Monthly costs separate monthly fees apply for the TV service but will depend on which package you take. None = no monthly charge.

  1. Price for its most basic reconditioned PVR.
  2. Without a viewing pack subscription or free if you subscribe to a 12-month contract Value pack deal.
  3. Free if you take a Sky broadband and calls package.
  4. Free if you sign up for the £10 a month HD pack on a 12 month contract.
  5. No monthly cost if purchased with XL TV package