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How do I get the best TV package?

By Jon Barrow

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How do I get the best TV package?

Don't put up with a poor TV provider - our tips will help you make the right choice and get the TV channels you want.

Gone are the days when four channels was enough. There are now hundreds to browse through on any of a number of premium packages, but which is best for you?

Most of us watch TV through a free service, typically Freeview or Freesat. These services don't require a contract or subscription and let you watch dozens of different channels.

However an increasing number of people are now choosing to take out pay TV packages, either as a standalone deal or combined with a broadband service. These pay TV deals give you a far greater choice of shows, often including exclusive sports events and the latest movies, though prices can be eye-wateringly high.

If you'd like to expand your available viewing options but are unsure where to start then read on to get top tips from the Which? experts.

And make sure that you check out our TV and broadband provider reviews guide to see how each company did in our regular customer satisfaction survey.

What should I consider when buying a TV package?

  • What channels and shows do you like to watch? Do you want premium sport or film content, so you can watch live sports and the latest blockbusters on dedicated channels? Are there specific TV shows you want to watch? Or do you just want a good selection of channels showing a range of programmes?
  • Are you interested in getting your TV, broadband and phone service in one bundle? Combining services is more convenient and can save you money though it'll often leave you tied to a long contract.
  • How much do you want to spend? A standalone pay TV service from the likes of Sky or Virgin will be expensive. Alternatively you can add a TV service to your broadband package for less than an extra £15 a month, though this will only give you a fairly limited range of channels plus a set-top-box. Spending more gives you access to extra channels and better equipment. Check the deals on offer where you live using Which? Switch Broadband.

Which digital TV services can I receive in my area?

The majority of the UK can receive at least one digital TV service. Satellite TV from Sky or Freesat is available to around 99% of the UK, while Virgin's cable TV service is only available to more than 50% of homes in the UK.

However, while there are more providers than ever, some will only offer a TV service if you also get a broadband deal from them. For example, if you want TalkTalk TV then you'll need to sign up for a TalkTalk combined bundle. Exceptions to this are the standalone TV services offered by Sky and Virgin.

Which TV provider offers the TV channels I want?

If you want it all, the obvious choice for many is either Sky or Virgin Media. These have the widest range of inclusive TV channels but all providers offer a huge number of TV channels and TV on-demand services. Even Sky Sports and other premium sports channels are also available from other providers - you don't have to sign up to Sky to get them.

However, if you want a specific channel then it's best to check that it is available from your preferred provider as there are some exceptions to this rule - for example Sky Atlantic is only available to Sky customers.

What extra TV services and TV boxes can I get?

As well as broadcasting your favourite shows, each provider offers further perks in an attempt to win your custom. These include:

  • A free set-top box or PVR - at the very minimum you'll receive a free set-top box, though some providers will supply a more advanced PVR instead, letting you record your favourite shows to watch again. When comparing TV deals, check what kit is included and whether this is supplied free of charge.
  • Catch-up and On Demand services - catch-up TV such as BBC iPlayer and on-demand shows are on offer from all providers. Catch-up TV is normally free, and some on demand content may be too, although this may depend on which TV package you choose.
  • An extra digital TV box - if you want to receive TV in more than one room, then most providers will offer some options, though Sky and Virgin Media have the most flexibility.
  • Extra channels and high-definition channels - all providers offer the option to add extra channels, but the range of channels can vary considerably between providers.

Costs vary both between packages and between providers, and can start to soar as you add extras. Instead, sit down and work out exactly what you want - it can be great to have loads of choice but it makes no sense to pay for channels you'll never watch.

It can be hard to carry out a direct comparison of package deals but whether you're after multi-channel TV, or even a broadband and TV package with unlimited downloads, try to match up what you want with what's on offer from providers. Even if your needs are basic, you should still be able to find a starter package that suits you. 

How long do I have to sign up for?

While the majority of TV deals require a 12-month contract, some providers require you to sign-up to lengthy 18-month contracts if you take TV in a package with broadband and home telephone - you can find out further details in our TV package pages.

Find out how each TV and broadband provider did in our latest satisfaction survey by reading our TV providers guide.