How do I get the best TV package?
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, exclusive drama series and the latest movies - though prices can be eye-wateringly high. You might be left weighing up whether it's worth investing in Sky or Virgin Media, or just signing up to Netflix or Amazon Prime instead.
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. If you'd like to find out more about how the big suppliers compare, head straight to our round up of the , based on our in-depth customer survey.
1 - Determine what you need from your TV package
Here are five quick questions to ask yourself before being too drawn in by the marketing of the many different services on offer:
- 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 convenient and is usually cheaper than buying them separately - 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 usually gives you access to extra channels and better equipment. Check the deals on offer where you live using .
- Do you want to be able to pause and rewind live TV? If so, you'll need to either choose a deal that includes a PVR with this capability or you can invest in one of your own - compare the different models using our .
- Do you need access to broadcast TV? It's becoming increasingly common for people to subscribe to streaming services such as or - they might be better option for you than a pay TV service. Learn more in our .
2 - Establish which digital TV services you can receive
The majority of the UK can receive at least one digital TV service. Either or 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 - the same is true with Plusnet's TV service. Exceptions to this are the standalone TV services offered by Sky and Virgin.
3 - Decide which channels you really want
If you want it all, the obvious choice for many is either or . These providers have the widest range of inclusive TV channels but all providers offer a huge number of TV channels and TV on-demand services.
But if 70 channels is enough for you, you may be happy to stick with Freeview with the added ability to pause, rewind and record TV. Providers like , , and all offer the free channels and some throw in a few extra. You can also pay to add in extra channels - some allow you to add and remove them month-to-month, while others offer deals with a huge swathe of additional channels or films to choose between.
If you're a sports buff you're likely to want access to Sky Sports or BT Sport, but both are also available from other providers. If you're not sure which option is best - or the best way to access it - use our comparison of to weigh up your options.
While it's possible to access many of the premium channels with a range of suppliers, it's best to check that any specific channel you really want is definitely available from your preferred provider because there are some exceptions to the rule. For example, Sky Atlantic is only available to Sky customers. And keep in mind that the more content you have access to, the more your deal is likely to cost.
4 - Explore the extra TV services and TV boxes available
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.
- High-definition channels - all providers offer the option to add extra HD channels, but the range of channels can vary considerably between providers.
Costs vary both between packages and between providers - and they can quickly start to soar as you add extras. 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.
Direct comparison of package deals can be tricky, but whether you're after multi-channel TV, or even a broadband with a certain speed, try to match up what you want with what's on offer from providers.
5 - Consider how long 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.