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Sky TV & broadband vs Virgin Media

By Jon Barrow

Sky and Virgin are two of the biggest telecoms providers – but which should you choose when picking your next broadband and pay TV deal?

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Almost half of us opt for either Sky or Virgin when signing up for a broadband package, and the proportions are even higher for those choosing a combined TV and broadband service. It's perhaps not surprising – the two companies are well known and spend millions each year on advertising. But which should you choose when taking out a new deal? Read on to find out how the two compare.

Best TV and broadband providers – see how real customers rated the two companies, and discover which came out on top, in our annual TV & broadband satisfaction survey.

Sky vs Virgin: overview

Sky is principally a pay TV provider, although it also offers broadband, home and now mobile phone services. Its broadband service is supplied over BT's phone network, while its TV channels come via a satellite dish attached to your property.

In contrast, Virgin Media specialises in broadband, although also offers pay TV, home and mobile phone options. Unlike Sky, Virgin's services are supplied through its own fibre optic network, which offers faster broadband speeds but isn't as widely available.

Both providers' TV and broadband packages last for 12 months though Virgin also offers a 30 day option for its broadband and phone deals.

Sky vs Virgin: broadband compared

As noted above, Virgin's strength is its broadband service. Because it runs on fibre cables, it offers the fastest speeds available from mainstream providers – either up to 50Mbps, up to 100Mbps or up to 200Mbps. Virgin's packages include unlimited downloads, although upload speeds may be affected by traffic management unless you opt for its premium 200Mbps 'Gamer' deal. Unusually, you can sign up for a Virgin broadband deal without paying for a home phone service, although promotional deals mean that this doesn't actually work out any cheaper in the first year.

Sky offers more typical speeds – up to 17Mbps (over standard phone lines) or up to 38Mbps or up to 76Mbps (over fibre). Sky doesn't apply any traffic management (slowing speeds for very heavy users), and most packages include unlimited data, although you can save money by choosing a 25GB/month option if this is enough for your needs.

Best broadband providers – see whether Sky or Virgin has the happier customers, and find out which other providers impressed, in our latest broadband survey.

Sky vs Virgin: home phone compared

Sky's line rental costs £18.99/month and doesn't offer any inclusive calls – you'll either need to pay as-you-go or add a calling plan. The cheapest gives free evening and weekends calls and costs £4/month.

Virgin charges £19 for line rental but throws in free weekend calls. You can also cut costs with its line rental saver deal – pay £196 upfront, and line rental drops to the equivalent of £16.33/month. Sky doesn't offer a similar option.

Sky vs Virgin: pay TV compared

Sky is the king of pay TV, and even its basic package ('Original') offers a whopping 270 channels including Sky Atlantic, home to shows such as Game of Thrones and Westworld. You can pay more to get additional channels, including movie and sports options, or to get extra TV boxes that allow you to watch in more than one room.

Plus, as of October 2016, all Sky packages come with its new Sky Q 1TB box as standard. This allows you to pause and rewind live TV, record multiple channels while watching another and to access on-demand content.

Sky Q review – see how the new Sky Q box did in our tough lab test.

Virgin doesn't have any of its own TV channels, but  does offer most of the key channels that you get from Sky. You can even watch Sky Sports or Sky Cinema though Sky doesn't allow access to Sky Atlantic. Bear in mind though that Virgin's TV packages include a smaller selection of channels – for example, Virgin's basic package, Player TV, only includes 70 channels (vs 270 for Sky Original).

Virgin's TiVo offers the same basic functions as the newer Sky Q box, although it only has half the storage capacity (500GB).

Sky vs Virgin: extras

Both services have accompanying apps that let you check out TV listings and set recording schedules while on the go and even stream live TV onto your mobile device. However, only the Sky Q app allows you to download shows so that you can watch them offline or to resume watching a show that you'd paused on your main Sky Q box.

Which should you pick?

As shown above, both Sky and Virgin have their own strengths and weaknesses, and your choice is likely to reflect your own preferences. If you want the fastest broadband then Virgin is probably the better option; if you're after the widest choice of TV shows then Sky is likely the better bet.

But there's more to choosing the best provider than simply looking at what it offers – it's also useful to know more about the customer service on offer or the value for money that you're likely to experience. And it's also important to remember that Sky or Virgin are not your only options and that other providers, such as BT and TalkTalk, also offer TV and broadband services.

That's where our survey can help. Every six months we ask thousands of real customers to tell us about the service they get from their TV and broadband provider. You can see which companies impressed, and which disappointed, in our latest TV and broadband satisfaction results.

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