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Stream from Virgin Media review: The streaming stick that saves you cash

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
35
(activation fee)

It’s not for everyone but the Stream is an essential addition to any new Virgin Media broadband package

Pros 
Easy to use
Consolidates streaming subscriptions
Competitively priced add-ons
Cons 
No Apple TV+ or Sky Atlantic
Not for existing customers
Can’t add existing subscriptions
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If you’re constantly juggling streaming service subscriptions (as most of us are), Virgin Media wants to help by consolidating the whole messy lot in one place. Stream is the solution: a small, square TV streaming puck that lets you lump every subscription you have into a single bill, whether you’re signing up for the first time or logging into an existing account. The Virgin Media Stream also delivers live and catch-up TV and, of course, has a good selection of streaming services available, too.

While this service is clearly in its infancy, it’s an attractive idea that should appeal to households paying for a large number of streaming service subscriptions. The bottom line is that, if used correctly, Stream will save you money and help you stay on top of your miscellaneous monthly payments to the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus. What’s not to like?

Sign up to Stream from Virgin Media


Stream from Virgin Media review: How much is it?

I should make clear right away that Stream is only available on Virgin broadband and won’t work with any other provider. For new customers, Stream is included as a part of the company’s ultrafast broadband packages, which currently start at £24/mth (for M100). Adding it to one of these packages incurs an additional £35 activation fee but you won’t have to pay anything extra on a monthly basis. Naturally, you will have to pay the usual monthly fees for any services you subscribe to.

It’s important to note, however, that Virgin offers 10% “streaming credit” off the cost of every service you subscribe to via the Stream, which is removed from your bill at the end of each month. In addition, pretty much every subscription available to you on the Stream box defaults to a 30-day contract, meaning you don’t have to commit to anything lengthy if you don’t want to – cancelling is easy enough, although you will be directed to a web page on your smartphone to complete the process. As much as anything else, this is a very appealing alternative to Virgin’s own 18-month broadband and TV bundles.

The one annoyance is that existing customers cannot currently add Stream to their Virgin Media package. Virgin hasn’t indicated if or when this might change.

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Stream from Virgin Media review: What do/don’t you get with it?

There are a lot of similarities between Stream and a bog-standard set-top box in terms of content. This more than a 4K streaming stick: aside from a good selection of free-to-watch channels available to everyone, the following paid subscriptions were available on Stream at the time of writing.

  • Disney Plus – £7.99/mth
  • Netflix – From £6.99/mth
  • Amazon Prime Video – £5.99/mth (Prime Video only)
  • Sky Sports HD (8 channels) - £34.88/mth
  • Sky Cinema HD (11 channels) - £13.49/mth
  • Sky Sports + Cinema HD pack - £41.63/mth
  • BT Sport (5 channels incl. BT Sport Ultimate) - £16.20/mth
  • Essential Entertainment (24 channels) - £10.80/mth
  • Kids pack - £3.60/mth
  • Starzplay - £5.39/mth

There are a total of 108 channels available on Stream, assuming you purchase every available add-on. There’s also the Virgin Movies section of the user interface, which is a store full of over a thousand movies available to rent or buy. This bit includes films from Sky Cinema or Starzplay.

As for free streaming services, you’ve got:

  • BBC iPlayer
  • All4
  • ITV Hub
  • Britbox
  • My5
  • YouTube (/YouTube Kids)
  • Vimeo
  • STV Player

In terms of pricing, I was pleased to discover that you’re generally getting very good value for money, particularly where the film and sports add-ons are concerned. The BT Sport monthly pass, for example, is usually £25/mth – here, it’s £16.20/mth, and that’s not counting the 10% credit.

So how does this compare to Virgin’s existing TV 360 box? Ultimately, the channel list is far less impressive – there are over 230 available on Virgin’s most expensive Volt bundle. Stream is also unable to record live TV, although with catch-up becoming so prevalent I’m not sure this is a huge drawback. You should also keep in mind that Virgin’s TV packages are purchased on 18-month contracts, leaving you with very little flexibility compared to Stream.

Sign up to Stream from Virgin Media


Stream from Virgin Media review: How does it work?

The Stream box itself is a small, square, inoffensive-looking puck that connects to the back of your TV via HDMI. Aside from the HDMI port and micro USB power supply socket there’s also an RJ45 Ethernet port built into the plug, so you can physically connect the Stream box to your wireless router. Stream outputs resolutions up to 4K with HDR10 and HLG decoding, and supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos for audio as well.

You control the Stream box using the included remote control, which is identical to the one that comes with Virgin’s TV 360 box and has the same built-in mic for voice control and quick-access buttons for live TV. There’s no way of quickly jumping to streaming services, however, which seems like an oversight given that Stream is clearly going to be heavily used for streaming.

In order to make the most of Stream, you’ll need to sign up to each service anew on their respective built-in Stream box applications. Make sure you do so via Virgin Media as this will add the monthly cost to your Virgin bill and give you the ability to cancel or change your subscription via My Virgin Media. You can sign up to some (Netflix) via the Stream app, while others (Disney Plus) require you to open a web page on your smartphone.

I should note that Prime Video can’t be added to your Virgin bill. I suspect this is because most people are signed up to Amazon Prime rather than Prime Video alone and I doubt Amazon would be keen to let you manage your full Prime subscription fees via Virgin. This means that there are only three proper streaming services (plus BT Sport) that can be added to your bill at present – Netflix, Disney Plus and Starzplay – which is a tad underwhelming.

There’s also no way to transfer an existing streaming service subscription to your Virgin bill. This is, without a doubt, a huge drawback but I think it’s still worth going through the rigamarole of cancelling and re-subscribing in light of that 10% streaming credit.

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Stream from Virgin Media review: What’s it like to use?

Once Stream is set up, you’ll launch into the home menu. The user interface is very similar to the one you’ll find on Virgin’s TV 360 box. The streaming, catch-up, live TV, box sets/movies and settings are arrayed in a bar across the top with content cascading below. You can create an individual profile using the icon on the far-right end of the menu bar – doing so allows you to create lists of favourite TV channels and save programmes to a personal watchlist.

The user interface is fairly easy to navigate and largely ran without issue for the duration of my testing. Any moments of sluggishness were brief and I didn’t once find myself stuck waiting for a menu or service to load. My only complaint is that I initially found it surprisingly tough to track down the “Upgrade” application – this is the one that lets you add services to your Virgin bill.

I was pleased to note that the free-to-watch channels were all available in HD by default, including a few that aren’t in HD when accessing Freeview using cable or satellite. On the whole, I was also very happy with the selection of streaming services and TV packages available on Stream. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus are certainly my most-used services but it’s the gamut of sports and cinema add-ons that give Stream an edge over pure streaming sticks such as the NOW Smart Stick.

Of course, there are a couple of conspicuous absences: NOW and Apple TV+ apps are both unavailable and, while most of NOW’s library is accessible via Sky packages, Sky Atlantic is missing. A selection of smaller Freeview channels is also missing, although Virgin Media says it will be adding more in the future.

Because you’re getting Freeview over your Wi-Fi connection, you should brace for a little bit of buffering each time you launch into the live TV section of the user interface. This will obviously depend on the strength of your connection but I noticed it more than once, even when using Virgin’s M200 package.

Stream from Virgin Media review: Should you buy it?

Stream isn’t for everyone and I think that’s the biggest downside. It’s a shame that existing customers can’t add it to their package and it’s similarly frustrating that you’ll have to resubscribe to your favourite streaming services in order to benefit from what Stream has to offer. The fact that it’s only available to Virgin Media Broadband customers is another disappointment.

However, I can see a market for Stream.The subscription management aspect might not be quite as seamless as I had hoped but you’re definitely going to save some cash, which is appealing. There’s lots more to like, too: the user experience is pleasant and straightforward, the content selection is good (with room to be even better) and, crucially, it doesn’t cost much to set up. If – and only if – you are a prospective Virgin Media customer looking at a broadband-only package, Stream is a no-brainer addition.

Sign up to Stream from Virgin Media


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