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Sky+HD vs Virgin Media TiVo

Is it Sky+HD or Virgin Media TiVo that has the best picture quality? We find out with our exclusive tests

It wasn’t very long ago that the vast majority of the UK subsisted on the same four, slightly fuzzy-looking TV channels. In recent decades we’ve had an explosion of digital channels, satellite and cable TV become big business, not to mention more recent innovations such as internet catch-up services and high definition.

We set out to use our bespoke HDMI capture equipment to see which of the two main pay-TV platforms in the UK – Sky and Virgin Media – had the best HD image quality, but it soon expanded from there to take in on-demand and catch-up quality, too. Later on in this article you can see the side-by-side comparisons between the services and we think you’ll be surprised by the results. As well as a comparison here, we put both services through their paces, so you can find out which one provides the channels and services you need for the right price.

Choosing a TV service can be a very tricky proposition, and once made it’s also something you’re likely to live with many, many years, with most people only changing if they move homes. These days it’s not just TV either, with most of the best deals restricted to triple-play customers, which is those taking TV, broadband and telephone services from a single provider. Here we cover Sky and Virgin Media.

Some complex bundles are on offer, with different packages of channels, broadband bundles from limited use ADSL up to superfast fibre and cable services, and call packages for your landline too. Such bundles don’t come cheap, but once you’ve paid for line rental and broadband anyway then adding TV on top can be quite good value, especially when compared to buying your own PVR and replacing it every so many years.

In our reviews we’ve also looked at the range of content on each service; plus we’ve spent a lot of time looking at how easy that content is to access, as there’s no point in having thousands of hours of entertainment at your fingertips if you can’t find what you want.

Now you may not be able to receive all the services here, but Sky is available to most people, Virgin Media is supplied to more than 50 per cent of UK homes, and the new fibre optic broadband services also have around 50 per cent coverage at present. A good place to start is the USwitch broadband checker, which will give you a rough idea of what services you can receive.


Sky was the company that really changed TV in this country, offering tons of channels via a satellite dish years before Virgin Media (back then, a selection of competing cable companies), Freeview or Freesat even had a look-in.

While it’s changed a lot over the years, the delivery method of TV has stayed the same: you get everything through your satellite dish. That means no fancy cable network as for Virgin Media, or a TV platform designed with the internet in mind, as with YouView. However, in recent months the company has made leaps and bounds in what it can deliver through its Sky+ HD box, offering a wide selection of apps and catch-up services, all while retaining the thing that attracted people to the service in the first place: top-quality content.

Sky+HD The Sky+ brand has become ubiquitous for PVRs in the UK


Sky+ HD has been an evolving work, going through a series of changes to introduce new features and bring high definition to the UK. Sky was the first company in the UK to make a real success out of a hard-disk recorder, with its adverts simply showing people that could pause and rewind live TV.

It’s no wonder, then, that the latest iteration of the EPG means that Sky+ HD has one of the best interfaces. Everything about the box is geared around TV, making the most of the HD output. Jumping to the EPG keeps a thumbnail of the current channel or recording you’re playing, in the top-right of the screen, so that you can keep an eye on the action while you work out what you want to watch next or simply sort out your recordings.

Sky+HD EPG Sky’s EPG maintains a thumbnail of the current programmes, so you can keep watching TV while using it

The focus on live channels is on HD content, and the EPG has been reorganised so that the HD channels appear first. In terms of organisation, Sky is brilliant, with tabs for different genres of programmes (Entertainment, Sports, HD, etc). Selecting a genre then lets you select the type of content you want: Live TV, Planner (your recordings) and On Demand. You can, of course, also search for content using the built-in menus.

Sky+HD Categories Sky organises all of its content into simple categories

The Sky remote is one of the best available. It’s comfortable and well-laid out, giving you easy control of your box. This remote has evolved over the years to introduce new features, such as playback controls, but it means that anyone who’s ever used Sky will be familiar with it immediately.

One of the key things about the Sky remote is its coloured buttons, which are used for shortcuts throughout the system. Press Green, for example, on the EPG and you jump straight to the planner. All of the shortcuts available are marked clearly on screen, so navigating through the calm blue interface is incredible easy.

Recording programmes is a matter of finding a show in the EPG and hitting the Record button on the remote. Sky prompts you to see if you want to record a single episode or everything, using Series link. It will also warn you if there’s a clash with other programmes you want to record. With dual tuners you can record two programmes, so clashes should be rare.

Recordings, both made and upcoming, are managed through your Planner. Episodes of the same show are organised into folders, so your view doesn’t get too cluttered. From the Planner you can remove the series link on shows, playback recordings and delete anything you’re finished with. A neat touch, recently added, is that deleted recordings aren’t actually deleted, but just marked that way; you can go to Deleted Recordings to recover a programme you accidentally wiped up to the point where the hard disk space it’s using is deleted.

Sky+HD Planner Sky’s planner is incredibly well organised, bundling TV shows into folders

We also like the way that when you start a programme, you can choose the point you want to jump to, such as 89 minutes. It’s a great way of catching up with something topical, such as a goal in a football match, when you know roughly where it occurred.


If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that Sky has the widest range of channels and the most HD channels. Content is something that the company is keen to make a fuss of and exclusives are often found on its channels. You can get the vast majority of this content, such as Sky One, on Virgin Media; although it’s still the only place you can watch Sky Atlantic.

This channel shows the best new shows from the US, including top hits, such as Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. Throw in more HD sports channels, and the Sky F1 HD for motor racing and there’s popular content here that you simply can’t get from other providers. It’s also the only UK TV provider to have a 3D channel, although given the dearth of good content, this isn’t anything to get excited about.


Catch-up and on-demand content is one area that Sky used to struggle in, but its’ recently put a lot more effort into it. There are multiple ways to get on-demand content. First, is Sky Showcase, which is an optional service that you can disable from the main interface. This wakes your box up at night and records a Sky-selected range of programmes, which you can then watch in broadcast quality at your leisure. Programmes are typically available for a few weeks, before they’re deleted automatically.

Relatively new is TV via the internet, with all of the major channels (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five) available now for Catch Up. For this to work you have to hook your Sky+ HD box up to the internet via its Ethernet port. If your router’s nowhere near your set-top box, HomePlug is a good alternative. Sky also sells a tiny adaptor, which takes the Ethernet output of your box and converts it to Wi-Fi, so you don’t need cables at all. Sky also has its own catch-up service available, too, which covers Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Sky Movies, Sky Sports and Sky Arts.

Sky+HD Catch-up Sky’s Catch Up service downloads the full quality stream to your set-top box, giving you better quality than streaming services

What makes this different to other services, is that programmes aren’t streamed live, but are downloaded at broadcast quality, including HD, to your set-top box and saved in your Planner. This means that they look and act like ‘real’ recordings and aren’t reliant on internet speeds for quality. Virgin Media has something similar for some content, using one of its cable tuners, but a lot of its on-demand content is the lower on-demand video stream.

As with online catch-up services, downloaded shows have an expiry date and are wiped from your box when the deadline is hit. The only slightly strange thing is that BBC iPlayer content is not currently searchable from either the main Sky search or through the mobile app.

On top of that, is the Sky Library, which contains box-sets of old TV programmes and some films that you can download. These are free, but you can also buy more recent and premium content from the Sky Store.


Apps and mobile devices is one area where Sky really leads the way. It’s had the Sky+ app for smartphones for ages, letting you set recordings from anywhere in the world, with requests taking up to 20 minutes to hit your home box.

However, more recently, you can now use the same apps (iOS and Android) to remotely manage your box when you’re on the same network. This means you can set recordings, manage your Planner, choose what to watch and then control playback all from your app, without having to delve into the main interface. For managing recordings and searching using the onboard keyboard alone, this app is incredible.

Sky+ App The Sky+ App lets you set recordings anywhere in the world and control your Sky+ HD box directly when you’re on the same network

Then, there’s Sky Go. This app (iOS, Android, Windows and Xbox) lets you watch TV over the internet, wherever you are. It has live channels to let you watch what’s on now, including all of the sports, most of the movies, Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Fox and Sky Arts 1. The only restriction is that you can only watch the channels available through your TV package. You can also watch a decent selection of catch-up TV from Sky’s channels, but not from the terrestrial channels, such as BBC.

New is Sky Go Extra, which costs £5 a month extra, but lets you download content to your device, so that you can watch on-the-go. However, the standard version for streaming only is free to anyone with a Sky account and TV subscription.


To get Sky you need to have a satellite dish installed, which isn’t always possible on some properties, particularly those in conservation areas. Each Sky+ HD box requires two cables to be run from the satellite dish: one per tuner. It may also be more expensive to have the dish installed if special work needs to be done, such as fitting a dish to a high-rise block of flats.

All Sky+ HD boxes have to be connected to a telephone line, although if you take a triple-play pack, you can get Sky to provide your broadband and telephone in one. However, to fully benefit from such deals your local exchange will need to have Sky’s broadband kit installed – check if you do at

To get all of the on-demand services we mentioned, you have to take out a Sky+ HD subscription, which costs an additional £10.25 a month over the SD channels. Prices start at £21.50/month for the basic service and cost more if you want a wider range of channels and premium content, such as sports and movies. This currently includes a free set-top box, which you own: in other words if it’s out of warranty and breaks, it’s your responsibility to pay for a new one. A second box can be bought for an additional fee (prices vary depending on the type of box) and connected to the same TV package for an additional £10.25 a month.

You can get free ADSL broadband (up-to 20Mbit/s) with a 2GB download limit, provided you switch your landline to Sky for £14.50/month line-rental. Unlimited usage at the same speeds costs £7.50 a month, while fibre (availability dependent on location) costs £20 a month.


It’s not particularly cheap and having a satellite dish installed doesn’t suit every household, but the quality and range of live TV channels can’t be beaten. There’s a complex range of packages, but you can find out what’s available using the Sky product page. Sky also has the best apps for watching content on the go and its live control on the same network is brilliant. If you want premium channels and don’t live in a cable area, it’s the obvious choice, especially if you can get Sky Broadband. If you’re lucky enough to have the option of cable too, then you’ll have to pick between more HD content on Sky and its better catch-up and apps, or faster, cheaper high-speed internet with Virgin Media.


Cable TV in the UK had been through numerous mergers and rebrands before finally becoming Virgin Media around 2006. It’s estimated that cable TV is available to over half the homes in the UK, so even if you aren’t hooked up now, it’s still a possibility. Before reading any further you might as well check to see if there’s coverage in your area using the online postcode checker.

Having cable in your home not only means a wide range of TV channels, you can also get superfast broadband with speeds up to 100Mbit/s. In addition you can sign up for cheap landline calls (a triple-play package) and even discounted mobile phone contracts, making it the only ‘quad-play’ provider. However, back to TV, Virgin Media doesn’t produce its own TV content and so has a long-running and fractious relationship with rival Sky, which provides some of its content through the cable platform, but not all.

Virgin Media Tivo TiVo’s triple tuners make recording clashes very rare indeed

In practice, as with Sky, you’ll need to transfer your telephone, broadband and TV service to the provider in order to get the best value. However, with all three proving reliable in our experience, and with only a single bill to then deal with every month, that’s no bad thing. In addition, the TiVo box and router remains Virgin Media’s property, so any repairs or replacements are at its expense.


The centrepiece of Virgin Media’s TV offering is the technically impressive TiVo set top box. It has three tuners to help alleviate scheduling clashes, plus you get practically all of the 500GB or 1TB hard disk (depending on your model) to store recorded programmes.

Virgin Media Tivo Menu The main menu system is easy to understand and navigate, though the bar of suggested content can be annoying

Outwardly the interface has changed little since its launch two years ago, it’s still flexible and capable in places, while feeling awkward and fragmented in others. This is partly due to the sheer wealth and disparity of content on offer; with lots of channels plus thousands of hours of on demand and catch up TV. To help you navigate this jungle is TiVo’s clever search and preferences system.

The TiVo box creates links between programmes to offer you content you might want to watch. Some of these are obvious ones, such as having actors in common. Watch Frasier, for example, and it will proffer up Cheers, plus a listing for Ted Danson’s other work. You can also give thumbs-up, or thumbs-down to shows at any time. This information is then compiled amongst all TiVo owners, so the box will offer you shows that other people who liked Cheers also enjoyed. In addition it uses your own preferences to automatically record content it thinks you might enjoy.

Virgin Media Tivo Connections With TiVo you can see a variety of connections between programmes

The TiVo system also has a fully-integrated search function. For example, search TiVo for ‘Tom’ and it quickly pulls up options including Tom and Jerry and Tom Cruise, pick the latter and you get a list of available movies from various sources. Browse through these and you can see which are on TV and which are available on demand.

Our main gripe is that you can’t adjust the search parameters to match the content available to you. While search won’t show you TV content for channels you don’t have, it will show you pay-per-view rental content and movies on subscription services you aren’t signed up to. You have to navigate through to find this out though, which is frustrating.

Virgin Media Tivo EPG The EPG works brilliantly, you can filter by genre and record programmes quickly and easily

The main programme guide works excellently though, it’s clearly laid out and catch-up content for the major terrestrial channels is integrated into the timeline – like Sky there’s a video window in the top right-hand corner. Unlike Sky the HD channels aren’t placed at the top of the list, so you have to browse down to find them. You can filter channels by type, including HD, but we’d recommend setting up a favourites list instead and clearing away all the rubbish.

The remote control is excellent, comfortable to use and with good feedback from the buttons. There are lots of shortcut buttons to take you to regularly used menus. The coloured buttons are used for some shortcuts, though they aren’t as central to the interface as with Sky+. One plus is that the Red button can now be used to access additional content on BBC channels.

Recording programmes is easy, either while watching or from the EPG. Press record and you can set up a single recording or a series link. There are three tuners in the TiVo, one more than in Sky’s box, making clashes unlikely. If there is a clash, then the box deals with it well, looking for an alternative screening. As with Sky, your recordings are neatly grouped by programme title and it’s easy to manage series links, changing what gets recorded and on what channel. This means you can filter out Top Gear repeats on Dave and just record new episodes on the BBC, or record them all if you’re a huge fan.


There are no shortage of TV channels on Virgin Media, although, as with Sky, most of them will never be watched by most viewers. You can get a full list of Virgin Media TV channels by package. In short, the M+ package has over 100 channels, L has over 135 channels (both with six in HD) and XL has other 200 channels (with 30 in HD). Note that the cost of HD is built into each package, rather than being an additional cost.

Virgin has a complex relationship with Sky, both its main competitor and provider of much of its premium content. Sky Sports is available through Virgin Media but only Sky Sports 1 and 2 are available in HD, rather than 4 HD sports channels plus F1 HD through Sky on satellite. There’s greater parity in movies with both having the full raft of Sky Movies channels in HD – Sky also has MGM H.

Other notable Sky Channels are Sky Sports F1, which again is included with the Sky Sports package but not in HD. Sky Atlantic is the other big draw, with lots of HBO content, this channel is not available on TiVo. Sky 1 and Sky 2 are available across all the packages.

Virgin media includes ESPN HD and EuroSport HD in its XL package, as well as the new BT Sport HD. Sky charges £12 a month for ESPN and BT Sport in HD, although if you have BT Broadband you get BT Sport for free in SD and only have to pay £3 a month for the HD stream.


Virgin Media continues to lead the way when it comes to catch-up and on-demand content. It has had catch-up services for the main terrestrial channels (BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Five) integrated into the timeline for some time now. Some of this is sent via cable TV and uses one of the boxes cable tuners to play – saving your broadband bandwidth – while other programmes come over IPTV such as iPlayer. There’s also a separate iPlayer app, with the latest interface and full HD support, so you can browse for BBC TV and radio content. All of this works via the cable connection, so there’s no extra cabling, as with Sky.

Virgin Media iPlayer TiVo provides a dedicated iPlayer app for browsing BBC content

In addition there’s a wealth of on-demand content, with huge lists of TV boxsets you can browse and watch whenever you want. The amount of content you get varies based on your TV package M, L or XL, but there’s stuff here you won’t get on Sky – both classic series and newer ones. This content is changed periodically, so new stuff is always appearing. It’s a pain to browse but you can search it using the TiVo box’s powerful search tool. Also included here is catch-up content for any Sky channels you subscribe to.


For some time now you’ve been able to check listings and set up recordings via a simple app for iOS and Android devices. More recently Virgin Media has recently added an iOS app that allows both local and remote connection to your TiVo box. You have to connect your TiVo box to your router via its Ethernet port and go through a setup process to ensure your box stays secure, but once done you can access it from anywhere you have an internet connection.

If you’re at home the app can act as a kind of super remote control. You can access a touchscreen version of the TiVo’s interface, with the box reacting instantly to your inputs. It’s faster and slicker than using the remote and you get more thumbnails too for shows. You can even browse for a new show while your box plays another full screen.

Virgin Media Tivo iPad Remote Controlling your TiVo from the iOS app is brilliant, even more responsive than the remote, plus with easy text input for searches

Away from home you can manage your recordings and series links and browse the guide. There’s also a handful of streaming TV channels, the only ones of note are Eurosport and ESPN, but Gold and Channel 5 might help pass the time in a pinch and there’s a few kids channels too.

Virgin Media Tivo App Recordings You can browse and manage your recordings in the home or on the go

You can also watch this small selection of live channels from Virgin Media’s website using a PC browser, although you also get Sky 1 and Sky Sports here (if you subscribe to the latter). Plus you can stream some on demand content – including boxsets of programmes from the BBC both recent and classic, lots of kids TV and even Walking Dead episodes from Fox.

The website also provides a brilliant interface for managing your TiVo box. If you want to have a clear out of old shows, re-organise your series links, or update your Thumb-up/down list then grab a laptop and do it online. With a mouse and the slick menu system it will be easier and quicker than navigating the box’s own menus.


While most people can get Sky, not everyone is lucky enough to have the option of cable services. If you do have it on your street the installation should be fairly straightforward. The engineers will likely have to drill a small hole through the front wall of your home to get the cable into your house. A small plastic box then covers the incoming hole and the splitter – which divides the cable so it can connect to both the TiVo box and the supplied cable modem router for broadband customers.

Pricing is complicated, with a huge variety of options on offer, but the bottom line is that you’ll need to sign up to a phone line, calls package, broadband and TV to get a really good. It’s hard to compare like-for-like with Sky’s services but if you want HD TV and fast broadband but don’t want to pay for Sky’s premium channels then the Premiere Collection is the one to go for.

You get 60Mbit/s broadband, free weekend calls, 200 channels (with 30 in HD including ESPN) plus both a 500GB TiVo box and a second HD-playback box for a second room. It costs a substantial £63 a month including line rental, but a comparative package from Sky would set you back a whopping £89.50 a month. With Sky you would get Sky Atlantic HD (and Sky Sports F1 HD if you move quickly), but then the Virgin Media package has around twice the broadband speed. Of course, if you have no use for the second box, and no interest in ESPN, then an equivalent Sky package costs around the same.

At the top end the VIP package contains everything on TV (including Sky Movies and Sky Sports) plus 100Mbit/s broadband, all for £114 a month. At the bottom end you can have speedy 30Mbit/s broadband, the great 500GB TiVo box and free weekend calls for £33 a month including line rental – though there is a £50 installation charge.


If you can get Virgin Media’s cable services then the choice between these and Sky’s services largely comes down to whether you want more premium content in HD or you’d prefer faster internet speeds. Either way Virgin Media tends to be a little cheaper across the board, throwing in extras like ESPN and an extra set top box, when compared to Sky’s equivalent packages.

In terms of hardware and apps there’s little between the two services. We narrowly prefer the TiVo box for its third tuner, as it’s particularly handy for family use, although it can take a while to get used to the menu system.


We tested Sky+HD and Virgin Media TiVo for image quality on both live broadcast and catch-up services. We choose Top Gear as our test programme, as it’s a very popular show that has a lot of action and is broadcast in HD, so it should test the TV services and boxes to their limits. For testing we used a Sky+ HD box (black and silver type) and Virgin Media TiVo 1TB.

We recorded Top Gear’s Africa special simultaneously using all the boxes. We went through the show and choose a handful of scenes that we felt would show off the boxes to their best and test them in tough conditions.

Then we captured these sections of the programme from each using our HDMI capture equipment – outputting at the highest possible resolution from each box – as a digitally lossless 24-bit RGB video stream. We then watched the clips back, noted the differences and picked out individual frames to illustrate them.

Where we thought two services were producing identical video, we then used a tool to compare the frames on a pixel-by-pixel basis to ensure that they were exactly the same. It should be noted that your TV will have a large impact on image quality, but a good initial source is still essential.


Our first scene used the fast driving scene over the dusty roads. We wanted to see how well each box dealt with detail in fast-moving scenes.

Topgear Driving Full HD Frame The original Full HD capture

Virgin Media Tivo Driving Live Virgin Media’s TiVo has the sharpest-looking picture, with smooth, strong lines, such as on the bumper. There’s more detail in the mud on the lower bumper, but this only resolves as a slightly more textured appearance when watching the programme under normal conditions

Sky+HD Live Driving Sky’s picture has a slightly more refined appearance with less pixellation on stand-out lines, such as the one across the top of the bumper. However, some detail is lost in the mud on the bumper to achieve this. There are a few artefacts if you look closely, with repeated patterns in the mud

Virgin Media TiVo On-demand Virgin Media uses the iPlayer internet stream. It can look pretty reasonable, but it falls apart in complex moving scenes such as this. It’s soft all over, with huge blotches of colour where the compression can’t keep up

Sky+HD Driving On-demand Sky’s catch-up stream of Top Gear is a pixel-perfect identical match for its broadcast version


For our next test we used a close-up of some kids standing by the road, looking to see how each service and set-top box dealt with fine detail.

Fine Detail Full HD The original Full HD frame

Virgin Media TiVo Fine Detail Live A little brighter than Sky and sharper in places, but not a huge amount of difference between the services

Sky+HD Fine Detail Live Lots of lovely detail in this shot and very similar to the Virgin Media TiVo box

Virgin Media TiVo Fine Detail On-demand The largely still sequence holds together well on iPlayer on the Virgin Media TiVo, but fine detail is still lacking. You can see this in the lack of hair on the distracted child, and the missing T-Shirt textures. iPlayer also adjusts the aspect ratio, slightly stretching the picture

Sky+HD Fine Detail On-demand A pixel-perfect copy from Sky’s on-demand service, preserving all of the detail


Even from live HD TV, you will occasionally experience low-quality source footage, such as these in-car cameras on Top Gear. Combined with all the dust passing through the car, this causes a lot of unwanted noise.

Lower Quality Full HD The original Full HD frame

Virgin Media TiVo Lower Quality Live Sharpening has made the confusion of the dust worse, obscuring the facial features to a great idea

Sky+HD Lower quality Live There are some coloured patches of noise from the original footage, but the Sky+HD box handled it the best

Virgin Media TiVo Lower Quality On-demand iPlayer footage on the Virgin Media TiVo, surprisingly, doesn’t come out too badly. It softens quite a lot of the detail, but also smoothes out the noise

Sky+HD Lower Quality On-demand Pixel-perfect copy of the live stream, complete with the same level of detail


This shot of an angle grinder has plenty of detail and lots of contrast, pushing the boxes to their limits. We’ve just compared the live shots here.

High Contrast Full HD The original Full HD frame

Virgin Media TiVo High Contrast Live There’s lots of mosquito noise around the sparks on the Virgin Media TiVo box, but they are the brightest and most solid-looking. There’s also plenty of detail and lots of fine texture, although you have to look closely to see it

Sky+HD High contrast Live Sky+HD sacrifices a little detail and punch compared to the Virgin Media TiVo in return for a slightly cleaner-looking image. Texture on the grinder is a little soft, though


Foliage can be very difficult to accurately display, with a lot of fine detail required for a realistic and pleasing picture. Again, as we know that Sky’s On-demand service is pixel-perfect, we’re just comparing the live broadcast here.

Foliage Full HD The original Full HD frame

Virgin Media TiVo Foliage Live Virgin’s TiVo box comes out on top here, with its sharpening providing more visible texture to rocks and foliage

Sky+HD Foliage Live A slightly darker appearance from the Sky+HD box and the continuation of the softened appearance, although here it has little positive effect, with no sharp lines needing neatening

There’s a lot to consider in this article, even if you can’t receive all the channels on offer here. Around half of us in the UK have subscription TV services, and despite the increasing popularity of services such as Netflix and Lovefilm this number keeps on growing.


Sky is the best choice if you want the widest range of content and want to watch sports in HD; although if none of the big shows on Sky Atlantic appeal to you and you’re not interested in the widest range of HD sports, then Virgin Media has a largely identical content offering.

Its Sky+ HD box is excellent, though the £149 cost to get the larger capacity 2TB box is rather steep. Image quality from live broadcasts was consistently impressive, though Sky does produce a slightly softer-looking image than Virgin Media, although that’s largely a matter of personal taste. The quality of some of its catch-up content unarguably exceeds that of its competitors. Sky also has the best selection of apps and, if you’re willing to pay £5 a month, you can download Sky TV programmes to your mobile devices.


If you’re dead set on having a fast internet service, and can live without Sky Atlantic entirely and without Sky Sports 3 and 4 in HD, then Virgin Media is your best bet. Its packages are slightly cheaper than the Sky equivalents, especially when you consider that for the vast majority of people cable broadband services will prove far faster than even the quickest ADSL services. On top of this, Virgin Media includes HD, a second (playback-only) box and ESPN sports as part of its top packages, all extras you’d have to pay for with Sky.

The TiVo box itself is a marvel thanks to its three tuners and fairly large storage capacity – you get given the 1TB box for free with the pricier packages. The menu system is good, and we love the excellent search function, which helps you find everything you want to watch. Image quality is very sharp, again a matter of personal preference, though we prefer it marginally over Sky’s output. However, its on-demand content, when streamed online, pales in comparison to Sky’s.

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