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Sky Q vs Virgin Media TiVo - can Sky take the TV tech crown?

Seth Barton
26 May 2016
Sky vs Virgin
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We compare features on the new Sky Q box to the long-running Virgin Media TiVo system

Sky Q is now available, with the premium TV service the biggest launch since the Virgin Media TiVo box launched just over five years ago. That's rather amazing, given that how fat other forms of entertainment have shifted, with Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video now clamouring for market share and attention over the traditional rivals. As good as streaming TV is, both Sky and Virgin still have their place: they have newer films, the latest sports and some of the top TV shows. While both Sky and Virgin had roughly comparable services, the introduction of Sky Q gives the satellite broadcaster an advantage, at least on paper. So, if you want a premium TV service, the choice is between Tivo and Sky Q, but which one should you buy? We compare the two services to help you make the right decision.

Resolution

The new Sky Q Silver box will support Ultra HD (also known as 4K) content at a resolution of 3,840x2,160. However, you will of course need a fancy new 4K TV in order to appreciate all those extra pixels. In addition content is a tad thin on the ground at present. Yes, there are Netflix and Amazon but neither of those services is currently provided by Sky Q, and you most likely have them on other devices or your TV already if you subscribe. 

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Sky itself is promising to provide its own 4K content, although the only date mentioned is "later in 2016". The company has promised to  provide, "Not only sports, but movies, entertainment and more." Since that announcement, Expert Reviews has discovered that Sky Q 4K content can be delivered via satellite, requiring just one tuner, although the majority of content will be provided via the internet. Sky isn't leading the pack here either, with Ultra HD sport already available from BT Sport.

By comparison, the Virgin Media TiVo box supports 1080p video only, although the company is said to be at work creating a new 4K box. No launch date has been announced as yet, though.

What is 4K and Ultra HD and what can I watch?

TV guide relative comparison: 4K vs Full HD

Tuners

There are two different Sky Q boxes at present. The Sky Q silver box can record four shows at once, while allowing you to watch a fifth live. The regular Sky Q box records three shows and lets you watch a fourth show live. Both of these are a huge improvement over the two tuners in the current Sky+ HD box, and a step up from the three tuners in the TiVo box, which allow you to record three shows or record two and watch one. Sky's advantage is that its new boxes have dedicated tuners for live channels, so you're never in the situation where you can't watch live TV.

Storage

Again the Sky Q Silver box has the top spec with 2TB of storage, while the standard box has 1TB of storage. That’s roughly 350 or 150 hours of HD TV respectively according to Sky, as presumably parts of the disc are reserved for caching live tv and other purposes. The TiVo box comes in both 1TB and 500GB, though you’ll have to subscribe to the top package to get the bigger box, and pay an additional fee for it.

Remotes and interface

Sky has a fancy new remote for its Sky Q box. The good news is that it uses Bluetooth, so you no longer have to point the remote at the box, or even have the box within sight, in order to control it. This means that you can tuck the box neatly away in a cupboard and forget it’s there - brilliant stuff. The bad news is that it has a new touchpad control and we didn’t get on it with it particularly.

Thankfully the Sky Q Mini boxes (more on those below) have a more traditional IR remote, which will work with the Sky Q box as well. Of course the TiVo box uses a traditional IR remote that has to be pointed at the box, although you can control it from a tablet or smartphone via a rather clever app.

The new Sky Q interface is very slick, very responsive and rather clever. It provides easy access to recently recorded shows and even predicts which shows you want to watch, based on the time of day and where you’re watching (again, more below). The TiVo interface is comparatively basic, but it’s simple to use and easy to understand; the key problem is that despite improvements it’s sluggish to react to inputs and paralytic when opening apps.

Sky Q Top Picks

Apps and additional displays

The TiVo box, as noted above, has a clever app that acts as a remote control for the box. That app can also let you watch a selection of TV channels live from the box, but these are limited to those that Virgin Media has done deals with. You can’t watch recordings from the box on your tablet. 

You can add multiscreen via a second box, either a basic V HD box for watching live TV and any on demand content, or a second TiVo box to allow you to share recordings between rooms. Either box has to be wired separately, which means drilling more holes in your house.

Sky Q makes big steps forward in this area over its predecessor. There’s an app that lets you watch any content you want from your box, be that live TV via a tuner, or recordings. You can download all recordings to your tablet, too, bar BBC programmes, which Sky doesn't have the rights to. 

You can also stream content from the box to additional Sky Q Mini boxes attached to TVs around the home. If you have Sky broadband, these in turn act as Wi-Fi hotspots, spreading your Wi-Fi signal further. It’s a thoroughly modern system. The regular box can stream to one Mini and one tablet at a time, while the Silver box can stream to two Mini boxes and two tablets. As none of the extra devices require wiring, the installation is much simpler and neater.

The only downside at present is that Sky Q doesn’t integrate popular streaming apps such as Netflix into its service. Virgin Media does have Netflix on its boxes, along with iPlayer if you want to browse BBC content via that interface rather than using the timeline to find things.

Virgin Media Tivo iPad Remote

Conclusion

It's clear that the Sky Q box is a far more advanced system, especially for watching around the home and even away from it. However, for single TV viewing it doesn't provide a huge amount of additional features except for a slicker and nicer-looking interface. 4K is a big draw for those with the right TV but we'd wait for an announcement on content before jumping in for that alone - after all Ultra HD BT Sport is already available from BT if you're really keen.

If you're thinking of switching from cable to satellite and regularly watch away from your living room then Sky Q is perfect, although if your sofa and your TV are always enjoyed together, we might be tempted to see if Virgin Media responds with its own new box before, installing a dish on your house.

Buy the Sky Q now from Sky

Buy the TiVo now from Virgin Media

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