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Should I choose Sky TV or Virgin Media?

Should I choose Sky TV or Virgin Media?

Hi Jon, I’m thinking of signing up for a digital TV package and have narrowed my choice down to either Virgin Media or Sky - can you help me decide which one to go for?

Jez Harman, Nottingham, via email, Updated: Wednesday 19 January, 2011

Our digital TV expert says...

Dear Jez, thanks for your email - I’m pleased to hear you’re thinking of making the switch to digital. Both Sky and Virgin Media offer great digital TV packages, and are the two main providers in the digital TV market.

I’ve pulled together some useful information below that will help you make your decision…

TV and Phone

CompanyPackage NameChannelsHome Phone 
TV: L + Phone: MOver 100 channels including Virgin 1, Sky 1 2 3, catch up TV and BBC iPlayerUnlimited weekend calls to UK landlines
Sky Entertainment TVGet the Sky Entertainment Pack with channels such as 'Sky 1', 'Sky Living' and moreTV and Phone

Who offers the best TV package?

Virgin Media ( offers four different digital TV packages. These range from its M TV, which comes with 45 channels plus free seven-day catch-ups at no extra cost when you take a Virgin Media phone line for £12.24 a month, going up to its XL TV package, which costs £23.50 a month with a phone line, or £29.50 without. The XL TV package comes with a massive 165+ channels and the full range of Virgin Media on-demand TV programmes, movies and even music videos. For more details on specific Virgin Media packages you can speak to Virgin Media directly on 0808 189 0508.

Sky allows you to pick and choose the channels that best suit you

Between these two options Virgin Media offers the M+ service, and the L TV package. M+ costs £6.50 a month with a phone line, £12.50 a month without, offering more than 65 channels, including Sky1 and Sky Living, while L offers more than 100 channels and costs £11.25 a month with a phone line, or £17.25 a month as a standalone product.

Sky ( digital TV works differently, allowing you to select the different “viewing packs” that you want, covering different genres of programmes, from Knowledge to News or Kids. Prices start at £19.50 for one pack, adding £1 for each additional pack and going up to £24.50 for all six.

TV add-ons

If you want to max out your digital TV package, then both Virgin Media ( and Sky ( allow you to add on premium packages like Sky Movies, Sky Sports and HD channels.

Virgin Media charges £14.50 a month for a subscription to either Sky Sports 1 or Sky Sports 2, or £22.50 a month to add both Sky Sports channels to your TV deal.

Sky Sports channels on Sky cost £12.25 a month on top of your standard subscription, if taken individually, or £20.25 a month when taken together in the Sky Sports pack.

With either provider you can also add Sky Movies to your bundle, with the Sky Sports and Movies Collection costing an extra £29.50 on top of your standard TV subscription with Virgin Media, or £27.50 extra with Sky.


High-definition (HD) TV offers up to five times more picture quality, sharper detail and better sound - taking your TV to the next level.

High-definition takes TV to the next level

Both Sky and Virgin Media offer HD services, but you will need a HD ready TV as well as a HD set-top box - either the Sky+HD or Virgin Media’s V+ box.

Sky charges £10.25 extra a month to subscribe to its HD Pack, on top of the cost of its Sky+HD box, but it does have the widest selection of HD channels - 54 in total, and counting - allowing you to watch a huge range of movies and sports, arts and comedy, drama and documentaries, all in stunning high-definition.

On the other hand, Virgin Media offers its V+ service for free to TV XL customers - though you'll still have to pay for the set-top box. M+ and L TV customers can pay £5 a month. However, at present Virgin Media only offers 17 HD channels, though it does plan to launch more this year.

TV on-demand

For many people, on-demand TV has changed the way they watch TV forever. Being able to catch-up on your favourite shows at the touch of a button frees you from the TV schedule and means that you'll never miss a thing.

Both Sky ( and Virgin Media ( offer TV on-demand services, but Virgin Media does have the upper hand, with instant play, direct access to the BBC iPlayer on your TV and more than 4,600 hours of on-demand programmes.

However, Sky customers do get online access to the Sky Player catch-up service and you can even watch digital TV on your Xbox 360.

Sky also recently launched its Sky Anytime+ service, which gives Sky TV customers who also subscribe to Sky broadband, access to 1,000s of hours of on-demand content from all the top Sky channels.

Virgin Media TV
Sky TV
On-demand content*
4,600 hours of programmes plus BBC iPlayer direct to your TV
Up to 40 hours a week with Sky Anytime, or 1,000+ hours with Sky Anytime+
Free terrestrial channel catch-up TV
BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, Demand Five
Online TV
Virgin Media Player
Sky Player

*Depending on package size

V box vs Sky+HD box

Standard hardware comes in the form of the V box from Virgin Media or the Sky+HD box from Sky.

With Virgin Media however, you can upgrade to the V+ or even V+HD boxes to access a range of additional services, such as the ability to record, pause and rewind “live” TV. You can even record an entire series at the touch of a button, or access HD channels. However, you do need a HD ready TV as well as a HD box in order to watch high-definition programmes.

What’s the future of TV?

For some people, 3D TV is the future, and both Sky and Virgin Media already offer services.

Sky launched its own 3D TV channel in late 2010, and Virgin Media offers 3D TV on an on-demand basis.


You need to think about your needs when you choose which provider to sign-up with. If you want the best selection of catch-up TV, then Virgin Media is a great choice. Sky offers the biggest selection of HD channels though, and it does have a dedicated 3D TV channel - great if you're an early adopter.

Both providers also allow you to bundle your digital TV service with broadband and landline services, which can save you loads on your monthly bills. However, you should try not to sign-up to additional services just because they're cheap - if you don’t use them they’ll simply be a waste of money.

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