Sky or Virgin Media: which is better?
SKY and Virgin Media both claim to be the UK's best TV, broadband and phone provider, but who should you choose?
It's an extremely close competition; in this guide we'll look at some of the key differences between Sky and Virgin we think everyone should be aware of.
And if you want a quick answer, skip straight to our quick compare section - where we've chosen the best provider depending on what's most important to you.
But don't miss the special offers to make sure you get a good deal on your chosen provider - we'll take a look at those first.
The competition between Sky and Virgin does have one serious upside: money off for new customers.
We have a list of the latest offers from each below, which could be worth keeping in mind as you read on.
Sky have a reputation for running a good deal. Here's their main offer right now:
Sky TV Latest Offers
And here are their other current offers:
And here's what Virgin Media are offering to try to tempt new customers:
*Big Bundles are Virgin Media's pre-made triple media deals: the Player, Mix, Full House and VIP Bundles.
Are Sky and Virgin in my area?
Before comparing any other aspect of service, it's worth checking whether each provider is available in your area by doing a postcode search.
Sky TV coverage is pretty much nationwide, and their broadband is widely available too; Virgin Media cable is only available to around 50% of homes, although their network is growing, slowly, all the time.
Use the postcode checker below to see if Sky and Virgin are available to you.
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.
Quick compare: So, who's best for...
Can't decide between
Take a quick look at which provider is ahead in the categories important to you by choosing from the selection on the left.
More detail: find out who's best on...
- Price the best bundles and line rental costs.
- TV channel counting, HD choices and Sky Sports.
- Broadband speeds, best unlimited deals and out of area deals.
- Boxes what's best: Virgin's Tivo or Sky Q?
Sky vs Virgin: Price
(Seemingly) simple question: Sky or Virgin - who is cheapest?
Broadband only, or broadband and calls
For anyone looking to ditch the phone and just get the broadband, Virgin is the only option.
And for those wanting decent broadband, Sky look to be cheapest.
Sky don't include any calls in the above package, and their cheapest call plan is their Evenings & Weekends Extra package, which costs an additional £4 a month.
Virgin do include weekend calls with their home phone, and they also offer an upfront line rental deal. It costs £196 for the year, which brings the price down to the equivalent of £16.34 a month (it's usually £19 and that's included in the monthly price above).
All the same, Sky's entry level broadband is cheaper than Virgin's - but with much slower broadband.
Virgin Media win this race with their Player Bundle, which is roughly equivalent to their old Big Easy deal - offering 70 or so channels together with their up to 100Mb broadband and weekend calls.
Meaning Virgin's entry level bundle is hard for Sky to beat, which is even more true now they've retired their free 2GB Lite package in favour of a £5 a month 12GB starter deal. Note that swapping out the Player Bundle's Vivid 100 broadband for their lesser 50Mb package actually makes it more expensive overall at present, so it's not worth tampering with.
So when balancing TV with broadband, we think Virgin Media are the best budget bundle deal.
Compare the two for budget bundles without sacrificing must have channels, using our comparison table here.
We've picked out two "large" bundles with a good number of TV channels for each provider - 190 for Virgin Media and around 320 for Sky, of which about 70 are Freeview - each provider's standard set top box and unlimited broadband.
The main difference here again are the broadband speeds - for this example, we've used Sky's up to 17Mb package and Virgin's 'lightweight' fibre, up to 100Mb. Ignoring that issue, it's incredibly close.
We use to have to build our own Virgin Media bundle to create a similarly priced package - but now the Mix Bundle is much better value. Even substituting the 100Mb broadband for 50Mb makes the package more expensive - which shows how seriously Virgin take the value of their readymade bundles.
For a little more flexibility regarding large bundles, or to see what it'll cost to include any must have channels, it's also worth looking at our family bundle comparison table.
Line rental and calls
Sky now charge £18.99 for line rental but this is without any calls.
While Virgin have stopped offering a stand alone phone service, meaning a phone deal with them can only be purchased as part of a package deal with either their broadband or TV service (or a combination of both).
To get a landline with Virgin the cheapest option is to go with their Mix TV and phone bundle, which includes weekend calls for £26 a month or you can upgrade to evening and weekend calls for an extra £5 per month.
With inclusive anytime calls at just £26.99, Sky offer the cheapest deal in this respect but with Virgin you get a TV package thrown in too.
|Line rental only||Inclusive
Evening and Weekend Calls
Sky vs Virgin: TV
First things first: Sky or Virgin - how many channels are up for grabs?
We count them up in the table below. Note that where there's a HD version of a channel we count both SD and HD as one - but then give the total number of HD channels available with each deal.
|Freeview||VM: Mix TV||VM: Full House TV||Sky: Original Bundle||Sky: Variety Bundle||Sky: Box Sets Bundle|
|Up to 85
(up to 15 HD)
|40 + 240 free
|80 + 240 free
|80 + 240 free
From these figures it looks as though Sky offer far more channels, but be aware that among their free channels are some oddities like Renault TV.
Budget channel choice
Sky Q user interface
From the table above, Sky seem like a good choice for those looking for a budget TV deal: their Original Bundle offers considerably more channels than Virgin Media's cheapest standalone TV deal, Mix TV, for a similar price.
Those looking at the budget bundle choices further up, however, may be wondering where the Player TV package is, with its stripped down channel count.
We've left it out of the channel count here because it's only available as part of that triple play bundle, combined with unlimited 100Mb broadband and weekend calls for £32 a month including line rental.
Sky's basic Original bundle costs £22 a month. As seen above, it's possible to add in their Broadband 12GB and phone package to get a triple-play package that costs a little bit more than Virgin's but with far more channels.
It depends what's more important, TV or broadband - but where TV is concerned, customers get more for their money with Sky.
On demand content
Both Sky and Virgin offer TV on demand with catch up from at least the past seven days and limited other TV content as standard.
Virgin Media offer hundreds of hours of catch up and on demand TV, with the exact content depending on the TV package; customers with the Full House TV pack also have access to Virgin's collection of Box Sets.
Sky describe their catch up and extra content service as the UK's biggest, though content depends on the subscription.
Only basic catch up services are available with the Original Bundle, while Variety subscribers can also watch the catch up services for their extra channels - mainly kids' shows and documentaries.
Box sets on demand are only available with the aptly named Box Sets Bundle - what use to be called the Family Bundle.
Sky don't offer Netflix or any other kind of rival streaming service to their own customers.
In fact, they have their own streaming TV service, Now TV, for people who don't have and don't want to sign up to Sky, but fancy some of the extra content only available through them.
Customers taking either Sky or Virgin Media can also access up to 1,200 movies on demand via Sky Cinema (formerly Sky Movies) - but that relies on taking the full Sky Cinema pack of 11 live channels.
Sky are cheaper, charging £18 a month, while Virgin charge £21 a month.
We've already made a quick comparison of HD channels available in the main channel count above, but which channels are included, and which come at a premium differs.
Among the cheaper packages, Sky and Virgin are neck and neck - both offer 11 Freeview HD channels.
They now also offer a similar number of HD channels in their most expensive base bundles: over 50 each for the Full House and Box Sets deals:
|Freeview||VM: Mix TV||VM: Full House||Sky: Box Sets Bundle|
But there's some variation between the channels included. The HD channels we can find on Sky include Sky Atlantic HD, the Disney channels and Star Plus HD.
The HD channels that Virgin Media can boast about, including as standard with the Full House Bundle, are the BT Sport line up, MTV Live HD and H2 (but oddly, not the normal History Channel).
Virgin Media HD channels
Note that the figures above don't include the premium sports and movies channels in HD.
The good news is that as part of the above-mentioned refresh, Sky Cinema is now available in HD to both Sky and Virgin Media customers as standard.
Those wanting Sky Sports in HD, however, will still need to pay extra for the privilege.
To get Sky Sports in HD on Sky - whether Sky+ or Sky Q - for example, customers need to take:
- Box Sets Bundle: £38
- Sky Sports: £27.50
- HD pack: £6
- Total: £71.50
Virgin customers can add the HD pack to Sky Sports whatever their basic channel subscription, but it'll cost them another £7 a month.
We think this is pretty shocking overcharging, but as both providers are doing it, it's likely to continue.
So who's best for HD? Because they include more of the "premium" channels such as those from Disney in HD, and because their HD add-on costs slightly less, Sky win the HD battle.
As might be obvious from the above, competition between Sky and Virgin for the Sky Sports channels is fierce.
All new Virgin Media TV customers should get Sky Sports News HQ and Sky Sports Mix in their standard channel line-up. To get the full Sky Sports channel pack costs £31.75 a month on top of any other TV package costs. Sky charge £27.50 a month for the full line up.
In the past Virgin have offered the occasional Sky Sports "Season Ticket" deal for those willing to pay upfront. It was last available in summer 2014, giving savings of about £120 over the season.
Sky vs Virgin: Broadband
This is an easy one, at least at face value.
Virgin's Vivid 300 is the fastest fibre broadband service currently available in the UK, offering speeds up to 300Mb (for more information see our full review).
What's more Virgin's broadband packages don't limit download speeds - but they do throttle uploads for heavy users. As mentioned above, they also offer broadband without a phone line, for those who don't need or want one.
Sky, on the other hand, offer a truly unlimited broadband connection for a good price - and they often run appealing cheap or "free" broadband deals.
Each provider's main broadband deals:
As already mentioned, when it comes to speed Virgin Media offer the fastest broadband services around.
Look at the above table: Virgin's cheapest deal is based on speeds of up to 50Mb - quicker than Sky's 38Mb fibre deal, and much faster than standard broadband.
As our guide explains, Virgin's cable service is much more efficient than standard broadband.
For example, standard Sky broadband speeds are affected primarily by distance from the exchange - so customers who live a long way from their exchange should expect this to play some part in any lowering of speed.
Because it uses cable, Virgin Media broadband is much less affected by distance.
Here's what that means in terms of real speeds, according to Ofcom tests published in November 2016.
|Advertised Speed||Average over 24 hours||Average at peak times
|Sky ADSL||10.1Mb to 11.5Mb||9.9Mb to 11.4Mb|
|Up to 38Mb||33Mb - 34.6Mb||32.8Mb - 34.3Mb|
|Up to 50Mb||46.1Mb - 49.6Mb||38.2Mb - 45.4Mb|
|Up to 76Mb||54.3Mb - 59.9Mb||53.6Mb - 59.1Mb|
|Up to 100Mb||87.7Mb - 95.2Mb||72.6Mb - 86.1Mb|
|Up to 200Mb||169.0Mb - 177.2Mb||143.7Mb - 155.4Mb|
That said, Virgin Media broadband have come in for some stick for their traffic management policy. While Virgin say downloads should be completely unaffected, heavy uploaders - gamers and the like - have found their upload speeds slowed by half.
In September 2016, they brought in a range of new broadband packages designed for gamers, based on the up to 200Mb tier. These, Virgin say, had both superfast downloads and uploads, and no traffic management upstream. However the gamer catered package has since been retired (you can read more on that here), leaving the Vivid 300 package as Virgin's only truly unlimited option.
Bear in mind however, that contention (the number of users signed up to the provider in the local area) particularly at peak times (during the evening and at weekends) can affect both providers - although Ofcom say Sky's 38Mb fibre suffers the least degradation as a result of contention.
Among Sky's broadband deals there are three truly unlimited packages with no download limits or traffic management.
Those looking for cheaper broadband will find they're subject to data caps or traffic management. There's more on the full Sky broadband range in our detailed review here.
Virgin's deals are all unlimited as far as downloading goes, but unless they opt for Vivid 300 with its unlimited uploads, the very heaviest broadband users may face some restrictions. For more information check out our guide on fair use policies.
At the other end of the scale, Sky win for those who want a basic broadband connection for browsing and email.
Broadband 12GB has taken over from the old Broadband Lite package, offering a usage allowance of 12GB. Customers can get it for £5 a month.
Then again, Sky are also known for frequently offering their standard Unlimited broadband at a discount, or even free of charge, so it's possible to get more for rather less.
Out of area broadband
Once upon a time those who weren't in a Virgin Media cable area could still get Virgin Media Broadband, albeit only via ADSL - but Virgin Media National hasn't been on sale for a good few years now.
Sky Broadband is much more widely available, but they too appear to be losing enthusiasm for supplying Sky TV customers who aren't on their main broadband network. Their out of area package, Sky Connect, is no longer available to buy online.
This offered an unlimited up to 8Mb connection for £17 a month - considerably more expensive than their main deals and slower than the minimum Ofcom say is needed for the average home, as well as being subject to constant traffic management.
Anyone who's not sure whether they're in the main pricing area for Sky or Virgin should check with our postcode search.
Sky vs Virgin: Boxes
Sky and Virgin both offer HD-ready set top boxes with their deals, with a choice of hardware.
Late last year, Sky retired their well regarded Sky+ HD boxes in favour of offering all new TV customers their Sky Q 1TB box as standard. We've put together a guide to what Sky Q offers over and above Sky+ here.
Standard set top boxes
Otherwise both providers' set top boxes offer the following standard features:
Virgin Media's Tivo box
- Pause and rewind live TV
- Record at least three channels at once; stored on the box
- Access extra on demand content
It may not be the main difference between the two, but storage is the easiest place to start. The "basic" Sky Q box has 1TB - although only around 700GB of that is available for customer use.
That's enough for about 500 hours of SD content, or 150 hours of HD recordings. Virgin's Tivo box has 500GB, enough for about 250 hours of SD recordings.
Better set top boxes
Sky Q 2TB box
Both Virgin Media and Sky offer better set top boxes for an additional cost.
The obvious advantage with both is more space to store recorded TV shows: one Terabyte (TB) of storage is enough to store about 500 hours of content in standard definition, although Sky claim their 2TB box can store around 1,000 hours of SD programming.
Sky Q box
|VM: TV V6
|"Smart feature activation" costs £60 with a Multiscreen subscription, or £199 for just the one box
|Included with the Player bundle (£5/mth cost included in bundle price). Add a second box for £7.50/mth with £49.95 upfront cost.
|Included with the Mix bundle upwards (£5/mth cost included in bundle price). Add a second box for £7.50/mth with £49.95 upfront cost.
Tivo's main selling point is a clear and intuitive user interface, as well as the following:
- Record at least three channels at once
- Advanced search by title, actor etc
- Streaming doesn't share the broadband connection so won't slow down other internet use
The standard Tivo boxes have been around for a while now, and while they're still up there for intelligent viewing and the amount of content they can deal with at any one time, they were starting to look a little shabby compared with Sky Q.
Enter the new Tivo box, the Virgin TV V6, which is around 10 times faster than the old box, Ultra HD Compatible - and contains six tuners. As before, multiple boxes work together, making multiscreen subscriptions highly flexible.
There's more on Tivo in our guide here.
As mentioned above, Sky started offering their Sky Q boxes as standard with all their TV deals less than a year after they first revealed them to a curious public - and here's a quick rundown of their main features:
- Sky Q 1TB box has eight tuners: four for recording and viewing on main TV, two for streaming to tablet and/or Sky Q Mini box.
- Sky Q 2TB box has 12 tuners: five for recording and live viewing on main box, four for streaming via Sky Q app or Sky Q Mini boxes.
The 2TB box is Ultra HD compatible - but viewers will need a Sky Q Multiscreen subscription to access the Ultra HD content available.
There's more on multiscreen services from both providers in our guide here.
So, who did you choose? Sky or Virgin?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.