How does Sky Q compare to Virgin and BT?
HOW we watch television has changed dramatically in the past few years.
More of us are watching via on demand and via catch up, and many rely on streaming media providers for the majority of our entertainment viewing.
The big pay TV providers have been slow to catch on - or catch up - with broadband connections for the on demand content and HD provision being the biggest adaptations they've made.
Sky Q was a long time in the works. It promises the ability to record more channels simultaneously than any other set top box, and to stream to multiple devices and screens in multiple rooms.
But how does it compare with what else is available - both in terms of what it can do, and almost more importantly, how much it costs?
What is Sky Q?
Put simply, Sky Q is a new way of getting and watching Sky TV. The Sky Q boxes are able to stream to other devices, as well as containing more tuners and more storage than their predecessors.
There are two main boxes to choose from, with the option to add extra Mini boxes.
Sky Q 1TB customers get a box with eight tuners, capable of recording three different channels while a fourth is being watched, or recording four while we watch something recorded or on demand.
Viewers with the Sky Q 2TB box will find it has 12 tuners and is Ultra HD compatible. It can record four channels while showing a fifth, and has four tuners reserved for streaming to other boxes or tablets.
As mentioned, both 1TB and 2TB customers can make their Sky Q subscription a multiroom one by adding one or more Sky Q Mini boxes, which stream content directly from the main box in the house.
When Sky Q launched, it was only available with the Box Sets Bundle (the new name for the Family Bundle), and the hardware bundles were rather limited.
Within the space of a few months, however, it became a much more flexible proposition - and now the 1TB box comes with every Sky TV bundle as standard.
Customers can always swap that for the 2TB box if they want; whichever main box they choose, the monthly price is the same as it was for the same bundle with Sky+.
Going for the Multiscreen option, and getting a Sky Q Mini box with that main box will add £12 to the monthly bill.
The choice between the 1TB and 2TB box, and whether to go for the multiscreen option or not, will affect the setup fees - 1TB customers will pay £15, but those getting a 2TB box will pay either £60 or £199 depending on whether they want one or more boxes.
These are the base bundles and prices for Sky TV with a single Sky Q 1TB box:
Those going for Sky Q Multiscreen have the following options:
One of the good things about Sky Q becoming the default box for all new customers is that new customers no longer need to check if one of Sky's famous introductory deals is available with Sky Q, or just with Sky+.
There's almost always some kind of introductory TV deal available, alongside Sky's other offers:
But what if we're not sure whether we want Sky, or one of the other pay TV services? Let's look at how they compare.
Sky Q versus Virgin Media
One of the advantages Virgin Media have had over Sky in recent years has been their Tivo box, which they offer as standard with all their TV deals.
Indeed, when word first got out of what the Sky Q boxes might be like, they were described as being a bit like Tivo in their ability to record more than the usual couple of channels and stream to other boxes.
For the time being, Sky Q does seem to have the edge; the current Tivo box with its triple tuner may struggle to compete with a couple of boxes that can record up to five shows while showing something else - and streaming to other devices at the same time.
However, at the time of this update, Virgin have not long announced a new, improved Tivo box: the Virgin TV V6 box has six tuners and can be connected to other Tivo boxes for even more streaming and recording options.
Sky Q TV versus Virgin Media TV
Even Virgin's top TV package, Full House TV, has fewer channels than Sky's Original Bundle - but it comes with BT Sport included, and in HD. Sky customers need to pay at least £19 to get these channels added to their line-up, more if they want them in HD.
The old Tivo box from Virgin Media, included as standard with most of their TV packages, is showing its age rather these days, but it's still a very clever piece of kit.
Whether that makes up for the fact that Virgin's Full House TV costs more than Sky Q, despite the much smaller number of channels it comes with, depends on whether we're also interested in each providers' other services.
Sky bundles vs Virgin Media bundles
Because, let's face it, one of the most attractive things about Virgin Media is their superfast broadband (reviewed in full here); another is the provider's talent for offering a serious discount when customers sign up for more than one service from them.
Here's a selection of the offers Virgin Media are currently running:
So how does adding Virgin Media's broadband to their best standalone TV package compare with adding phone and broadband to Sky Q?
Virgin make a big deal of the value of their Big Bundles - which is why their Full House bundle, with their top tier TV and up to 200Mb broadband, costs just £10 more than the same TV and phone elements combined with their slowest broadband.
And while it may have fewer channels than either of the Sky Q bundles, it comes with monumentally faster broadband.
As ever, which provider is the better for us depends on which service is more important: TV or broadband.
Bearing that in mind, let's look at how much it costs with each provider to get broadband, plus the works in TV terms - all of their standard channels, plus Sky Sports, plus Sky Cinema:
Note the addition of Virgin Media's newest Big Bundle, the VIP package.
When it launched it appeared to be Virgin's direct response to what was then known as Sky Q Silver - which included the HD versions of Sky Cinema and Sky Sports, the Sky Q 2TB box and a Sky Q Mini box.
Virgin Media's VIP features the same premium channels, in HD, plus two of their Tivo V6 boxes for multiroom viewing.
Getting the new box usually comes with a one-off fee of £99.95; adding another Tivo box for a multiroom subscription usually costs an extra £7.50 a month - and there's no separate charge for adding the HD pack to Sky Sports, which there is once more with Sky.
Sky Q versus BT TV
For a while during 2015 and 2016, Sky may have offered the most HD channels it's possible to get in the UK, but they were beaten when it came to Ultra HD.
In August 2015, BT launched two new sports channels, BT Sport Europe and BT Sport Ultra HD, and promptly became the only 4K HD provider in the UK. Because it's the jewel in BT TV's crown, it's only available to people subscribing to their top TV deal, Total Entertainment.
That gives us a good starting point to compare the two services:
Sky, however, planned ahead: their Sky Q 2TB boxes are Ultra HD compatible, ready for the August 2016 launch of their own UHD service.
Sky Q Multiscreen customers with the 2TB box can watch various events live on Sky Sports, including 124 Premier League football games - and at least 70 movies, 30 hours of documentaries and various other entertainment content in Ultra HD on demand - for no extra cost.
TV plus broadband
What might strike many people looking at the table above is the vast difference in price - especially considering that this is BT's premium TV package we're looking at.
As with Sky Q Multiscreen, giving the price for BT's TV on its own is a little misleading, because both require customers to take broadband as well.
In the case of BT Total Entertainment, it's only available to BT Infinity customers who have a connection technically capable of at least 44Mb.
In April 2016, BT announced that all new Infinity 1 connections would offer speeds of up to 52Mb, up from up to 38Mb - which should give a boost to Total Entertainment as more customers should find their line is capable of the minimum speed required.
As this is a fairly new development, however, it's possible that some existing Infinity 1 connections will take a while to benefit from the boost. In this case, would-be subscribers won't have to sign up to the faster Infinity 2 - but they will need to be in an area where it's available.
Here's how Total Entertainment with BT Infinity compares with Sky Q with both ADSL and with 38Mb fibre:
There's very little difference in price between the minimum we need to pay to get BT's Ultra HD channel and the minimum cost of getting Sky Q with broadband.
But again, the differences are about more than the price: with BT we get fibre broadband instead of ADSL, but they can only offer half the HD services, and far fewer SD channels than Sky.
Still, BT frequently have offers or discounts on their broadband and / or TV deals - and that now includes the odd deal on Total Entertainment.
As for BT's best Youview box: as expected it's Ultra HD compatible. It also features 1TB of storage for our recordings and content - and Netflix is now supported, giving subscribers access to more Ultra HD content if they have the right subscription.
But it is basically Freeview, so it can't stream to any other devices - or for those with BT Extra Box, to another BT Youview box.
It really can't begin to compete with Sky Q on anything but the quality of the picture it's possible to receive - but for the price (free with an £18 a month TV deal), we shouldn't expect it to.
Is Sky Q worth it?
Sky Q is trailblazing - and as we could have expected, getting the most out of it comes at a price.
But while it can seem expensive, some of the packages and bundles available aren't all that costly compared to similar deals from Sky's rivals - particularly for those who want as much from their home entertainment deal as possible.
We'd be interested to hear from early adopters to see if it's living up to expectations - let us know via the comments section below.