Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: which is best for you?

4th Apr 2011 | 12:30

Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: which is best for you?

The UK's two biggest Pay TV providers go head to head

Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: Ease of use

The battle between the UK's biggest Pay TV operators is heating up. Satellite broadcaster Sky, long time ruler of the subscription TV world, is now having to contend with the return of old nemesis Tivo, courtesy of rival Virgin Media. With it's smart recording functionality, jazzy interface and blended linear and VOD (Video on Demand) programming, Tivo is getting clued-up telly addicts in a lather.

But how do the two TV titans actually compare?

We've pitched Sky's top-end 1TB receiver against the Virgin Media Powered by Tivo (official moniker) box, rating each on a scale of 1 to 10 for Ease of Use, User Interface, Hi-def Content, 3D programming, Non linear TV Choice, Wow Factor and Price.

Ease of Use

With its clean EPG and self explanatory genre tabs, Sky+ HD is a model of simplicity to use. However finding particular programmes if you don't know what day or channel they're on is almost impossible. The Search functionality of the platform is very limited.

TV guide

TIVO GUIDE: Tivo enables you to plan recordings from both the main TV listing Guide and via recommendations made by the service itself

The Tivo interface takes a little more time to master, but includes a variety of powerful search tools. Metadata helps link creators with stars and genres and the platform itself will make suggestions about related content that may be of interest. A search for a particular programme will quickly bring up available episodes on VOD and upcoming broadcasts. It will even link you into relevant YouTube content.

Sky hd

SKY GUIDE: When recording from Sky's TV Guide you'll be prompted to add a Series Link to catch all episodes

User interface

The Sky+ HD interface is sharp but conventional. Ease of use is its key merit. The brand's Push VOD service, Anytime, hides behind the red button on the remote, with the all important recordings Planner assigned to green. Recent minor tweaks have located Sky's HD channels nearer the top of the EPG guide.


TIVO HOME: The Tivo user interface takes viewers on an adventure through the TV choice available

Tivo's interface is something else entirely. The smart looking TV listing goes backwards seven days as well as forwards, and provides an entirely new way to access catch Up TV services. Outside the guide, you can navigate in multiple directions, thanks to interlinking metadata. Pictured TV shows across the top of the screen provide one jumping on point; you can also dig into cast members or genres.

Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: Content

High def Content

Sky is the UK's biggest provider of high-def entertainment. Now with over 50 HD channels covering everything from general entertainment and sport to documentaries and movies, it literally has something in 1080i for everyone. Indeed, the selection is so wide HD snobs will find it's quite possible to avoid the low resolution waters of standard def TV entirely. You are asked to pay a monthly surcharge for the privilege though.

Tivo hd

TIVO CHANNELS:Tivo has a good selection of HD channels plus extensive HD VOD

Virgin Media's Tivo service has fewer linear HD channels, although all the leading services are represented. But this is not a clear victory for Sky, as the Tivo platform also has access for wide selection of HD VOD, both through dedicated streams and the BBC iPlayer.

Sky channels

SKY CHANNELS: Sky has by far the largest number of linear HD channels, over 50 and growing

3D programming

For all its contextual wizardry, Virgin Media's platform is not big on 3D. There's some movie and documentary content hidden in its On Demand sections, but it's just me-too scheduling.

Sky, on the other hand, has plenty on offer. An early advocate of 3D technology, it boasts the only dedicated 3D channel in the UK. This is a mix of sport and entertainment, most of which is included in the satcaster's top HD subscription tier. There are also movie premieres presented on a PPV basis. Indeed, Sky offers more films in 3D than you are likely to see made available on 3D Blu-ray all year.

Sky 3d

SKY 3D:With a dedicated 3D channel, no other broadcaster comes close to Sky's 3D output

Non linear TV choice (VOD and Push content)

Sky's 1TB box actually has an additional 500GB reserved for its Push Anytime VOD service. This refreshes overnight and is used as a platform for big movie and TV premieres. If you are a Sky broadband subscriber, you'll get the Anytime Plus service, which offers an expanded viewing choice. This is Pull content delivered across your broadband line. It's all in standard definition.

Tivo catchup

TIVO CATCHUP: The TiVo interface makes catching up with Virgin's huge VOD library a snap

Virgin Media's Tivo, however, builds upon the fastest broadband infrastructure in the UK. This allows it to deliver an unprecedented amount of non linear content, be it in the form of Catch Up TV, music playlists, themed channels or back catalogue oddities.

SKY anytime

SKY ANYTIME: Sky offers Push VOD to all subscribers but only Sky Broadband customers get its Pull service

Wow factor

In truth, both services dazzle. Tivo offers a fresh take on TV that could fundamentally change the way you view; with so much content ready to stream there's often little need to record material to your local hard drive. The Tivo user interface is innovative and its Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down recommendation engine can be astonishingly appropriate. As the box grows to know your preferences, it auto-records any material it thinks you may like.

Tivo thumbs

TIVO RECOMMENDATIONS:Tivo's Thumbs Up & Down recommendation service is a unique attraction

Conversely, if content is king Sky still wears a jewel-encrusted crown. The satcaster impresses with the sheer amount of hi-def material it can offer, including exclusive attractions like the Awards-laden Sky Atlantic channel.

Sky atlantic

SKY ATLANTIC:Sky has a strong channel line up, with Sky Atlantic its latest jewel in the crown

Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: Price and conclusion

Price and packages

Wrapped in convoluted TV, phone and broadband deals comparing the actual cost of these two services can seem as challenging as counting fish in a pond. Unsurprisingly, they come out pretty evenly matched. The Sky 1TB receiver itself costs £249; a full channel package including all HD services is £62 a month. This also includes up to 20MB broadband.

Sky box office

SKY BOX OFFICE: Special events and early first run movies are an additional purchase for Sky subscribers

The Virgin Media Tivo set top box is priced at £199. Virgin Media's XL TV package with up to 10MB broadband is £45 – but this doesn't include Sky Sport or Sky Movies. That's an additional £29.50 pm.

In both instances there are additional setup costs which can be waived during promotional runs. Look for offers.

Tivo ppv

TIVO PPV: Virgin Media Tivo subscribers can pay for Sky's film conteSnt on a per-movie basis rather than by entire channel

Free Alternatives

Of course you don't need to jump onboard with the Pay TV goliaths. You could opt for a Freeview HD or Freesat solution. The latter hooks up to a regular Sky dish (take advantage of the idle feed if you churn away from Sky) and offers BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV One HD CH4, and soon, NHK World HD.

Catch up TV is provided by BBC iPlayer with itvPlayer due soon. Want something clever? Consider the new Freesat £350 Echostar PVR which incorporates a Sling Player. This allows you to watch Freesat TV and recordings on other phones and computers running iOS, Android, Windows, Mac or indeed any browser with Flash.


ECHOSTAR:Echostar's Sling-powered HDS-600RS Freesat PVR provides an attractive alternative to the Pay TV services

Over the air Freeview HD is now the ubiquitous HD choice in all TVs, and offers hi-def channels from the BBC, ITV and C4. For something different, consider Samsung's £250 BD-D6000 which combines a Freeview HD tuner with Blu-ray playback and external HDD recording. It also includes Smart Hub net connected functionality for Catch-up TV.


SAMSUNG BD-D6900:Samsung's BD-D6900 combines a Freeview HD tuner with Blu-ray player and IPTV services


While both Freesat and Freeview HD have plenty to offer, they can't compete directly with the powerful Pay TV propositions of Sky and Virgin Media. Of the two, Sky is our first choice when it comes to hi-def and 3D.

However, the satcaster has some serious catching up to do when it comes to Catch Up TV and VOD services, and its content Search options remain rooted in the past. Sky broadband users can take advantage of Sky Anytime+, but this is not an all-embracing solution.

Sky hd

SKY+HD: The Sky+HD 1TB receiver is the ultimate hi-def telly addict companion

When it comes to streaming video and Catch Up TV, Virgin Media's Tivo sets the new gold standard. Powered by the cablenet's high speed fibre optic broadband, it offers an unbeatable VOD catalogue ingeniously interweaved with regular programming. Its unique recommendation engine is also enormously compelling.

In the end, each proposal has clear, definable strengths. Ultimately, your choice may be decided by other factors such as location and availability. The good news is that whatever way you jump, both services guarantee you'll always have something great to watch.


VIRGIN TIVO: With its extensive VOD choice and unique recommendation engine TiVo is a taste of the future of TV


Liked this? Then check out Best TV 2011: how to choose the best TV to buy

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