With Virgin pulling the wrappers off its latest flagship TV box, the V6, we now know the shape of the broadcaster’s next-gen service – so how does it compare to the UK’s other premium telly package, Sky Q?
While we haven’t yet had the chance to give Virgin TV’s new setup a full review (look out for that in the not-too-distant future), we can compare the specifications and features right off the bat. Read on to find out how the two telly-boxes stack up against each other, and which we feel might be the better choice in each category.
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Recording
Sky Q’s highest-spec set-top box comes with a generous 2TB of storage, sufficient for about 350 hours of HD recordings or over 1000 hours of standard definition content. The box’s array of tuners also lets you record five programmes simultaneously while watching a sixth.
The Virgin V6 has “only” 1TB of space (enough for 500 hours of SD recordings or 100 hours of HD recordings), but each additional box you buy for the other rooms of your house adds another 1TB to your overall pool of storage, and anything you record can be watched on any of the boxes around your home.
The V6 also goes full kitchen sink on the tuners front, allowing users to record a staggering six channels at once while watching a previously recorded programme – which is impressive, albeit tinged with more than a whiff of overkill. After all, can you really picture a situation in which you need to recording six things at once? Besides, Sky has said it's going to match this number with a firmware update that's going to roll out early next year.
All told, then, we're going to call this round a draw.
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Multi room viewing
One of Sky Q’s big selling points is its Fluid Viewing feature, whereby a programme you’re watching can be made to “follow” you around your house: start watching an episode of Westworld in the living room, go to bed and pick up where you left off on another TV connected to a Wi-Fi-equipped Mini box (of which you can have up to four), then finish off on your phone’s screen as you’re perched on the porcelain throne the next morning.
Virgin’s V6 also supports multi-room viewing, and in a similar seamless fashion to Fluid Viewing (although Virgin has not seen fit to give it a similarly sexy name). Sadly there’s no equivalent of the Mini box here – you’ll have to use another Virgin TiVo or V6 box, and that could end up costing you quite a bit of extra wedge. However, Virgin generously includes a 14in Android-based TellyTablet with every V6 box, giving you a portable way of watching in another room. You can also, as with Sky Q, watch on your own regular smartphones and tablets.
For us, though, the fact that you get two boxes from the off with Sky Q is a big deal that's not matched by Virgin's dedicated tablet.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Streaming extras
Sky Q’s UI features an Online Portal section that lets you access couch-friendly YouTube and Vevo apps, but that’s about your lot on the streaming front.
Virgin is a little better, with Netflix support (you’ll need to be a subscriber, natch) as well as Vevo, YouTube, Curzon Home Cinema and Hayu.
Both offer access to catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer.
These additional streaming services probably aren't what you're buying Virgin or Sky for, as you've probably already got access to them via your TV or games console, but if they are, Virgin has the upper hand.
Winner: Virgin V6
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: 4K and HDR
The V6 is Virgin Media’s first Ultra HD-capable box, but right off the bat it’ll have 4K content only via Netflix and YouTube streaming – with “more programming coming soon”. There’s no BT Sport 4K football, rugby or motor racing here, or any of Sky Q’s roster of sporting or movie 4K loveliness
The V6 has one advantage over Sky Q though: it supports HDR at launch (albeit just for the aforementioned streaming video services, not for broadcast or Virgin’s own on-demand stuff). Sky hasn't confirmed that it'll add HDR capabilities to the current Q box at all - probably because no broadcast standards have been set for HDR yet.
Still, Sky’s greater supply of 4K material – including all-important live football – gives it a definite edge over the Virgin box here, because if you own a 4K telly you probably already have access to Netflix and YouTube via its on-board smart TV.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Design and remote control
The V6 is not, it has to be said, an attractive set-top box. It’s squat and plain, and won’t be winning any awards for its styling. On the plus side, it’s nicely compact and lightweight: 230 x 153 x 55mm in size, and 1.03kg in weight.
The new box’s remote has been slightly redesigned, making it smaller than Virgin’s previous clicker, adding RF support (so that it’ll work even if the box itself is tucked away out of sight) and a new button to take you straight to search. It also features an alarm that can be triggered from the box, helping you to locate it if you lose it.
The sleek, futuristic Sky Q box is far easier on the eyes than the V6. With dimensions of 330 x 210 x 43mm, it’s thinner than the V6 but with a larger footprint. It weighs a little more at 1.47kg.
Sky Q’s remote is a step up from basic clickers thanks to its large trackpad, which lets you swipe through UI menus with ease. It also features an alarm to make it easier to find when lost. It also features a microphone which, while not currently activated, will be used to enable voice search at some point in the future.
There's not a huge amount in this round, but the fact that Sky seems to have put in at least a little effort into lifting its box and remote above the boring norm gives it the win.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Price
Sky Q is generally believed to be the most expensive way to watch telly in the UK, so you might be surprised to learn that you can actually subscribe to the service for just £20 per month with a £15 setup charge.
Admittedly that's the basic package, and doesn't give you 4K, multi-room or access to Sky's sport or movie offerings, but it's there for those who want it. Adding those options (and a 2TB version of the box) takes you straight up to £50 a month with a £60 installation fee.
That sounds steep, but Virgin’s V6 box actually costs a rather hefty £99.95, or £49.95 if you're an existing Virgin VIP or top-tier Full House customer looking to upgrade. Virgin’s cheapest subscription is pricier, too, at £24 a month with a £14.99 setup charge – and if you add Sky Sports and Sky Cinema it’s an extra £39.25 a month, and neither of those feature the 4K content they do on Sky Q.
All of which means - and this is a bit of a surprise - that Sky is actually the cheaper option overall, whether you're after a basic package or the moon on a stick option.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Verdict
While the V6 box is clearly a step in the right direction for Virgin’s TV service, there’s nothing about its design or spec that indicates it’s going to knock Sky Q off its perch as the best specced, best designed and best equipped (in content terms) TV package in the country.
Of course, Virgin TV V6 might surprise us when it comes in for testing, so although this fight looks rather one-sided in Sky's favour on paper, we're going to hold-off on declaring our overall winner.