Sky vs Virgin. Virgin vs Sky. Like dogs vs cats or rice vs noodles, it’s a rivalry that’s been playing out for millennia.
We’ve tested both and are now ready to give you our verdict.
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.
Right now you can record five programmes while watching a sixth, but a forthcoming update will increase those figures to six and seven respectively.
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 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 six channels while watching another. And if you have another box then you’ll get another six tuners (or three if you’re using an older TiVo box for your second room).
In short, both boxes are impressive on this front, albeit tinged with more than a whiff of overkill. After all, can you really picture a situation in which you’ll need all those tuners?
Still, if recording lots of things at once is a big deal for you, Virgin is the slightly better option right now.
Winner: Virgin TV V6
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 the next morning.
In practice it works well - we’ve not experienced any glitches in our months using it, and the fact that the Mini boxes can be connected via Wi-Fi means it’s easy to place them anywhere in the house.
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. Shame.
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. The fact that the boxes need to be connected via Ethernet also restricts your ability to move them around the house.
On the plus side, using two full-fledged boxes does give you those extra tuners and recording space and as with Sky Q, you can also watch on your smartphone and tablet. You can even add more boxes if you choose to, giving you yet more storage space and tuners.
Overall this one’s pretty even. Both approaches have their good and bad points, so we’re calling it a draw.
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: 4K and HDR
Sky is comfortably the best current source of 4K content in the UK.
Anyone subscribing to the Sport and Cinema channels in HD also gets the 4K version at no extra cost, giving you the likes of The Martian, Spectre and, er, Arsenal vs Hull City in all their ultra-high-def glory.
You also get plenty of TV shows - among them Fortitude and Ross Kemp Extreme World (come on, you love it). Plus, you can buy around 30 more films via the Sky Store.
Virgin isn’t so well stocked. In fact it’s more like a branch of Currys after a city-wide riot.
While you can subscribe to Sky Sports and Cinema through Virgin, and to BT Sport too, you won’t get access to the UHD versions. There’s no on-demand 4K content available on Virgin’s platform either, not even among the paid-for movies, and when asked about it Virgin would only say it will “continue to increase our 4K offering as the demand from our customers grows”.
What you do get via the V6 is access to Netflix, which is not something Sky offers. Netflix has loads of UHD content, and given that its own Originals are among the best shows currently being made in the world, that’s a big deal; we’ll take Santa Clarita Diet or House Of Cards over Ross Kemp Extreme World any day. However, most 4K TVs will already include a built-in Netflix app, or you can stream it from your phone to a Chromecast Ultra, so this isn’t in itself a reason to buy the V6.
Despite what you might have read elsewhere, both boxes are also physically capable of outputting HDR. However both are awaiting updates to make this a reality, with Virgin saying it’s coming soon, and Sky that it’s working on it.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: TV and on-demand
Sky also leads the way outside of the 4K arena, with its Sky Atlantic channel offering a wealth of great TV including Game Of Thrones, Billions and the forthcoming Twin Peaks reboot. On-demand is similarly impressive. Sky Box-sets has hundreds of hours’ worth of excellent TV - everything from current faves such as The Walking Dead to classics such as The West Wing.
In fact for content there’s really no competition. Virgin has a few decent box-sets of its own, but nowhere near as many as Sky. You can’t get Sky Atlantic on Virgin either, and it just doesn’t have any big exclusive shows.
The one advantage Virgin does have is that the V6 streams its on-demand and catch-up content, whereas Sky forces you to download it first. You can usually start watching soon after the download starts on Sky, but it’s not instant. That said, we’d still take Sky’s abundance of good content to Virgin’s better delivery system any day.
Winner: Sky Q
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Design and remote control
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. However we have found it to be a little over-sensitive in use. It also features an alarm to make it easier to find when lost, plus a microphone which, while not currently activated, will be used to enable voice search at some point in the future.
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.
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
Any price comparison between these two is confused slightly by the fact that on Virgin you have to take out a broadband and phone package alongside the TV one, whereas on Sky you’re free to pick and choose. To make the comparison fair we’ve included Sky’s closest equivalent broadband package in our reckoning.
Sky’s cheapest Sky Q plus broadband package gives you the 1TB box plus 270+ channels and a 20Mbps fibre broadband line. That’ll set you back £41/month, with a one-off cost of £55.
Going up to the top TV package - the one which includes all the on-demand box-sets - pushes the price up to £57/month. Sky Cinema’s another £18, Sky Sports another £27.50, and going multi-room sets you back at least £12/month. The costs can quickly mount up.
So what if you want the lot? Well, the most expensive Sky Q package gives you the 2TB box, the full TV offering, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports in HD, a Sky Q Mini box for multi-room viewing and the fastest fibre broadband package. And that little bundle comes in at £120 a month, plus a £90 installation fee. Whew!
So how’s Virgin compare? Well its cheapest package gives you one 1TB V6 box, faster broadband (100Mbps) and 190+ channels, plus on-demand box-sets, and comes in at a slightly-more-expensive-than-Sky £49/month with a £115 activation/installation fee.
Again, you can pay extra for Sky Sports and Cinema, and add an extra box for multi-room viewing. Do so and you’ll be looking at £123/month after the first-year discount expires, plus a one-off cost of £165.
All told, the prices are pretty similar. Virgin’s deals are slightly more expensive but all come with theoretically much faster broadband than Sky’s. But on the other hand Sky does give you more content for your money.
Sky Q vs Virgin TV V6: Verdict
Hardware-wise these two boxes are evenly matched. Sky wins in some areas, Virgin in others, but neither will disappoint you.
But that’s where any pretence of an even fight ends. Sky just has far more top-quality content to watch, whether the exclusive TV shows of Sky Atlantic, the UHD versions of its Sports and Cinema channels or its plethora of excellent box-sets. So while Virgin has the basics covered, it’s Sky that will really take you to televisual paradise.
Winner: Sky Q
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