As it did several decades ago, TV still holds a major role in modern life. However, contemporary television usage has become dramatically different than it ever has been before. The two main reasons for this are the advent of streaming and technological improvements in devices. Streaming has changed what we watch – and new devices have changed how we watch.
While we still like to huddle together around the television at the end of the day, modern TV can be watched while commuting to work, at lunch in the office or pretty much anywhere else with Wi-Fi or wireless data (3G/4G) connections. Catch up on your favourite series whenever you like – or be sure not to miss the big game.
So you’ve got an internet-capable device and a good enough connection – who is the best choice? This guide looks at four of the biggest players in mobile television: TV Player, Sky TV, BT TV and Virgin Media. While all these providers have apps that allow you to watch TV on the go, there are also a number of differences – from cost to programming and plenty more. Read on to check out which provider is right for you!
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Who are these providers?
Although you may not have heard of each of these providers, there’s a fair chance you’ve heard of at least one. Sky and BT have been on the British television landscape for some time. Virgin’s move into the telecommunications industry is comparatively recent, although they’ve significantly supercharged their television options in recent years. Then there’s TV Player, who are by far the smallest of the four – but still have loads to offer.
There are two main differences between the providers: available devices and programming itself. BT TV and Sky – through the BT TV App and Sky Go respectively – don’t allow you to sign up just for a mobile deal. Instead, you’ll need to subscribe to a full package which includes your home TV and then download the app in addition. Similarly, Virgin’s two mobile apps – Virgin TV Go and Virgin TV Control – are only available as part of a subscription to Virgin TV. Conversely, TV Player is only for non-traditional devices. Sign up with TV player and you’ll get access on your smartphone, laptop, tablet or smart TV – there’s no complementary television component.
Then there’s the programming itself. TV Player has the fewest number of channels, with around 25 in addition to freeview (bringing it to around 80). BT TV – depending on the package – has between 85 and 130 channels. Virgin comes with between 150 and 230 channels, while Sky will get you upwards of 350 – making the latter the true big daddy when it comes to TV. Read below for more specifics.
Content and Cost Comparison
Loads of channels? Great. But is there anything to watch? Unfortunately, that’s a common refrain. While some providers might try and blow you out of the water with numbers of channels, it’s best to examine just what they have on offer and whether it appeals to you.
Then there’s the costs. Given the differences between the programming and technical aspects of these providers, it stands to reason that there will be some large differences in how much a subscription will set you back. For instance, TV Player’s entry-level Basic option is free – while all of Sky’s packages come with a fee. The comparisons are not always apples to apples either – given that all BT TV plans and most Virgin Media plans will require you to sign up for a bundle as well.
Of the four providers listed in this review, TV player has the fewest offerings – but they are by far the cheapest. The amount of channels available will depend on which plan you take. Basic – which is free – comes just with freeview, let you watch it across all of your devices. Premium gets you 70 channels (with around 15 premium channels), while Premium Plus will get you a total of 80 channels.
Basic has advertising, whereas Premium and Premium Plus do not. The additional channels include drama – both movies and TV series – as well as reality TV and documentaries. These channels include pay TV favourites such as Comedy Central, Universal, Fox HD, MTV, National Geographic and Discovery. Premium Plus has more to offer than Premium, making its monthly cost higher.
The first thing to point out is that BT TV cannot be taken without BT broadband. Therefore, the following prices are in addition to the costs of the broadband plan that you take. BT offers three major plans: Classic, Entertainment and Max 4K. Classic is the standard or entry-level BT plan, although it does include the major features that set BT apart from the rest. BT TV Classic includes BT Sport and BT’s exclusive AMC channel, giving you access to plenty of great American box set content. BT TV Classic has the cheapest monthly cost among the plans, in addition to an activation and delivery charge fee.
BT TV Entertainment gets you everything on the Classic package, along with 20 premium channels, including National Geographic, E!, Comedy Central, Universal and Gold. Considering you get more channels from this plan, it costs more than the Classic plan. BT TV Max 4K isn’t about more channels per se, but about better resolution and improved functionality. You need to shell out more for their Max 4K though, but you get the best viewing experience among the bunch.
The next level up is Virgin. All but one of Virgin’s deals must be taken concurrently with a broadband subscription – although Virgin does have the fastest broadband in the UK and their bundles are surprisingly cost effective. The Full House plan is the only one which is available without broadband, and gets you 230 channels – including BT Sport and a bunch of excellent Sky channels in HD. The Player bundle has 110 channels and broadband. You can go contract free, but taking a 12-month deal will give you more bang for your buck. This makes it the only one of the providers – other than TV Player – to offer a month-to-month deal, which is great if you don’t want to be bound by long contracts.
The Full House Sports bundle gets you more than 240 channels, including both Sky Sport and BT Sport. This bundle also includes weekend calls to select numbers. The V.VIP bundle has more than 280 channels plus super-fast broadband, free landline calls and a 4G Truly Unlimited SIM.
With the most comprehensive set of channels and the revolutionary Sky Q box, Sky is the market leader when it comes to TV in the UK. Unlike Virgin and BT, a bundle isn’t necessary – although by taking one on you can of course save some sweet cash. Aside from the comprehensive offerings, another advantage of Sky TV is the sheer flexibility of their offerings. Sky lets you pick and choose what you want – and what you don’t want – meaning that there’s effectively 15 or so different combinations.
Sky TV’s plans come with a set-up fee, and building your Sky package starts with the Entertainment plan. You can add Kids or BT Sport, or add them both. Each plan has their own corresponding cost and adds up to the monthly total.
Watch on the go!
If you’re someone who finds yourself on the go frequently – or if you’d simply like to use that time better by catching up on programmes and sporting events – it makes sense to subscribe to a TV provider with a mobile component. But while all of these providers have sophisticated mobile components, they do differ significantly. The main difference is the plan you need to take to have access, however there are other areas to mention like the number of devices you can connect, etc.
Unlike the above three, TV player is not a household subscription. It doesn’t change your main television programming – unless of course you have a smart TV – and there’s no potential to bundle in other telecommunications services like phone or internet. Put simply, it’s a way to put freeview and around 30 other premium channels on your various devices.
You can have up to five devices registered on your account at any time. If you take the Basic package, you can watch on only one device at once. The Premium package – which unlocks the additional channels – and the Premium Plus package let you watch on a maximum of two devices at once.
What about recording your favourite programmes? The Premium and Premium Plus packages let you record 10 hours of TV to the cloud. It’s not the biggest storage capacity – not by a long shot – but it will allow you to watch a few episodes of a TV show, a couple of movies or an entire day of Test cricket.
BT TV App
As with every other provider in this guide besides TV Player, to get access to the BT TV app you’ll need to have a full BT subscription. You can have up to four devices registered on your subscription at any time, while you can add a new device above the limit once every 30 days. You can watch on up to two devices at once.
Virgin TV Go and Virgin TV Control
Virgin Media has two different apps which give you great additional functionality – and the ability to watch your faves from the road. The Virgin TV Go app lets you watch on compatible devices either at home or on the go. Virgin TV control turns your phone into a global remote control, letting you set and manage your recordings from anywhere in the world.
Virgin TV Go can be used on two devices at once, or four devices at once for anyone on the Full House TV plan. There’s a four device max limit, although three devices can be changed per month. Access to the Virgin apps is only available with a full Virgin subscription.
Sky Go gets you access to your Sky subscription from your device pretty much wherever you are. As with BT TV and Virgin TV, Sky Go is only available with a Sky subscription. There are two different types of the app: Sky Go and Sky Go Extra. Sky Go is free. Sky Go Extra includes a monthly fee in addition to your sky subscription, letting you download programs to catch up on later and watch from your Xbox or PlayStation.
Both Sky Go apps let you watch from a max of six devices – and you can change these devices at any time during the month. There’s a max of one device at once with Sky Go, while you can watch two devices concurrently with Sky Go Extra. You can use Sky Go data free when you sign up with Sky Mobile.
Can I dip my toe in?
A great way to get an idea if a subscription is right for you is to dip your toe in the water with a free trial. TV Player lets you do a free month-long trial of their premium service, although this comes without Fox HD and Eurosport 1 & 2. As it currently stands, none of the others offer free trials – although they’re fond of an upgrade deal, so check out our updated list of plans and packages.
The Verdict: Which one is right for me?
With all of our guides, while we’ve gone to a considerable amount of effort in comparing every aspect of each provider, the ultimate correct decision will be based on you and what you need from your provider. Do you simply want to improve your freeview options when you’re on the go? Then TV Player is the best choice. Or are you looking for comprehensive entertainment options on several screens at once? Then Sky TV or Virgin Media are probably the best ones to go for.
Another key consideration is availability. While TV Player is available anywhere with Wi-Fi and or 3G/4G, some of the other providers haven’t got coverage that’s similarly comprehensive. As Sky, Virgin and BT will depend on your household subscription, your home’s location will be crucial. In total, 98 percent of British houses can access Sky through a satellite, while around 90 percent can be hooked up to BT broadband. Virgin – which provides its TV through its fibre-optic network, is only available in 50 percent of the country, although there’s a slow and gradual expansion. This means that the decision may already be made for you, dependent on where you live.