August 30, 2008

Comparison of Virgin and Sky+ HD

Carol S has been a regular both here and on the cable forums for some time. Frustrated with Virgin Media's lack of high definition channels she's recently made the switch to Sky. I asked her to write something on this blog about her first impressions and I'm delighted to say she's been quick to respond. With so many considering turning to the 'dark' side over HD, I hope you find it informative. Over to you, Carol...

I left Virgin a couple of days ago and Nialli asked me to post a guest message on his blog about how I felt about the change.
First of all, I managed to get one of the Sky offers, so I got the Sky HD box for £75 and the installation was £30. The installer rang me around 9 am to say that he would be there around 11:30 to noon - and he arrived at noon. A very pleasant guy who had the whole thing installed in around 1½ hours and then spent the next 30 mins updating the software and showing me all the ropes.
The quality and choice of the Sky HD is absolutely top rate - especially for their two premium mixes (Sports and Movies). Just by chance one of my favourite movies was on one of the HD movie channels last night (The River - starring Meryl Streep) and it just brought the whole thing to life with the vividness, sharpness and 5.1 surround sound. Absolutely stunning scenery in HD. The same with the sport - watching some football in HD was simply awesome - and it appears better than the footie on BBC HD (and I thought that was good).
One of the downsides is that I don't think that the Sky EPG is quite as good as Virgin's - but this is due to be updated September/October time. One of the things I don't like is that if you bring up Sky menu, you lose the program you are watching until you switch back to the program (but apparently this is one of the things being fixed in the forthcoming update).
Another downside is that ITV is not as sharp as with Virgin's rendition of it - so I will miss that with Corrie and The Bill. Other channels (eg Channel 5) appear sharper. However, many of programs that I would have watched in SD on Virgin (Discovery, National Geographic, History) are now available in HD plus there is Sky 1 HD. Come October, most of the rest of the movie channels will be switching to HD too (Action, SciFi etc) so I guess I'll just become an HD junkie.
The final downside is the size of the hard drive inside the Sky+HD box, which is only 160MB - and part of this is reserved for Sky Anytime. As it is my box, I might go down the route of installing one of Samsung's SpinPoint 1TB drives - but there are also rumours of Sky opening up the e-SATA port on their box - which would make attaching an external e-SATA caddy + drive a piece of cake.
By switching my TV to Sky (I decided in the end to stick with Virgin for telephone and BB), it also had the effect of reducing what I was paying for my VIP package (£86 per month). I am now paying £42 per month for the Variety Mix (gives me all the entertainment channels such as Bravo, Living, Virgin 1, etc), Knowledge (for all the SD documentaries) and the 2 Premium mixes (Full Sports Mix and the Premium Movie mixes). Of course I have to add in the £10 per month for the HD mix (all 17 channels at the moment, increasing to around 27 or 28 channels in October) making a total payment of £54 per month (increasing to £56 per month in September).
I reduced my Virgin package to 10meg BB and phone (free weekend calls) and with e-billing this comes down to £22.50 per month making a total outlay of £78.50 (from September) and thus saving me £7.50 per month.
In conclusion, the switch has worked out well for me as I am not only saving money, I am getting a massive increase in the amount of HD programming that I will be able to watch. I guess it depends on the type of programming that you watch if you would benefit from a switch to Sky - if you mainly watch the ITV channels, the BBC channels and are happy with the movies on these channels, then you might not benefit so much - but anybody who is into films, documetaries and sport would be in 7th Heaven by switching.


Anonymous said...

how easy is it to get out of contract.

demented said...

Thanks for your thoughts. The thing you don't mention is some of the sky channels like Sky Sports 3, Premiere, FX, Sky1 (something like that) use the newer codecs/and or have lower bitrates than other channels so take up less space on your hard disc than they used to. This is something sky have done very well at. 160Gb non anytime part is too small but at least you're allowed to upgrade unlike virgin. I dislike the sky EPG and poor mini menu too but both of these things are set to change.

On 20th October there will be 24 HD channels (I never count Box Office as proper channels) and so if you have premium channels it's great value. I just wish I used vod less as it'd be an easier decision then.

Carol Steele said...

First of all I'd like to thank Nialli for asking me to contribute my thoughts on his blog.

Anonymous: I waited until my 12 month contract was up before I switched. You cannot easily get out of the contract (you would have to have something go disastrously wrong and it to be Virgin's fault and something they could not rectify). They have their contracts pretty water tight.

Demented: In the early days I too was pretty much into VOD - but it became difficult to watch series rather than one off programs due to the haphazard nature in which they were put up - do you wait 3 months before the missing episodes, 3, 5 - 7, 11 and 15 are finally made available - and if you do, can you watch the series before they pull it?? In the end, I just got so frustrated with their infantile way of doing it, I just gave up on them. I also found it frsutrating that there was no announcements that such and such a series would be shown on say VOD HD in say 8 months time - so you watched the SD series and then wished you'd waited.

I must admit I haven't watched much SD programming since I switched - there is just so much to watch on the linear HD channels (the documentaries are stunning - many are even better than the documentaries that they put out on BBC HD)

Anonymous said...

Counting phone and broadband, V+ with BBC HD and (very limited) VOD HD is much cheaper than the cheapest Sky HD as far as I can tell (I'm getting £25 for phone, slow (but unlimited) broadband and medium channels including all TV choice on demand and V+). The virgin HD content is very limited right now but with my very cheap per month subscirption I can afford to buy a filmflex HD rental each week or lovefilm with lots of blurays and still save money compared to Sky HD. £10 for any HD (even if you're not subscribing to any channels!) seems like a ripoff when you don't get all the premium channels already.

Fair enough if you want more HD sports (I'm not too fussed) but the movies I want can be had as PPV on virgin for less than the movie channel subscription, and I've not even watched all the VOD HD documentaries yet. I miss Sky 1 though, especially with the new TV season starting soon.

I'll have a look again next year when the contract's run out though. Either Sky will have reduced the "HD mix" price or Virgin will actually have more channels and/or VOD content.

Carol Steele said...

The Movies Premium mix costs an extra £18 per month over the cost of 1 basic mix like the Variety mix. This works out at 1 FilmFlex viewing per week (average cost for an HD film is £4.50 on Virgin). Love Film is probably the cheapest option at £13 per month for 2 DVD's at a time with no restrictions - but you have the hassle of sending them back and then waiting for your next choice to arrive.

I was paying £86 per month for VIP (going up to £87 tomorrow). You must be on a very special retentions deal to get all you are getting for £25 per month - this will run out after a year and your costs will rocket after that.

demented said...

The Lovefilm and Sky Movies is an interesting toss up. If you already have a blu-ray player, have a speedy postal service and aren't bothered about sports, Lovefilm comes out well. This is because although Sky will be adding another 6 movie channels one of the reasons for this is prints in high def exist of these films and on blu-ray there are a lot of scheduled releases for Sept/Oct and beyond. I have a mate who has SkyHD and watches little other than FX and SkyOneHD (which he watches a lot). It's always a toss up in his case whether it's worth forking out the extra money for movies.

I have radically different viewing habits. I'd be watching a fair bit of sports, the movies, eurosportHD occasionally and History, Nat Geo and 4HD.

Anonymous said...

Pretty tempting indeed.

dazza124 said...

does anyone think its likely we will get MTVHD at the end of the year.

Nialli said...

I don't think we'll see any new linear HD channels this year. The eternal optimist in me hopes for C4 and ITV in HD this year, but it would be something of a surprise.

lillian said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.