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: 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

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

Conclusion

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.

TiVO

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

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

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