Virgin Media Tivo vs Sky HD: which is best for you?

High def Content

Sky is the UK's biggest provider of high-def entertainment. Now with over 50 HD channels covering everything from general entertainment and sport to documentaries and movies, it literally has something in 1080i for everyone. Indeed, the selection is so wide HD snobs will find it's quite possible to avoid the low resolution waters of standard def TV entirely. You are asked to pay a monthly surcharge for the privilege though.

Tivo hd

TIVO CHANNELS: Tivo has a good selection of HD channels plus extensive HD VOD

Virgin Media's Tivo service has fewer linear HD channels, although all the leading services are represented. But this is not a clear victory for Sky, as the Tivo platform also has access for wide selection of HD VOD, both through dedicated streams and the BBC iPlayer.

Sky channels

SKY CHANNELS: Sky has by far the largest number of linear HD channels, over 50 and growing

3D programming

For all its contextual wizardry, Virgin Media's platform is not big on 3D. There's some movie and documentary content hidden in its On Demand sections, but it's just me-too scheduling.

Sky, on the other hand, has plenty on offer. An early advocate of 3D technology, it boasts the only dedicated 3D channel in the UK. This is a mix of sport and entertainment, most of which is included in the satcaster's top HD subscription tier. There are also movie premieres presented on a PPV basis. Indeed, Sky offers more films in 3D than you are likely to see made available on 3D Blu-ray all year.

Sky 3d

SKY 3D: With a dedicated 3D channel, no other broadcaster comes close to Sky's 3D output

Non linear TV choice (VOD and Push content)

Sky's 1TB box actually has an additional 500GB reserved for its Push Anytime VOD service. This refreshes overnight and is used as a platform for big movie and TV premieres. If you are a Sky broadband subscriber, you'll get the Anytime Plus service, which offers an expanded viewing choice. This is Pull content delivered across your broadband line. It's all in standard definition.

Tivo catchup

TIVO CATCHUP: The TiVo interface makes catching up with Virgin's huge VOD library a snap

Virgin Media's Tivo, however, builds upon the fastest broadband infrastructure in the UK. This allows it to deliver an unprecedented amount of non linear content, be it in the form of Catch Up TV, music playlists, themed channels or back catalogue oddities.

SKY anytime

SKY ANYTIME: Sky offers Push VOD to all subscribers but only Sky Broadband customers get its Pull service

Wow factor

In truth, both services dazzle. Tivo offers a fresh take on TV that could fundamentally change the way you view; with so much content ready to stream there's often little need to record material to your local hard drive. The Tivo user interface is innovative and its Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down recommendation engine can be astonishingly appropriate. As the box grows to know your preferences, it auto-records any material it thinks you may like.

Tivo thumbs

TIVO RECOMMENDATIONS: Tivo's Thumbs Up & Down recommendation service is a unique attraction

Conversely, if content is king Sky still wears a jewel-encrusted crown. The satcaster impresses with the sheer amount of hi-def material it can offer, including exclusive attractions like the Awards-laden Sky Atlantic channel.

Sky atlantic

SKY ATLANTIC: Sky has a strong channel line up, with Sky Atlantic its latest jewel in the crown

Steve May
Home entertainment AV specialist

Steve has been writing about AV and home cinema since the dawn of time, or more accurately, since the glory days of VHS and Betamax. He has strong opinions on the latest TV technology, Hi-Fi and Blu-ray/media players, and likes nothing better than to crank up his ludicrously powerful home theatre system to binge-watch TV shows.