Sky vs Virgin Media vs BT Vision - which is the best for football?

With the football season upon us, it’s time to make sure you’re all set up to watch it, but with the Sky Sports channels everywhere these days, it’s not easy to work out who’s got what and the best way of doing things.

As always, we consider it our job on Pocket-lint to sift through the nonsense, separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats and bring you just the facts on how to watch your team fire their way to glory from the comfort of your own telly box. So here are the cheapest ways of maximising your football needs with each of the UK TV platforms. The decision, now, is up to you.

Sky

Price
£55/month

All football
Yes

HD
Yes

Total channels
270 approx

Extras
3D


Sky is always going to be the first port of call for football fans everywhere. The company owns the channels and most of the rights, and you know that you won’t miss a minute of any televised leather ball and pitch action if you opt for its satellite platform. The cons are that it’s the most expensive monthly subscription and you will have to have a dish glued to the side of your house. That said, the pros are considerable.

Sky will chuck in a PVR in the shape of the Sky+HD box, which will be equipped to receive 3D signals when the Sky 3D channel launches shortly. It will be the only system that’ll let you watch football in 3D - provided you have a 3D Ready TV - and you’ll get more channels for your outlay than all the others too. All your football stations will be in HD and you’ll also receive Sky Sports News once its repackaged into Sky Sports 5 and removed from Freeview.

Virgin Media

Price
£52/month

All football
Yes

HD
All but Sky Sports 3 & 4

Total channels
100 approx

Extras
All Sky Movies channels + Catch up TV


If you’d rather pay 3 quid less per month with Virgin Media, you’ll still be getting all the football that’s screened legally in the UK. You won’t get Sky Sports 3 or 4 in HD, but there’s still Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2 and ESPN all to enjoy in hi-def. There’s is Sky Sports News but not in HD so, seeing as they don’t show live games, that’s not really a problem.

You won’t get as many channels for you money as with Sky, but Virgin Media do end up throwing in all the Sky Movie channels on the company’s books, which amounts to around 15 of them. There’s plenty of HD content to enjoy beyond sport, and also Catch up TV straight to your set with on-demand streams from 4oD, iPlayer and ITV Player all featured. What you do miss out on with this package though is any form of PVR. For that you’ll need the V+HD box, which means and added outlay of £49 plus an extra £5 per month on top.

BT Vision

Price
£39.47/month

All football
no Sky Sports 3 or 4

HD
No

Total channels
75 approx

Extras
Telephone line rental + 20Mb broadband


BT Vision is the only one of the three to come in significantly cheaper, but there’s two very large reasons for that. The first is that you miss out on Sky Sports 3 and Sky Sports 4 and the second is that you’ll get nothing in HD apart from a few on-demand movies. There is no Freeview HD with BT Vision. Before you go thinking that losing Sky Sports 3 and 4 is no biggie either, take a look at the football schedule.

On the plus side - and it’s a considerable plus side - that £39.47 also pays for your phone line with unlimited free weekend calls, it pays for up to 20Mb internet access and for a free wireless router as well. Start adding that lot onto Sky and Virgin Media and you’re inching towards the £70/ month mark.

 

Alternatives

Foreign Satellite

Price
£1490/year

All football
Yes, including Saturday 3pm kick offs

HD
No

Extras
None


A lot of people will refer to this as illegal satellite, but currently the situation seems to be okay. You can subscribe - at some expense - to foreign satellite services, such as Sky Italia or those from Germany or Bulgaria, and get all the football games including the Saturday afternoon kick offs, which traditionally have been unavailable in the UK.

The jury is out at the moment as the EU courts decide whether or not it’s okay for this practice to continue but, certainly for the while, it is fine to receive these signals over here so long as you’re subscribing to a service coming from the EU. Arabic satellite, for example, is not okay.

There are plenty of companies out there offering the installations, which are generally meant for pubs and clubs but, so long as you can stomach the fee as well as the 80-inch dish on your house, then there’s no reason you can’t have it in your own front room. There have been cases of representatives from UK-based television companies scaring publicans by saying that the practice is against the law, but for the moment it is not.

Internet Streaming

Price
free

All football
Largely speaking

HD
Not usually

Total Channels
None

Extras
None


Of course, the final option is to tune in online and pump what you get through cables or over the airwaves onto your TV. Should it be a game on one of the UK channel’s internet players, then it’ll look fine, but you won’t get so many of these fixtures available - certainly not in the domestic leagues.

Your main option is going to be viewing foreign streams, which you can find with services from websites like MyP2P, which have pretty much all the football (and sport) worldwide you can think of. For each game it will give you a list of channels it’s available on, with a number of links for each. It also tells you the bandwidth it streams at, its own star rating, the rating of users and also whether you'll need third-party software like Sopcast or TVants, to view them. It’s not going to look so hot on your laptop screen and it’ll never be as smooth as a normal TV channel, but it costs nothing and it will show 3pm kick offs too.

Conclusions

Given that few people are going to fork out for foreign satellite and that many will want more than the Internet can offer, we head back to the original three for our main choices.

While BT Vision clearly offers the best in the way of value, the fact that it doesn't have all the Sky Sports channels is a problem. If you're not that dedicated a football watcher, then it might be a good choice, but otherwise you'll have to go for the more expensive two.

There aren't that many people who'll have a 3D TV this season, but if you that's you, then it's Sky all the way. Otherwise it really comes down to whether you'd rather have the added movie channels and Catch-up TV you get with VM or the well-established channel serving beast, that is Sky.