(Pocket-lint) - Sky Q has been around for just over a year and has been the undisputed king of paid TV in all that time. Now a new kid is on the block, hoping to steal that crown.
Virgin TV is the collective name for a new family of devices and services from Virgin Media, and the Virgin TV V6 box, powered by TiVo, is aimed squarely at the Sky Q 2TB box as a flagship device.
Hopefully, we can help you make a decision between the two by looking at their features and individual benefits.
- What is Virgin TV? Everything you need to know about Virgin Media's Virgin TV V6 box, TellyTablet and more
- What is Sky Q, how much does it cost and how can I get it?
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Design
There's no doubt that the Sky Q system is designed superbly, with sleek lines and slim form factors across the 2TB and 1TB main devices, plus the Sky Q Mini boxes. We also love the way the Q on the front of the main box lights up when it's playing recordings.
The Virgin TV V6 box actually has a smaller footprint though. It looks chunkier, is taller and, let's face it, is less of a looker, but it's more the size of a Sky Q Mini box - almost half the size of a main Sky Q set-top-box. Considering there are multiple tuners inside and a hard drive, that's quite a feat.
So although it's not as pretty as the Sky Q boxes, it's arguably easier to tuck away in a cabinet, so it's really horses for courses and which option you prefer.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Specifications
Some of the full spec for the Virgin TV V6 box aren't public domain, but there are several key tech points that we know.
One of Virgin Media's big selling points for its new TV box is that it has enough TV tuners to record six shows at once, while you either watch a recording or watch something on a streaming service. It has eight tuners in total, but two of them are set aside for future development.
The Sky Q devices also have multiple tuners - with the 2TB box having 12 TV tuners and the 1TB model having eight. Not all of the tuners are available for recordings though, with some used for Sky Q Mini viewing and other features. At present, the Sky Q 2TB box is capable of recording four channels while watching a fifth, while the 1TB box can record three while watching a fourth.
Sky has told Pocket-lint that, after a soon-to-be-released update, the 2TB box will be capable of recording up to six shows at once, just like Virgin TV V6.
In terms of storage, Sky has a clear advantage on a box versus box basis. At 2TB, the top-end Sky Q box has double the storage of the V6 box. However, you can daisy chain V6 boxes or link up your existing TiVo boxes to increase the amount of storage for recordings, as you can read in the multiroom section below.
4K HDR output
The Virgin TV V6 box does have an advantage over its rival in video output. Thanks to the benefit of hindsight and by being a year behind Sky, the V6 box has 4K HDR compatibility. The Sky Q 2TB box is 4K ready but does not output high dynamic range images. The Virgin Media device is able to do so, although there's no broadcast content in that form as yet.
It will, instead, be updating the Netflix and YouTube streaming apps to be compatible with HDR in the near future.
This is possible because, while the Sky Q 2TB box has a HDMI 1.4b output, the V6 box has a HDMI 2.0 port to cope with HDR. Both support HDCP 2.2 copy protection standards, so need a compatible TV socket.
The Sky Q 1TB box is not capable of outputting 4K video.
Of course, Sky wins in terms of 4K television content, with many films and live sporting events being available to view in 4K right now on the 2TB model. At present, the V6 box has to rely on Netflix shows and YouTube for its 4K video.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Additional features
Both the V6 box and Sky Q come with wireless remote controls that you don't have to point at the box to change channels. Virgin TV's uses RF technology, Sky Q uses Bluetooth.
The biggest difference between them is that Sky Q's is touch-enabled, so you can fast forward, pause, rewind and perform many other other functions just by the swipe of a finger. There is a more traditional style remote for users who don't like touch, but it's great to get the option.
The V6 remote does share one neat trick with its Sky equivalent: if you can't find either, you can tap a button on the respective set-top-box and they'll beep to help you locate them. For the Sky Q remote, you need to tap the Q button on the front of the box. For Virgin Media's you need to hold the plus button on the box.
Both boxes are fast in operation and offer catch up and on demand services through the user interface, with all the major broadcaster content available. Virgin TV also gives you the option of scrolling backwards through the electronic programme guide and catching up with shows listed there.
The V6 box also has several apps installed, including Netflix, YouTube and Vevo, so you can access content from those. Sky Q doesn't have Netflix, but it does have a very clever trick of its own: you can stream music from a phone or tablet to any of the boxes, through AirPlay or Bluetooth. That includes Spotify.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Multiroom
Sky Q's multiroom (Multiscreen) offering has been a massive selling point in the last year. Get a main Sky Q box and you can have other Sky Q Mini boxes dotted around the house. You can then stream live TV, watch recordings or on demand content on any of the boxes. You can even pause live TV in one room and pick it up in another. It's what Sky calls "Fluid Viewing".
If you have the Sky Q 2TB box you can stream to two Sky Q Mini boxes at the same time. If you have the 1TB box, you can stream to just one at a time. You can also stream to a tablet or phone, with the 2TB box again capable of streaming to two at a time, the 1TB box just the one. Those are in addition to the Sky Q Mini boxes.
The Virgin TV V6 box also supports multiroom playback. However, it works with other V6 boxes or the existing Virgin Media TiVo boxes. You can access recordings on the V6 box on another V6 box or TiVo box around the house. And vice versa.
You can also pause, rewind and pick up live TV or on demand content on any of them. The Virgin TV Anywhere app acts similarly to the Sky Q app in that you can also watch your recordings, live TV or on demand content on smartphone or mobile.
Where the V6 box also differs is that you can have more than one V6 box in a household and utilise each box's TV tuners and storage capacity. Two of them, for example, will together offer the ability to record up to 12 shows simultaneously on 2TB worth of storage. Add another and, well, you get the idea.
The Sky Q Mini boxes do have an extra talent up their sleeve though. They can also act as Wi-Fi hotspots, and come with built-in powerline connectivity. The latter feature is important to maintain a stable internet connection - if the Wi-Fi signal drops for whatever reason, the Mini boxes will switch to powerline. Basically, they opt for the strongest signal at any given time.
This works no matter your broadband provider. But if you have Sky broadband and the Sky Q router, the Sky Q Mini boxes can also be used to improve Wi-Fi signals throughout your home as each works as a Wi-Fi extender.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Accessories
As part of the Sky Q family, Sky has a Sky Q router as mentioned above. It also has the two remotes, one without touch which uses infra-red tech, one that's Bluetooth. It also has the Sky Q Mini boxes, of course.
Virgin Media has headed in a surprising direction with its extra Virgin TV device though. With V6 and TiVo boxes acting as the receivers for multiroom, it doesn't need an additional set-top-box. However, it has added a tablet device to its offering: the Virgin TV HD TellyTablet.
It's a 14-inch Android tablet with a built-in kickstand that comes with the Virgin TV Anywhere app pre-loaded. That means you can take it from room to room, watching live shows, recordings, catch up and on demand programming wherever you like on Wi-Fi. It also works like a normal Android tablet, so you can install and play games and other streaming apps too.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Apps
Sky Q customers gain access to the Sky Q app for iOS or Android. It apes the full Sky Q experience, with a similar menu design to the main box, and you can even download your recordings or other on demand content to take with you when you're offline.
Virgin Media's Virgin TV Anywhere app is a similar affair. It also gives access to live TV, on demand content and recordings stored on any of your V6 or TiVo boxes in the home. Like Sky Q, you can download and watch recordings from your V6 box offline too.
Both companies also have dedicated apps for children. Sky Kids is already available and offers specific channels and programming for younger viewers. Virgin TV Kids is on its way soon.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Price and availability
With a year's head start, Sky Q is already available and is very competitively priced. Regardless of which TV bundle you take - which starts at £22 per month - you can get a non-4K Sky Q 1TB box for a £15 installation fee. Alternatively, you can opt for the 2TB box, with the extra TV tuners and 4K Ultra HD output, for a £199 installation fee without Sky Multiscreen, £60 with.
Sky Q Multiscreen, which includes one Sky Q Mini box, costs an extra £12 per month. Additional Sky Q Mini boxes are £99 each.
A Virgin TV V6 box is available on a Virgin Media Mix TV bundle or above, which starts at £24 per month and carries a £14.99 activation fee. It includes access to more than 150 channels. The V6 box will cost a one-off £99.95 fee and new customers can get it from January 2017.
Existing customers can pre-register now and get their boxes in December. Those on Full House or VIP bundles can get it for a promotional fee of £49.95.
Virgin TV V6 box vs Sky Q: Conclusion
To be honest, we couldn't even really choose between them. They both have great merits and one or two unique features so it boils down to personal preference.
On the face of it, Sky Q seems like a more elegant solution, with the Sky Q Mini boxes working seamlessly with the main unit. But we also like the idea of daisy chaining V6 boxes together to create more storage and recording capabilities. Plus, if you're an existing Virgin Media customer with a TiVo box, you can add a V6 box and get multiroom that way.
If you have a 4K TV with apps like Netflix on it already, you might not care much about the 4K Netflix streaming on the Virgin TV V6 box and would prefer the 4K Ultra HD movies, shows and sports coverage on Sky Q instead. But then, you might want to future proof yourself for when HDR TV broadcasting is available.
One thing is for sure, whichever service you opt for, you are getting the very best TV tech available. You'll never leave the house again.