Who’s the best pay TV provider?

Pay TV operator Sky is putting its prices up in September, increasing subscribers’ bills after more than a year of frozen prices.

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Sky says its investment in new channels such as Sky Atlantic and Sky Sports F1 have forced it to raise prices, and its recently-signed £760million-a-year Premier League coverage renewal deal is also sure to have been a motivating factor.

Subscribers to the Sky Entertainment and Sky Entertainment Extra channel packs will pay an extra £1.50 a month. Sky Sports Pack (1&2) customers will pay an extra £1, Sky Sports (1 or 2) customers will see an increase of 50p and ESPN subscribers will pay an extra £1.

As well as having the lion’s share of Premier League coverage for the next three years, Sky says its additional services justify the increase – but just what are they, how do they compare against its rivals, and do they justify the price hikes?

Let’s take a look at what services Sky customers are currently getting in return for their subscription fees in addition to their channels, and also review what else is on offer beyond the main free-to-air terrestrial channels.

Sky Anytime+

Sky says its free Anytime+ service is a huge library of on-demand television that enables subscribers to catch up on missed programmes or re-watch old favourites.

To use Anytime+ you must have broadband access and a fast and reliable enough connection to be able to stream the content.

Connect your Sky+ box to your broadband router and you’ll be able to browse the library and watch at your leisure. Sky Movies subscribers also get access to hundreds of films on demand.

Although it’s a free service for Sky subscribers, remember that anything you watch via Anytime+ will count towards your broadband package’s monthly download limit, and some broadband providers will charge you for exceeding your limit.

Sky Go

Subscribers with smartphones can watch selected Sky channels on the move via their phones’ 3G or wi-fi connections.

The app can be downloaded for iOS (Apple) devices such as iPad, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4/4S and iPod touch (with iOS 4.2 or higher). It’s also available for a limited number of Samsung and HTC Android devices. See here for the full list.

There are up to 23 channels available on mobile (depending on your subscription) and you can watch up to 40 live channels on your laptop.

Again, be aware that anything you watch will count towards your broadband usage limit when you use your home wi-fi or mobile data plan if you’re using 3G – which can be very expensive if exceeded.

Virgin Media

All of Virgin Media’s television packages include TV on demand, with access to “hundreds of great shows and films”, as long as you live in a Virgin Media cabled area.

The catch-up TV service is free on your television, laptop and smartphone across all packages. M+ customers can watch up to 2,200 hours,  L customers get up to 2,600 hours and XL customers get 3,500 hours. Movies on demand cost £1.99 per film.

As ever, 3G and wi-fi charges/limits apply. Bear in mind that Virgin Media customers will enjoy free wi-fi at London Underground stations. Couple that with mobile streaming and it means you’ll be able to keep up with London 2012 on your commute this summer.

At the moment you can get Virgin Media’s TV and V HD box for £3 a month (half price for six months). This includes 700 hours of catch-up TV, 1,500 hours of TV on demand, eight Sky channels and Sky anytime.

BT Vision

BT’s television services also include catch-up TV, allowing you to watch anything you missed on Freeview in the last seven days.

As with Sky and Virgin, you can pause, rewind and record live television, storing up to 250 hours of programmes on your BT Vision+ box. Basic packages start from around £12.50 a month, on demand programmes and films cost extra.

You’ll need BT Total broadband to get BT Vision, and a fast enough connection to be able to stream content. BT has yet to promote an equivalent to Sky and Virgin’s mobile streaming services.

Complaints

Interestingly, Ofcom data published last month showed BT has received more complaints from its customers than Sky and Virgin – with nearly four times as many complaints as its closest rival for the first quarter of 2012.

The report said that BT received 0.27 complaints for every 1,000 customers, whereas Virgin received 0.07 complaints and Sky just over 0.03. The BT complaints related to billing and sales rather than technical issues.

TV for free and YouView

Freeview+ offers a range of digital channels with no monthly fee. All you need is a set top box, which can be bought for as little as £12. With Freeview+ you’ll get the same pause, rewind and record functions as with Sky+.

Freeview customers will be able to enjoy extra coverage of the London 2012 games this summer via the red button feed.

An as-yet-unknown entity is Lord Sugar’s subscription-free digital TV and catch-up service YouView. The YouView box promises more than 100 digital TV and radio channels, seven-day catch-up and on-demand programmes from the content libraries of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 Channel 5, NOWTV (Sky) and STV.

It’s expected you’ll be able to buy a YouView box from shops or get one free when you sign up for a broadband and phone package.

If you want to use the free catch-up and on-demand services you’ll need a broadband connection with a speed of up to 3Mb, but you’ll still get more than 70 digital channels without broadband.

YourView should be arriving at retailers by the end of July.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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