From installation and price to content and control, we look at two systems battling to tempt users away from Freeview
Following your enthusiasm for our Store Wars column we thought we would turn our attention to goods and services and get your help in reviewing some popular purchases. Each week we will look at two competing products and review what they offer consumers, from how much they cost to how they perform.
Our reviewer will offer some thoughts based on his or her experience, so we know this will just be a snapshot – we want you to help us build a better picture. Tell us which, if either, you have used and what you think, and if there is a better alternative we have missed.
Between us we can hopefully work out which is the best buy and inform wavering consumers which to go for.
To start things off we are testing the YouView set-top box and Sky+. Tell us what you think, ask any questions users may be able to answer, and tell us which services or goods you would like us to review in future weeks – it could be anything from train services to Christmas crackers. Also, if you would like to be a reviewer please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Installation I tested Sky+ and YouView in a single room scenario rather than attempt a complicated multi-room set-up, mainly to make my life easier.
Both have similar cable requirements: a HDMI cable links the box to the TV and an ethernet connection links it to a broadband router, allowing you to download/stream free and paid-for content.
But the Sky+ set-up had to be installed for me by an engineer because it required a dish on the side of my house. So not the easiest set-up given I had to select a date for an engineer to visit, then make sure someone was home when he came.
Content I have the no-frills Sky Entertainment package which includes Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and a handful of more obscure channels such as Syfy, Comedy Central and Dmax, as well as all the usual Freeview channels and an endless parade of food, shopping, lifestyle and “+1″ channels. My Sky+ HD box also provides some free HD channels – BBC HD and ITV HD etc.
Sky has introduced catch-up TV but isn’t currently offering BBC iPlayer, which is apparently “coming soon”, or 4oD (coming 2013), and doesn’t integrate them into the electronic programme guide (EPG), meaning you have to find each catch-up provider’s separate app before seeing what historic content is available.
Navigation Sky’s EPG is intuitive and easy to use, although that could be because I have used family and friends’ boxes. It is fast and responsive with clear menu bars at the top and middle of the screen directing you to the many features.
Recording Both boxes allow you to pause and rewind live TV and to record programmes. The Sky+ set-up makes it easy to find past recordings, though a minor frustration is that if you leave the recording section with the child filter on, for example, the next time you access your recordings you will only see children-related programming – a pain when you want to find old episodes of The Sopranos.
Premium content Sky offers “on demand” programming, including TV series and films, the latter priced from about 99p for bargain movies up to £3.49 for new releases.
Price This is difficult to compare because Sky has so many price plans, but I pay £21.50 a month (discounted to £10.75 for the first six months) for the Sky Entertainment package. I didn’t pay anything for the Sky+ box or installation, so that makes £193.50 a year for my package.
You can also add more bundles to your Sky subscription, such as the Sky Movies package for an extra £16 a month on top of an existing Entertainment package.
Add-ons Sky offers a number of apps that allow you to use your phone as a remote control, set your box to record something remotely, or simply check the TV listings.
Installation I plugged the Humax DTR-T1000 YouView box in myself, following on-screen prompts to tune-in channels (optimised to my geographical location), as well as download the latest software and content. There were a few delays, but really anyone could plug it in and set it up reasonably quickly without the presence of an engineer.
Content YouView offers all the Freeview channels and a similar number of niche lifestyle channels as Sky, as well as the free-to-air HD channels – but it doesn’t offer Sky channels.
YouView has full seven-day catch-up from BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 integrated into its EPG – a feature it calls Scrollback TV. This is a huge improvement over Sky+.
Navigation The YouView EPG is harder to read onscreen than its Sky counterpart; it’s also slower. A click of the Sky remote and your function is completed instantly, whereas with the YouView box I sometimes had to wait a short while for it to comply.
Recording As with the EPG, my YouView box often took a while to respond when I clicked a button on the remote. Moreover, when fast forwarding content it doesn’t show the programme itself skipping ahead; instead it pauses the screen and only the time bar scrolls at the bottom. This is a nightmare if you’re just trying to skip adverts or get to a certain point in a programme you’ve seen part of, as you don’t know when to stop fast forwarding.
Premium content YouView has TV series and films on demand. The films are powered by Now TV, a Sky Movies initiative, and users pay from 99p for old films to £3.49 for newer releases, or £15 a month for a Sky Movies Pass which gives them unlimited downloads. The pass compares favourably with Sky’s own package, although the Sky channel has more new releases than YouView’s Now TV. BT and TalkTalk customers can also access BT Vision or TalkTalk Player content if they already subscribe to these channels.
Price Beyond on demand YouView is subscription-free, so the only cost is the box itself – from £249.95 at Amazon for the 500MB version, which is enough storage for more than 150 films. It means a YouView viewer would break even with a Sky customer (on my package at least) after about 15 months, and possibly never pay a penny extra while Sky customers must keep on forking out month after month.
Add-ons YouView has little added functionality at present.
Mark’s verdict YouView offers a cheap and easy-to-install way of watching and recording HD TV, while also offering catch-up TV from the likes of BBC iPlayer as well as on demand movies – all in one box. It really is great value and should be the default Freeview recorder of choice for consumers. But Sky offers a greater choice of channels, the EPG is more user-friendly and the ability to upgrade to sports and movie packages at any time are a real benefit, as is the sheer number of apps and add-ons designed to make viewers’ lives easier. It’s close, but I prefer Sky.
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