TV guide: Pros and cons of broadcast television options

Television platforms have had to develop flexible packages amid stiff competition

On-demand entertainment: Traditional TV providers have increasingly embraced streaming services

On-demand entertainment: Traditional TV providers have increasingly embraced streaming services

 

TV providers have to work harder for their money these days. In the past, they may have had a captive audience, but with so many streaming services and alternative video sources available, they have had to up their game.

For some providers, that improvement has been considerable. Traditional TV providers have increasingly embraced streaming services, and worked on offering more flexible packages that allow viewers to watch what they want, when they want, where they want.

That means apps that can be used on smartphones and tablets, binge-worthy content in box sets and the ability to start watching a TV show from the very beginning when you just missed the first five minutes.

So what are your broadcast TV options these days?

Sky

When it comes to TV, Sky has a big advantage. The company has its own movies and sports channels, and has spent quite a bit of its cash in recent years developing new TV shows and creating an on-demand platform you can binge watch to your heart’s content.

Launched in 2016, Sky Q was designed to give you options, and it has evolved over the years to add in even more content.

You can record up to six shows at once and watch a seventh, which should solve even the most contentious of TV arguments. Add into that the Sky Go app that you can put on tablets or smartphones to watch your shows on another screen, or download your recordings to your tablet before you leave the house so you can watch offline and on the move.

What you get:

There’s a lot of content to get through on Sky. The basic TV package has more than 300 channels, 40 catch up channels and 500 box sets. The catch-up players are integrated into the user interface, so you see all the content that is available to watch now from multiple sources.

That’s before you even get started with the partnerships with Netflix and Disney+, which add significantly more content. That also means you can keep your subscriptions all in one place– and on one bill – and you could save yourself money in the long run.

It is also handy to be able to see content from both Sky and Netflix in the one place.

It could be a bit overwhelming, and you’d still find yourself complaining there is nothing on, but Sky’s recommendations on its home screen point you in the right direction.

Sky has been doing a bit of upgrade work in recent months. It now has a new HDR capable box, for which you will need a compatible TV if you want to see the full benefit, and an overhauled user interface that makes it easier to find the programmes you like. Shows have their own hubs, bringing live, on-demand and scheduled TV shows together in one place.

The basic Sky Q box has enough space to store about 500 hours of TV viewing, although you can go for a larger storage option, which will come in handy if you like to download in high definition.

Sky also has extras such as ultra-HD programming if you want to add some extras to your home entertainment.

What you miss out on:

Sky doesn’t require you to take its broadband to get its TV service. Instead, it will want to put a digital receiver dish on the side of your house, which can be an issue if you live in rented accommodation or an apartment block.

However, the whole package works best when you have Sky’s broadband installed too. That means the set up is easier, your Sky Mini boxes can functions as mini wifi hotspots around your home, and the box is less likely to lose the connection to your wifi and require a reset.

Virgin Media

The last big update for Virgin Media was back in its UPC days in 2013. Then, the Horizon box was meant to be the TV platform of the future, allowing you to record four programmes while watching a fifth, or watch TV shows through the app as long as you were connected to your Horizon broadband.

But the system is showing its age: it has become slower to respond to the remote control which can lead to frustration, and the programme guide is still unnecessarily complex, making it taxing to find your way through the menus to the programmes you really want to watch.

There is, however, a solution: a brand new platform called TV 360. It has been available as an upgrade for existing TV customers for several weeks, but Virgin has finally launched it to new customers too.

What do you get?

TV 360 has a new set-top box, a much smaller and streamlined package that takes up a lot less space. But that smaller package doesn’t mean you get less. Virgin has combined live programming with on-demand and catch up. Apps such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have also been included, so you can access all your video services from a single box.

There’s a whole new programme guide too, one that aims to make it easier to get to the content you want, regardless of whether it is recorded to your box, on next week or shown six days ago. It’s all integrated and searchable.

The TV 360 system is also much more responsive. While Horizon sped up the process of doing something as simple as changing channels, it was still slow, especially compared to newer systems. And sometimes, finding content was hit and miss. Virgin has made that element much easier, adding in categories and genres to narrow things down. Also, just like Sky Q, voice is an integral part of the platform. You can use the voice button on the remote control to find any programmes or apps you are looking for – provided they feature on the Virgin platform – and it will take you right to it. Voice search won’t show you programming from within third-party apps such as Netflix, but it can take you right to the door and leave you to find it yourself.

Any replay content is clearly labelled in the search results, and you can record six channels while you watch a seventh or other recordings, or on-demand content.

The new system also lets you set up individual profiles for people in your home, with your favourite channels, which is handy if you want to keep children away from certain programming. It will also mean you get personalised recommendations for content.

Virgin has also covered off multi-room viewing, with the 4K-ready Virgin TV 360 Mini boxes, and on-the-go watching, with the Virgin TV Anywhere app that lets you stream, control and manage your TV.

What do you miss out on?

Certain Sky channels – Sky Atlantic for example – aren’t available on Virgin Media’s platform. While there is plenty of on-demand content to choose from, the lack of Sky Atlantic may be a deal breaker for potential platform switchers.

Eir TV

Eir’s television offering stepped up a notch in last October with the launch of Eir TV. It was the first TV provider in Ireland to partner with Apple for its set-top box, providing customers with Apple TV 4K.

That may have been enough to tempt existing subscribers to Eir’s previous TV services, Eir Vision, to switch over to the updated version.

Eir TV requires a couple of things. First of all, you have to be in Eir’s fibre network area. You must also subscribe to one of those fibre services

What do you get?

There are 50 channels included with Eir’s basic TV service, including the basic Irish free-to-air channels you would expect, Eir Sport and a mix of entertainment and children’s programming. It’s hard to find the full channel list on Eir’s website though. That basic service costs €9.99 for the first 12 months, rising to €19.99 after that. As part of a bundle, you are looking at a minimum of €39.98 for the first 12 months.

To further entice viewers, Eir also has deals for some streaming services. It is currently offering Amazon’s Prime video service to subscribers, with Eir footing the bill as part of your deal. Because Eir uses Apple TV as its set-top box, you can use your own Apple account to download additional TV streaming apps, and you can also access Apple TV+. The latter is only free for a three month trial period, after that expect to pay for the full service at €5 a month.

What do you miss out on?

If you like to record programmes, then Eir TV may not be for you just yet. Because it uses cloud recording, that brings a minefield for rights. Eir TV doesn’t have them for some of its channels, with around 50 per cent of its channels not allowing recording yet. That includes RTÉ, Channel 4 and BBC.

Eir also has an ongoing spat with Virgin TV over contracts and payments due for sport, so the platform no longer has access to Virgin Media’s sports channels.

Also, it’s worth noting that like all TV equipment, technically the Apple TV box doesn’t belong to you, and if you end your contract once it is up for renewal, Eir could reclaim the box. How easy that would be for the company is another question.

Vodafone TV

Offering more than 80 channels, Vodafone’s TV service starts at €45 a month as part of a bundle deal, with the most expensive package costing €55 thanks to the gigabit broadband, for the first 12 months.

That bundle deal is non-negotiable; to access Vodafone TV, you’ll need to be a Vodafone broadband customer. Like Eir TV, the service is delivered over the company’s broadband line, but there are some benefits to that. All the packages offer unlimited broadband downloads, which will be handy when you are flying through the on-demand content for entertainment.

What you get:

Aside from the usual suspects, you get entertainment channels such as Alibi and Syfy, documentary channels such as National Geographic and the Discovery channels, and a handful of music and child-focused channels. High definition is part of the standard package too.

Vodafone also offers a free TV Anywhere app, so you can access your TV package outside the home, and for a limited time, a free Google Chromecast so you can cast content to your TV screen.

There are premium extra packages too, so you can add sports and movies to your home entertainment – for a fee.

What you miss out on:

Once that new customer glow fades after the first 12 months, the costs are quite a bit higher. That €45 cost increases by €35, with the €55 package climbing to €100 a month once you are no longer in that honeymoon period.

Saorview Connect

Imagine never having to pay another TV bill ever again. If you can get by with access to free Irish channels, then that dream could become a reality. Saorview Connect is the next generation of free TV in Ireland.

What you get:

Not only does the set-top box give you access to the free-to-air channels such as RTÉ 1, RTÉ2 and TG4, but it also has the same abilities that we have come to expect from our subscription TV set-top boxes, such as pausing, rewinding and recording live TV, once you have an external hard drive.

The on-demand content comes courtesy of the catch-up “players” such as RTÉ Player, so you won’t miss out on programmes within reason. It even has its own app to allow you to find programmes, set reminders for your favourite shows and control your viewing.

There are no contracts to worry about or monthly fees to pay.

What you miss out on:

This is strictly Irish free-to-air channels, so any extra content you need will have to be paid for. That will quickly take your bargain €350 investment and turn it into a mess of subscriptions. Plus you will still need a way to watch those streaming services on your TV.