Virgin Media’s all-new Stream box is available to buy, but is it the right choice for you?
Virgin Media’s all-new Stream box is available to buy today. This diddy set-top box, which was unveiled earlier this week, blends together live television and streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video. Virgin Media lets you pick and choose between streamers each month, switching from a Netflix subscription to Disney+ for a few weeks to catch-up on a boxset that everyone has been talking about while keeping costs low. If you want to subscribe to multiple services simultaneously, Virgin Media is offering a 10% rebate on all of your subscription costs – unlocking some substantial savings.
Virgin Media Stream will compete head-to-head with Sky Q and Sky Glass. Since it isn’t replacing Virgin TV 360 in the lineup, it will also be competing with Virgin Media’s previous set-top box too.
So, how does Virgin Media Stream compare to the competition? Is it missing any major features that you’ll find on the latest hardware from Sky TV? Is it a cheaper way to watch the latest boxsets and blockbusters from Disney+ and Netflix? We’ve pitted these telly boxes against one another below so you can work out which is the best fit for you.
Virgin Media Stream
Virgin Media Stream is a minuscule set-top box that shares more in common with Amazon’s popular Fire TV range, Apple TV, and Chromecast with Google TV than a traditional cable TV box. Of course, those who want a more conventional set-top box will still be able to buy the Virgin TV 360, which will remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Stream offers a hassle-free way to watch linear television and the most popular streaming services in the UK. It only needs a Wi-Fi connection to stream live television channels (you can pause, just like the Sky Q or Virgin TV 360, and fast-forward through the adverts) and movies, sports and shows from on-demand services in High Definition or 4K Ultra HD picture quality. Stream connects to your telly with an HMDI cable …and that’s it!
If you have a modern telly, you won’t even need a power cable, since the box is powered via the HDMI connection. However, Virgin Media provides one in the box if you need it.
Best Bit: If you switch all of your subscriptions over to your Virgin Media bill, you’ll get 10% off the total cost. This might just be the most affordable way to subscribe to Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video.
Worst Bit: There’s no built-in hard drive, so you can’t record a show as it airs. Instead, you’ll only be able to watch when it appears on a catch-up service, like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, or All4.
Price: £35 upfront, no monthly subscription fee
There’s no need for an engineer to visit, attach a satellite dish to the outside of your house, or drill holes and feed cables throughout every room in your home. Virgin Media promises a pretty fuss-free experience …something that you won’t find from Sky Q or Sky Glass, which both require an engineer to set-up your new system.
Virgin Media Stream costs £35 upfront, but that’s it. There’s no monthly fee for the set-top box itself, instead, you can choose how much – or little – you want to spend based on the channel bundles and subscription services that you add to the box. All of these are 30-day rolling contracts and Virgin Media lets you add or remove subscriptions every month from the website or mobile app.
As well as the new hardware, Virgin Media has designed a new user interface for its box
Subscribing to multiple services simultaneously can unlock some big savings, as Virgin Media will pay a 10% rebate for the total cost spent on subscription services each month. So, those who keep Disney+, Prime Video and Netflix all year round will get a pretty substantial discount on their bills.
While both BT and Sky allow customers to add subscription services to their monthly bills – bringing all of your entertainment costs together in a single place to make budgeting easier – Virgin Media Stream is the only one that offers a discount as an incentive to group all of your streaming subscriptions together.
As well as the usual streaming suspects, Virgin Media Stream supports Sky Sports, BT Sport, a wide range of paid-for kids channels, Sky Cinema, and more. Like Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video, these bundles are all sold with a 30-day rolling contract, so there’s no lengthy 18-month contract to worry about.
Virgin Media’s Stream box is able to intelligently recommend new shows, films and documentaries based on your viewing habits. These are displayed in carousels on the main page, which is the first thing you’ll see when you hit the On button.
Stream works with the existing TV To Go app from Virgin Media, which is available on iPhone, Android, iPad, and more. This lets you stream live television channels, on-demand boxsets, and more when you’re out-and-about. Everything you watch will be synchronised with the Stream box, so you’ll be able to pick-up from the next episode when you get home.
You’ll need a minimum of 50Mbps for the Stream, which is why this diddy set-top box is currently only available to Virgin Media broadband customers. Virgin Media customers boast an average download speed of around 100Mbps, so there should be no worries about buffering or slow loading. If you want to upgrade to the company’s full-fibre internet, check out the best Virgin Media broadband deals around today.
Sky Glass is a pretty unique proposition – it’s a custom-designed QLED TV with everything you need to watch live and on-demand television built-in. It’s the first product from Sky that doesn’t require a satellite dish on the outside of the house, so you’ll be able to watch the same channels as Sky Q customers but using only a Wi-Fi connection.
For those who live in rented properties, high-rise flats without a communal dish, or don’t want an unsightly dish drilled into their wall or roof …Sky Glass is the first opportunity to experience Sky TV. Just like Sky Q and Virgin Media Stream, you can pause live television and fast-forward to catch up with the linear broadcast if you dashed out to put the kettle on.
Best Bit: Hands-free voice assistant means you won’t need to worry about losing the remote control – you can switch between channels, launch streaming apps, find shows with specific actors or movies by a chosen director with just a few spoken words.
Worst Bit: Until the launch of the Sky Stream Puck later this year, the only way to get the latest-and-greatest experience from the Sky team is to buy a brand-new 4K TV from the firm.
Price: Glass starts from £13 a month, Ultimate TV (includes Netflix) costs £26 a month
Like Virgin Media Stream, there’s no hard drive built into Sky Glass. Instead, the custom-designed telly relies on catch-up and streaming services, like BBC iPlayer, All4, ITV Hub, Netflix, and discovery+, to allow viewers to watch shows after the original transmission.
Glass viewers can add shows to their Playlist – a reboot to the iconic Series Link feature from Sky+ and Sky Q – which brings together episodes from across on-demand apps. For example, if you add the latest episode of Inside No. 9 to your Playlist it will appear in the menu as soon as the most recent episode is uploaded to BBC iPlayer. If Sky Glass also finds episodes from an older series on Netflix or Prime Video, those will also be included in the same listing. If you’re a completionist with your telly, this feature is sure to be a favourite as it lets you quickly catch up on previous series, while keeping track of the latest episodes as they’re broadcast.
Glass will wake automatically when you walk into the room, and boasts hands-free voice controls
It’s all very clever, but it works best when you’re subscribed to a couple of streaming apps. If not, you’ll just be scrolling through endless on-demand episodes from discovery+, Prime Video, or Disney+ that you can’t watch.
Playlist ensures that you’ll never need to worry about running out of available storage since everything is stored on various streaming services’ servers. Unlike Sky Q, your recordings cannot be ruined by a power failure or signal trouble either, which is definitely a positive. However, since you’re wholly reliant on BBC iPlayer, All4, ITV Hub and others …as soon as these services decide to remove the content from their library, it’ll vanish from your Sky Glass.
In some instances, like Match Of The Day – due to the complex rights issues around the Premier League, that will be after just seven days. With Sky Q and Virgin TV 360, which record everything onto a hard drive inside the box, these episodes will be available until you decide to delete them.
Sky Glass boasts hands-free voice controls, so you can bark orders at your telly like an Amazon Echo. It also has a built-in soundbar with support for Dolby Atmos, which should provide a welcome sound boost to your next movie night.
Since everything is tightly integrated into the telly, Sky says that customers will use around 50% less energy than a separate 4K television, Sky Q box, and soundbar. While that energy consumption is unlikely to save you quite as much money as Virgin Media Stream’s generous 10% rebate on all streaming services …it’s still very welcome.
Sky Q is the longest-serving set-top box in this comparison, as it was first launched back in early 2016. Despite its age, this set-top box still packs a punch as it’s compatible with crisp 4K Ultra HD live sports broadcasts, blockbuster movies from Sky Cinema, on-demand boxsets and streaming services like Disney+, Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Netflix.
Like the newer kids on the block, Sky Q is capable of making intelligent suggestions based on your viewing history. Unfortunately, there are no separate profiles for each household member (as you’ll find with Virgin TV 360) so everything that’s viewed on the Sky Q will be factored into its recommendations.
Best Bit: You’ll be able to watch live television and all of your recordings when there’s an internet outage, or any trouble with your Wi-Fi connection …something that cannot be said for any of the other options in this article
Worst Bit: You need to install a satellite dish on the outside of your house for Sky Q to work, and you’ll need to keep an eye on the available storage if you’ve recorded a few series and movies in the ultra-crisp 4K Ultra HD quality
Price: From £26 a month
Unlike Glass and Stream, Sky Q has a spinning hard drive inside which can be used to record programmes, films, sports fixtures, and entire series when they’re broadcast. You can schedule individual and Series Link recordings using the remote control or the Sky Go app on Android, iPhone and iPad.
Since you’re not relying on catch-up series to watch previously-aired shows, you can keep the recordings for as long as you like. Of course, you’ll need to manage the amount of available storage on the 1TB hard drive at all times, otherwise you’ll be unable to make new recordings.
If you forgot to schedule a recording, you can download shows from catch-up services from BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. Unlike watching on dedicated catch-up services, Sky Q viewers will be able to fast-forward through all adverts – as if they’d recorded the show themselves.
Sky Q combines a traditional hard drive for local storage as well as streaming and catch-up services
Like Virgin Media Stream, Sky Q can be used with any television in your house. However, you’ll need run a cable from the satellite dish on the outside of your house to the set-top box, which could make set-up a little finicky for some people. You won’t need a satellite cable for each individual box as multi-room customers will be sent a Q Mini box that uses Wi-Fi to stream recordings and live television from the main Q box. Playback is synchronised across devices, so you can pause on one box and then resume from the same spot in another room.
However, the Q Mini boxes do not support 4K Ultra HD picture quality, so you’ll only be able to watch in High Definition and any blockbusters or boxsets stored on your Sky Q box in that format won’t be able to play in other rooms …so you’ll be forced to re-download the show again, which could be a timely process depending on the broadband speeds you’ve got at home.
Virgin Media TV 360
Just like rival Sky when it introduced its all-new Glass, Virgin Media is keeping its previous set-top box available for customers. Virgin TV 360 is a similar proposition to Sky Q – with a spinning hard drive to physical record programmes, sports and movies. As such, TV 360 viewers will not be reliant on catch-up and streaming services to watch episodes after they’ve aired (unlike Sky Glass or Virgin Media Stream) so you can keep recordings for as long as you can spare the space on your hard drive.
Of course, if you do want to watch a boxset, documentary or blockbuster …Virgin TV 360 is well-equipped for that. That’s because the set-top box arrives with support for Prime Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and many more. You can stream in up to Ultra HD, or High Definition if you don’t have a 4K TV.
Best Bit: Separate profiles ensure that every household member will get their own recommendations based on the television shows, movies and sports they watch on the TV 360 box, and the tablet and smartphone apps.
Worst Bit: Only available to Virgin Media broadband customers, whereas Sky Q and Sky Glass can be bought by anyone.
Price: From £33 a month
One nice feature that you won’t find on other boxes in this list is Startover, which lets you jump back to the start of the programme if you missed the first five minutes. As such, you don’t need to worry about racing back to the sofa to make sure you’re there for the very beginning of the show.
Sky Q and Sky Glass offer a similar feature, but it’s not available on every channel. However, for those who subscribe to Sky Cinema, you’ll always be able to restart at the beginning of a film – no matter how late into the showing that you drop-in, instead of being restricted to just five minutes.
Unlike Sky Q, Virgin Media’s Mini Boxes, which can be used to watch television in different rooms around the house, support 4K Ultra HD. So you can watch in the highest picture quality available in all rooms of your house. If you want to achieve the same thing with Sky’s hardware, you’ll need to buy a Sky Glass and use its Stream Pucks in other rooms around the house.
Virgin TV 360 is slightly newer than Sky Q, but boasts a very similar experience
Lastly, Virgin TV 360 is the only box that supports separate profiles. Since every household member can have their own profile, Virgin TV 360 will only use your viewing habits to recommend new boxsets and films. Likewise, Virgin Media will synchronise your progress in series across devices – so you can pick up exactly where you left off using the TV To Go app on Android and iOS. That’s very different to Sky Glass and Sky Q, which use AI (artificial intelligence) to suggest new shows, films and sports based on everything watched on the box.
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