Is it worth paying for a TV subscription?
The main reason people think about signing up to a pay TV deal is because of the extra channels on offer. The biggest TV packages come with more than 300 – and it's the obvious starting point for anyone after the premium TV channels: Sky Sports, Sky Cinema – the new name for Sky Movies - and, to a slightly lesser extent, BT Sport. All the big pay TV providers offer Sky Cinema and Sky Sports, at a range of prices, and most offer BT Sport as well.
Pay TV is also the only way to get more than the up to 12 free to air HD channels available to everyone with an HD TV – and for those with a 3D-capable TV, it's the only place to find 3D content. For those who still aren't sure, there's more on pay TV versus free-to-air TV in this guide.
How do I compare pay TV deals?
Possibly the most important factor in comparing pay TV deals is availability: which providers can we get, and what channels can they offer? Because of the different ways the main providers transmit their services, some are more widely available than others – use the postcode search above to get a good idea of who offers what nearby.
Bear in mind, however, that although Youview is technically available pretty much everywhere, it relies on a strong signal reaching our aerial. If the signal is weak or disrupted, we might find we can't get even the basic line-up, and we're likely to have trouble receiving some premium channels as well.
Sky (broadcast via satellite) and Virgin Media (who use cable technology) don't have this issue – and for those who want the widest range of channels, they both offer well in excess of 200. If the number of channels isn't as important as being able to watch plenty of sport or the newest movies, it's worth comparing TV deals in terms of the premium channel packs they can offer.
Who's cheapest for the premium channels?
One of the easiest ways to compare pay TV deals is by looking at how much they charge for the premium channels like Sky Sports, Sky Cinema (previously Sky Movies) and BT Sport. All the big pay TV providers offer some or all of the channels available in Sky's premium channel packs – but they differ in terms of the exact channels they offer, and how much they charge for them. Most now offer BT Sport as well – and the price can vary dramatically. It's worth noting, however, that it's not possible to get Sky Atlantic from anyone but Sky.
If that's not an issue, check which of the providers listed above offers what, and for how much, by selecting the must have channel in question from the drop down menu above and updating the results. Filtering the results by price should make it clear that getting premium content doesn't have to be too expensive, as it's usually possible to add a premium pack to even the cheapest pay TV deal.
Which pay TV providers offer the best HD service?
Depending on where we live and the strength of the TV signal, free to air TV comes with up to 12 HD channels, most of which are from the BBC, with a couple from Channel 4 – and Al Jazeera HD. The entry-level pay TV subscriptions come with a similar number of HD channels, although the selection may vary a little.
By contrast, it's possible to get around 50 channels in HD with the biggest pay TV deals; more than 60 if we also take Sky Cinema and Sky Sports in HD. The important thing to note here is that signing up for Sky Sports or Sky Cinema doesn't automatically mean we'll get them in HD – we'll often have to pay an extra monthly fee for that.
Also note that Sky and Virgin Media are the only TV providers to offer any kind of 3D content to UK TV viewers, all on demand, and mostly in the form of movies to rent. The requirements to be able to watch in 3D vary – but it goes without saying that only people with a 3D capable TV will benefit.
What else should I look for in a pay TV deal?
Another way to compare pay TV deals is to think about the extras that come with them. Do we want to be able to watch in more than one room or on a variety of devices? How many channels do we want to be able to watch or record at once? All of the providers above offer set top boxes that can record – but with a couple the better boxes are only available with the more expensive deals. We've more on some of the boxes listed above here and here.
With more of us watching TV on demand and on the go, it's worth looking into whether we can access any of the content we're paying for online, either on a computer or via an app on a mobile device. Most of the providers listed above offer some kind of mobile streaming service, but the channels and content available will vary depending on our provider and subscription. For more detail on features such as these, take a look at our reviews, listed to the right.
Finally, it's worth keeping an eye out for special offers. Pay TV is a competitive arena, and it's not unusual to see deals being offered at a discount for a certain number of months, or with the added bonus of cash back, prepaid cards or shopping vouchers. We include details of the top deals available in the table above, and on our offers page here.
Go back up to the pay TV deals