Virgin has launched a new box for broadband customers with discounts on Netflix, Disney+ and more.
Following on from Sky Glass, it’s now the turn of Virgin Media to enter the streaming world, with a new box (called “Stream”) letting you turn your TV into a voice-activated smart TV with access to most of the big apps.
There’s no long contract and the marketing makes a noise about getting 10% back on subscriptions. It sounds good in principle, so is it worth it? Here’s my look at how it compares to alternatives.
What is Stream by Virgin Media?
Stream is effectively just a bit of kit – just a box you plug into the HDMI on your TV – that gives you access to the main Freeview channels and different streaming apps. You’ll watch all of these over the internet, and there’s no connection for your cable, aerial or satellite dish. From that point of view, it’s the same as an Amazon Fire Stick, Roku or Google Chromecast.
But there are some differences. The big one is it’ll only work if you have Virgin Media broadband, so if you leave Virgin Media at any point, you won’t be able to use it (you might even have to pay again to reactivate it if you later rejoin).
Unlike the other streaming boxes, you don’t have to watch via on-demand apps (though you can). In addition you can watch included or paid for channels “as live” via a guide. However you can’t record these (much like with Sky Glass).
The box comes with a more traditional remote control that has more buttons than other devices, and it’s also got voice search.
Who can get Virgin Media Stream?
As mentioned you must be an existing or new Virgin Media broadband customer. And for Stream to work you need to have a speed of at least 100mbs.
You can order one per household from the Virgin Media website, though I struggled to see where I can do this as an existing customer.
What subscriptions and channels can you watch?
The free-to-watch channels, which you can view as you would live TV via a guide, are the bulk of the ones on Freeview, though it looks like there are no +1 options.
You will get most of these in HD (eg Dave and Film4), something Freeview is more limited on.
|BBC ONE HD||Film4 HD||DMAX||FreeSports HD|
|BBC TWO HD||Really||5 USA||CBS Reality|
|ITV 1 HD||More 4 HD||ITV 4 HD||Tiny Pop|
|Channel 4||Cbeebies HD||Yesterday||Great! Movies|
|Channel 4 HD||BBC News HD||ITVBe HD||BBC Scotland HD|
|S4C HD||CBBC HD||4Music||Pop|
|Channel 5 HD||CITV||5STAR||Sky Arts|
|ITV 2 HD||BBC Alba HD||5Action HD||Sky News|
|BBC FOUR HD||BBC Parliament HD||Quest Red||GB News HD|
|ITV 3 HD||Dave||Challenge||TG4|
|Pick||Drama||4seven HD||RTE One|
|QUEST HD||W HD||5SELECT||RTE Two|
|E4 HD||BBC Three HD||Blaze||Sky Sports Racing HD|
The apps included are:
|Netflix||BBC iPlayer||Vevo||Al Jazeera|
|YouTube||STV Player||Dance TV|
Notable absences are NOW, Apple TV+, Chili and Rakuten.
These are the extra services you can get via paid subscription options. I’ve more on these below.
|Netflix||Sky Sports HD||Kids|
|Disney+||Sky Cinema HD||Starzplay|
|Prime Video||Sky Sports and Sky Cinema|
|Essential Entertainment (with Sky’s channels)||BT Sport|
What’s in the Essential Entertainment package?
I’d imagine that for existing Virgin TV customers, the Essential Entertainment package will be popular. It’s effectively the core channels you’d pay for with Virgin or Sky. Here’s what you can get, and whether you can get them on other streaming services.
|Virgin Stream||NOW Entertainment||Discovery+|
For me NOW Entertainment is the obvious winner here as you’ll also get Sky Atlantic and Peacock, as well as the kids channels included. However if you want both Sky channels and Discovery, Virgin’s package includes both,
Only three channels are unavailable elsewhere – Alibi, E and Virgin Ultra. I can’t imagine many people are that bothered about those ones to pick this over other options.
How much does it cost?
The Virgin Media Stream box
There’s a single upfront charge of £35 and there’s no need to pay anything more if you are ok sticking to Freeview channels and free apps such as iPlayer.
Though there’s no contract for Virgin Media Stream, you will be tied into your broadband agreement, which is likely to last 18 months.
You can pay for 30-day rolling subscriptions to watch content on apps like Netflix and Disney+, as well as access Virgin Media bundles of premium channels (mainly Sky ones).
However, where there is a significant difference is you’ll pay for most streaming services you watch through it via your Virgin Media bill, rather than direct with the service.
Though there are apps for Amazon Prime Video and Britbox, these aren’t included in the published list of subscriptions you can add to your Virgin bill.
How will the subscription discount work?
If you sign up for certain paid subscriptions, you’ll get a 10% discount added to your Virgin Media bill as credit to future bills.
So pay £7.99 for Disney+ and the next month there will be 80p credit taken off. Of course, a 10% discount is very welcome, but taking this deal means you’ll miss out on other offers – unless they’re offered directly by Virgin.
Terms and conditions say that the credit will be applied as long as you still have a subscription. It’s not clear if this means any Virgin subscription or that specific streaming service.
How do prices compare?
Of course, Virgin Media Stream isn’t the only way to stream these services and channels. Here’s what you’d pay via Virgin (including the 10% discount) and whether it’s possible to get it for less elsewhere.
|Service||Price||10% Monthly credit||Effective price||Cheaper elsewhere?|
|Disney+||£7.99||80p||£7.19||Sometimes (e.g £2 off via O2)|
|Sky Sports HD||£38.95||£3.86||£35.09||Yes (£33.99 or less via NOW)|
|Sky Cinema HD||£14.99||£1.50||£13.49||Yes (£9.99 or less via NOW)|
|Sky Sports & Cinema||£46.25||£4.63||£41.62||Probably (Special offers via NOW will make it cheaper)|
|BT Sports||£18||£1.80||£16.20||Yes (£10 via EE)|
|Essential Entertainment||£12||£1.20||£10.80||Possibly (£9.99 via NOW for Sky channels / £3.99 to £6.99 via Discovery+ for others)|
|Kids||£4||40p||£3.60||Possibly (included in NOW Entertainment)|
|Starzplay||£4.99||50p||£4.49||No (unless special offers are running)|
On the whole you’ll be able to get the same services for less elsewhere thanks to lower standard prices and special offers.
Exceptions include if you want Sky channels and Discovery+ (though I’d be confident of finding deals to change that), if you want the Kids channels without the extra Entertainment ones, and potentially Disney and Netflix.
Should you get a Virgin Media Stream box?
I’ve got Virgin Media broadband so I’m able to pick one of these up, and at £35 it’s not too expensive. So I was keen to see what it offered and how much it cost.
There are good and bad aspects (more on these below) but sadly I’m not going to change my existing tech and subscriptions.
I can get the bulk of channels already via my Freeview box (albeit not all in HD) and record them, so there’s no need for the free channels.
And if I want to watch the rest, going direct to the streaming services or NOW for the Sky channels it’s a no-brainer. I’ll get the same or better content but I’ll be able to pay less.
When Virgin Media Stream is bad
There are a number of areas where I think you can do better with alternatives. The key issues I have are:
The box only works while you have Virgin Broadband
If you leave Virgin you’re left with a useless bit of kit. Buy a Chromecast or Firestick with the same apps and it’ll work with any internet provider.
You can’t take advantage of other offers
Pay for Netflix, Disney and co via your Virgin bill and though you’ll save 10%, you’ll miss out on other offers which could be more lucrative. For example, a free trial of Prime Video or Clubcard discounts on Disney+.
It’s not really a 30-day contract
All subscriptions other than Disney+, Netflix & BT Sport require 30-days notice to cancel – so it’s not a true 30-day rolling contract for the other packages.
You don’t get Sky Atlantic
If you want Sky channels then surely you want Sky Atlantic?
NOW is cheaper for Sky channels
If you are happy to stream Sky channels then I’d go for NOW instead. If you do this you’ll pay less for Entertainment and get Sky Atlantic, Peacock and the Kids pack included.
It’s also cheaper for the Sports and Cinema subscriptions. Though the latter two combined are cheaper at full price on Virgin, there are always deals meaning I’m confident you’d still pay less direct with NOW.
You can only watch most options via the box
You’ll have your own log-in for Disney+, Netflix and Prime Video, so you can use them on your phone, computer and other devices if you wish.
But if you pay for the Sky channels via Stream you won’t be able to watch them on other devices. I’d rather be able to watch on other apps and devices without having to unplug the box and reconnect it, another reason NOW has the edge.
When Virgin Media Stream is good
There’s not much I can say in it’s favour, but to be fair it could be good for a small number of people.
You can watch normal TV without needing an aerial or dish
Some homes don’t have old school TV aerials and have to go with Sky just to watch normal TV. Well this means you don’t need any connection in the house – though you do need fast broadband.
It’s (probably) cheaper than a standard Virgin contract
If you’re paying for TV via Virgin then this could save you money as you aren’t linked to a long 18-month contract, meaning you can ditch services you don’t want. However, if you don’t do that, it’s still pricey. And I’d imagine there’s less room to haggle discounts here than on those longer contracts.
You’ll be able to stream in full HD
NOW does charge £5 a month for Boost which provides full HD whereas this is included with Virgin Media Stream channels. However Boost does remove adverts – something I’m not sure is the case with the standard channels on Virgin Stream.
You can save on Disney+ if you’re not on O2 or collect Clubcard points
There are bigger savings out there for Disney+, though if you aren’t on O2 or don’t shop at Tesco, the best ones won’t be available to you. So 10% off isn’t bad. However, if you’re a committed Disney+ user, it might be worth paying upfront for a year and saving around 17%.
You might be able to save on Netflix
It’s rare (though not impossible) to find discounts on Netflix. So if you’re committed to this service the 10% discount is better than nothing. However, in the terms and conditions, I did spot that it says existing and past Netflix users might not get the Virgin streaming credits!
It’s probably a cheaper way to get BT Sport
Unless you are with EE or have BT Broadband, the most likely way to get BT Sport without a pricey contract is with a £25 month pass. Going via Virgin Stream instead effectively saves you £7 a month (£8.80 when the 10% credits are included) and you can still choose to pay just for one month.