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Best UK streaming and pay-TV services 2020: Sky, Virgin, Netflix and Amazon Prime compared and ranked | Technology

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The choice of how you get your TV and movies in the UK has exploded in recent years, with a growing number of premium pay-TV providers and streaming services available at a wide range of prices.

Many of them have long contracts, exclusive content and complicated bundled pricing. And that’s before you work out how to actually get it to your television, whether it is live broadcast TV via the traditional routes of aerial, satellite or cable, new offerings of streaming live TV over the internet, on-demand download or streaming services, or a mix of all three. All of which makes choosing the right one for you a bit of a minefield of information overload.

To help you pick the best pay-TV or streaming service for your needs, wants and budget, here’s a guide covering all the options from Sky Q to Netflix and everything in between.

This Guardian buyer’s guide to UK pay-TV and streaming services was last updated on 13 July 2020, and represents the best available and tested at the time. As services change and new ones are tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right pay-TV or streaming service for you.

Welcome to one of the Guardian’s new buyer’s guides. This article represents hundreds of hours of testing by the author to bring together a succinct list of recommended products or services so you can pick from the best and ignore the rest without having to do hours of your own research.

While the Guardian may earn a small commission from items bought through affiliate links, the items featured in this buyer’s guide have been tested and included without influence from any advertiser or commercial initiative.

Best broadcast: Sky Q

Monthly from: £29 to £122.99

★★★★★

best pay tv - sky q



Sky Q is the best premium pay-TV experience you can get in the UK, with the most 4K content, best box, customisable EPG and brilliant Sky Go app. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Minimum contract: 18 months
Connection: satellite, broadband

Sky’s Q box has long been the expensive, pay-TV platform to beat, offering a better, more flexible and seamless experience than rivals.

It starts with the little things. The interface is modern, fast and responsive. Voice search via the remote is fantastic and can be used to control playback too. The remote is well designed. You can create a custom TV guide, not only editing which channels are shown but the order in which they are displayed, something key rivals still do not offer.

A vast array of live channels are available, depending on your chosen package. Sky Atlantic is exclusive to Sky, available through Sky Q and Now TV, which features HBO shows such as Game of Thrones and Westworld. Most channels are available in HD, sports such a the Premier League, Formula One, darts, rugby and boxing are broadcast live in 4K too. Note that HD and 4K are optional add-ons and that BT Sport is not available in 4K. You can record up to six programmes simultaneously and watch another.

Sky Q has one of the widest selections of on-demand 4K content, including its own box sets and movies, plus those available from Netflix and Disney+. The latest Dolby Atmos surround sound is available for certain things shown in 4K such as the Premier League, some box sets and movies. The recent addition of HDR (HLG) support looks fantastic, with a small selection of 4K on-demand nature programmes currently available and live TV and movies due later, including the Olympics planned for next year.

All on-demand content, including catchup, Netflix and Disney+, is integrated directly into the main interface such as the TV guides and search. Everything, apart from content from Netflix or Disney+, downloads to the Sky Q box rather than being streamed directly, which is beneficial for slower connections. You can start watching before the download completes, and the quality is fixed rather than being variable based on your connection. You can therefore watch 4K downloads from Sky even if your broadband is too slow to stream in 4K from other services. You can also queue downloads in the background and leave them going overnight with the box on standby.

The individual catchup and streaming apps are also available, if you would prefer to use them instead of the main Sky Q interface, alongside YouTube, YouTube Kids, Spotify and others, while AirPlay is available for streaming music from an Apple device. Sky Store, through which you can buy or rent content not available as part of a subscription, is available on Sky Q too.

Sky Q also has multiroom options costing £14 a month using wireless Mini Q boxes, which stream content including live TV, recordings and on-demand straight from the main box via wifi or ethernet. Alternatively the excellent Sky Go app on smartphones, tablets, Windows 10 and Macs can do the same thing, streaming live TV, recordings from the main box or on-demand content over the internet with offline downloads too.

Sky also has extensive parental controls, including a dedicated Kids Safe Mode, which only shows U-rated content, and pin-protection of age-rated content, pre-watershed playback, purchases or individual recordings. The adult entertainment channels can be hidden and you can block access to third-party apps. The same parental controls apply to Sky Go too.

Heavy rain and storms can occasionally interrupt the satellite signal, but the primary downside for Sky Q is cost. Although it is scalable, paying for only sections and capabilities you watch such as sport or movies, it is one of the most expensive services with a fairly complex pricing structure that has HD and 4K as added extras. It is often better value when bought with other services such as broadband. Look out for deals too, as Sky routinely offers bundled discounts.

Why should you get Sky Q?

Sky Q is the best pay-TV service in the UK, with a modern interface, fast box and good remote, access to the most 4K broadcast content both live and on-demand, plus recently added HDR content, and the ability to take a lot of it with you on devices, either on-demand or recordings.

Subscribe if: you want the best experience plus 4K and HDR

Don’t subscribe if: you don’t want 4K or want something that doesn’t cost as much

Best live streaming: Now TV

Monthly from: £3.99 to £65.95

★★★★☆

best pay tv -now tv



Now TV offers Sky channels and content over the internet without long contracts, either with a smart streaming stick or via an app on your TV or set-top box. Photograph: Sky

Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (2.5Mbps minimum)

If you want access to Sky’s content but don’t want a satellite dish, another set-top box or a lengthy contract, Now TV is the answer. It is essentially pay-TV on a rolling monthly basis streamed over the internet by Sky.

The interface is fairly easy to navigate and is responsive on more modern devices. The service is broken down into five monthly “passes”, which can be bought individually or combined, and auto-renew each month unless cancelled. These provide streaming access to live channels and on-demand content that aren’t available on Freeview.

The £8.99 Entertainment Pass has 300 TV box sets plus 17 live streaming TV channels including Sky Atlantic. The £11.99 Sky Cinema Pass has 11 of Sky’s movie channels plus thousands of on-demand movies. The £33.99 Sky Sports Pass has all 11 Sky Sports channels but can also be bought per day at £9.99 too. The £3.99 Kids Pass has six kids’ channels and thousands of ad-free children’s shows on demand. The £3.99 hayu Pass has US reality TV shows.

All content is streamed at up to 720p HD resolution with a minimum required broadband connection of 2.5Mbps or 450Kbps on 4G. Six devices can be registered at any one time and up to two screens or devices can be used simultaneously for easy multiroom access. The £3 Boost add-on increases the maximum streaming quality to 1080p HD, adds Dolby 5.1 surround sound and a third concurrent stream. It is worth noting that a Chromecast counts as two devices, the phone controlling it and the actual Chromecast.

Parental controls can be enabled, requiring a pin to start watching live channel streams and filtering on-demand content by age restrictions.

Sky has its own Now TV Smart Stick (£24.99), which streams Now TV, plus UK catchup apps, Netflix and Disney+. But Now TV works on a wide range of third-party devices, including some Samsung and LG TVs, PS4, Xbox One, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, YouView, Android, iOS, macOS and Windows. You can download shows for offline viewing on smartphones and tablets via wifi too.

The primary downsides are that you can’t get Now TV in 4K, HDR or with Dolby Atmos, not all devices support the Boost add-on for 1080p streaming and without it the streaming frame rate can be below 50 frames per second, which in theory can make fast-moving action such as sports a bit jumpy and jarring if your TV doesn’t have motion-smoothing to compensate.

Why should you get Now TV?

Now TV puts the best of Sky’s channels and content on your TV or devices without a dish, box or long contract. If you want a pay-TV top-up to your Freeview, this is it.

Subscribe if: you want the best of UK pay-TV without a contract

Don’t subscribe if: you want 4K, recordings or have really slow broadband

Best on-demand: Netflix

Monthly from: £5.99 to £11.99

★★★★★

best streaming service - netflix



Netflix was one of the first streaming services and is still the best, supporting the latest technologies and formats with a large library. Photograph: Netflix

Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (3Mbps minimum)

Netflix is the byword for streaming and on-demand content. It is the original and still the best in terms of streaming quality, technology and library.

The app is available on practically any device, TV or computer, with the widest availability of any of the services. That includes Android, iPhones, iPads and Windows 10 PCs, plus browser-based streaming. Many smart TVs come with Netflix pre-installed and may even have a Netflix button on the remote. You can get Netflix on a large range of Blu-ray players (remember discs?), all the major games consoles, including older ones, most set-top boxes including YouView, Sky Q, Virgin and BT, plus streaming media players such as Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast and Roku.

Netflix’s technology, both on the app side and the streaming side, is some of the very best. You can download for offline viewing on tablets and smartphones, including an excellent Windows 10 app, and stream in the latest formats, including 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Atmos, with the right device and plan. There are approximately 1,000 TV shows and movies available in 4K on Netflix.

The service is broken down into three streaming plans. The £5.99 Basic plan has one stream at a time and only in standard definition. The £8.99 Standard plan can stream to two screens at once (for multi-room) and in 1080p FHD. The £11.99 Premium plan has four streams and up to 4K, which is also required for HDR10, Dolby Vision and Atmos. The minimum bandwidth requirements are 3Mbps for SD, 5Mbps for HD and at least 25Mbps for streaming 4K content.

Netflix also has one of the largest libraries available, including relatively new shows and movies, lots of older content, plus a raft of its original productions (which is generally of higher quality than competitors), including hits such as Stranger Things and exclusives such as Star Trek: Discovery, which is broadcast by CBS in the US.

It also has multi-user support with profiles that can be locked by pin. Parental controls include age ratings, the ability to block individual TV shows or movies, plus a dedicated Kids experience. If you travel with Netflix you get access to the library in different countries, which can be good but can also cut you off from the particular content you want when on holiday if it’s not available in that country.

The primary downside with Netflix is that the sheer volume of content overwhelms the interface, making it hard to find what you want, outside of a search. It has filtering by TV show or movie genre, a recently added list and a recommendation engine to help, but can often be frustrating.

Why should you get Netflix?

Netflix has the best streaming technology, apps and device support, as well as one of the largest libraries including high-quality original TV shows and movies, but also a vast back catalogue of old and new shows and movies.

Subscribe if: you want up to 4K HDR streaming and a massive library of TV shows and films

Don’t subscribe if: you want the very latest movies, arthouse films or more niche TV

Best for kids: Disney+

Monthly from: £5.99

★★★★★

best streaming service - disney+



Disney+ offers a wealth of family-friendly content with really good technology, allowing streaming on a large range of devices including excellent smartphone and tablet apps. Photograph: Disney

Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (5Mbps minimum)

Disney+ is the newest streaming service on the block and it gets a lot of things right on first try.

It has some of the best streaming technology. You can watch on four screens, devices or rooms at once with 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Atmos or Digital 5.1 available as standard. You can download any TV show or movie on the service, and watch it on a large range of devices, including: LG, Samsung and Android smart TVs, Sky Q, Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, PS4, Xbox One, smartphones, iPads, Fire tablets and computers in the browser.

The Disney+ interface is fairly straightforward too, and you can have separate accounts, including for children, so the suggestions are relevant to different users. However, the accounts cannot be pin-locked.

The depth and breadth of family-friendly content is unrivalled, with everything Disney has made right back to the original Mickey Mouse, cartoons such as X-Men from my childhood, all of the modern cartoons as well as the Pixar films. It also has some more adult-themed content, including all the Marvel and Star Wars films and TV shows, all of the Simpsons and National Geographic content, plus a small but solid selection of new Disney+ original content, such as the excellent Mandalorian and recent release of Hamilton.

Disney+ costs £5.99 per month or £59.99 for a year up front, with no contracts or streaming quality limits. It requires a minimum internet speed of 5Mbps for HD and 25Mbps for 4K streaming.

The primary downside with Disney+ is the lack of any non-Disney-produced content, but then this is a one-brand service. It’s also worth noting that Disney will withdraw its longstanding Disney Channel, DisneyXD and Disney Junior from Sky and Virgin, making Disney+ the sole home for their content from 1 October 2020.

Why should you get Disney+?

If you or your children love Disney movies, you want all the Star Wars or Marvel movies and TV shows in one place, or you want to revisit your childhood cartoons, this is the service for you. The technology is pretty good too.

Subscribe if: you have kids that need family-friendly entertainment or just love Disney, Marvel or Star Wars

Don’t subscribe if: you’re looking for vast libraries of more adult-themed content

Best value: Amazon Prime Video

Monthly from: £5.99 to £7.99

★★★★★

best streaming service - amazon prime video



Amazon Prime Video rivals Netflix with a fairly large library, good technology, 4K HDR and live sport streaming. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (1Mbps minimum)

Taken on its own, Amazon Prime Video is one of the best video-streaming services available rivalling Netflix, with a large range of content spanning third-party TV show box sets, big and small movies, and a small but good selection of original or exclusive TV shows, including its own Star Trek. It also has something most streaming service don’t: live sport, including some Premier League games, 39 ATP World Tour tennis events and NFL Thursday Night games.

It is available as a £5.99 a month subscription on its own, but it is far better value wrapped into a full Prime account at £7.99 a month or £79 a year. For the extra £6.58, or 69p more per month, you get Amazon’s delivery service, of course, but also Prime Music with access to 2m songs, Prime Reading with a rotating selection of ebooks, magazines and comics, plus Photos with unlimited photo storage and Drive with 5GB of storage.

Prime Video can stream across a large range of devices, including Amazon’s various Fire TV and Fire tablet devices, iPhones, iPads and Android devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One and PS4, BT TV, TalkTalk TV and Virgin set top boxes, plus apps on a range of smart TVs. You can watch in the browser on a computer and download shows for offline viewing with the new Windows 10 app for PCs or on mobile devices.

You can watch Prime Video on up to three devices or rooms at the same time, but only two devices can stream the same piece of content simultaneously.

Amazon supports all the latest formats including 4K, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, Atmos and Digital 5.1, with about 100 TV show seasons and a modest film selection available in 4K, including Amazon’s originals and some Premier League games. A minimum broadband speed of 1Mbps is required to stream in SD, 5Mbps for HD and 15Mbps for 4K.

Parental controls can be set to pin-protect all purchases, and stop children from seeing certain content based on age rating. Amazon allows you to apply restrictions based on device too, meaning your child’s tablet or the TV can require a pin but your phone can be restriction-free.

The primary downside of Prime Video is its interface for sport, which is clunky, and it can be difficult to differentiate between what is live and what is catchup. It also doesn’t have as many hit original shows as Netflix. Note that it can be difficult to discern between what is included with Prime Video and what costs extra for rent or purchase through the Amazon Video store, with which the recent addition of a “free to me” switch on some devices has helped significantly.

Why should you get Amazon Prime Video?

Amazon Prime Video is excellent value on its own, undercutting its rival Netflix, but even better as part of a full Prime account making it a no-brainer for those already part of Amazon’s ecosystem. It also offers something others don’t: high-quality live sport

Subscribe if: you’re looking for the best-value streaming service, live sport or are already in the Amazon ecosystem

Don’t subscribe if: you want a larger library of TV shows and films

Electronic programme guide (EPG)

The EPG is the TV listings, often allowing recording scheduling and showing up to seven days of programmes.  

Personal video recorder (PVR)

A PVR, also known as a digital video recorder (DVR), is a set-top box that works as both a tuner and a recording device. Most set-top boxes provided with pay-TV services are PVRs.

Terrestrial, satellite, cable or IPTV

The method of delivering the TV signal. Terrestrial is the term given to broadcast TV signals received by an aerial used by Freeview, satellite is used by Sky sending signals to mini-dishes, cable is used by Virgin and IPTV is a system of streaming live TV over the internet.

Streaming v downloading

Streaming only buffers the picture in small amounts before being shown on screen and is dynamic, varying in quality and resolution to maximise the experience without overwhelming your internet connection. This is why streams often start looking poor and improve as they ramp up to higher quality.

Downloads are a fixed-quality video file that is stored locally and played back, either after they have fully downloaded or when enough of the content has been stored that a suitable buffer has been reached.

Live v on-demand

Live TV is broadcast in a linear fashion, where you tune in and watch as it happens. On-demand is pre-recorded and delivered to you when you want it. Live TV can also be offered on demand, where you can “restart” or “recap” a live broadcast using a PVR or stream.

Catch-up

The term used for recordings of broadcast content made available on-demand after they have been shown live on television.

Box sets

Box sets are shows collected by season or complete series available on demand.

Single, double, triple and quad-play

The terms used to describe the delivering one or more service from the same provider, typically including one or more of TV, landline, broadband and mobile phone.

Multiroom

Multiroom is the term used to describe the option to watch a TV service on more than one television or device, usually via a second set-top box.

Over the top (OTT)

The term used to describe services that deliver their content via the internet, rather than a fixed, single-purpose delivery mechanism such as terrestrial, satellite or cable.

Frame rate

Frame rate is the number of still images shown per second to make up a moving image either given either in Hertz (Hz) or frames per second (fps), which are interchangeable. They typically number 24fps for cinema pictures, 25fps for broadcast HDTV and 50fps for 4K UHD TV.

Motion-smoothing

Motion-smoothing, motion compensation or motion interpolation, often referred to as 240Hz, TruMotion, Motion Plus, Motion Flow or similar, is a image processing system that attempts to remove the judder of motion caused by lower frame rates by inserting artificially created frames in between the real ones.

It is particularly beneficial for sports or other high-motion content, but also creates the so-called soap opera effect in movies where films look cheapened akin to daytime TV or YouTube videos.

High definition (HD)

HD describes a content shown with a greater number of pixels than standard definition, which provides a crisper picture. It is split into 720p, which has a minimum resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, and 1080i/p (often called full HD or FHD), which has a minimum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and is sometimes known as 2K.

Pictures show in 1080i are interlaced, which means that the horizontal lines that make up the picture are drawn on the screen in an alternate fashion with the odd lines first then the even lines. Pictures shown in 1080p are progressive, which means the all the lines are drawn on the screen one by one from top to bottom. Interlaced pictures produce two so-called “fields” per frame of progressive picture, which helps handle the display of motion at a lower frame rates. 

4K ultra high definition

4K UHD, also known as just UHD or 4K, describes content shown at four times the resolution of full HD, at 3840 x 2160 pixels, for a significantly crisper picture, particularly on larger displays. UHD can also refer to 8K UHD (7680 x 4320 pixels), which is not currently widely available.

High dynamic range (HDR)

HDR is a method of encoding brightness information alongside colour, which produces a greater brightness range between the brightest whites and darkest blacks for more lifelike picture. Typically HDR signals are only included with the highest quality video, usually in 4K. There are several complimentary and competing formats of HDR including:

  • HDR10 – the basic open HDR standard supported by most devices that is static for the whole piece of content
  • HDR10+ – an enhancement of HDR10 that provides dynamic metadata on top on a frame-by-frame or scene-by-scene basis
  • Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) – a royalty-free HDR standard used in some broadcasts and on-demand content
  • Dolby Vision – Dolby’s proprietary HDR standard that can be static or dynamic and is seeing increasingly wide support

Surround sound

Surround sound takes many forms but is essentially anything that is more than just stereo (2.0) or 2.1 (left, right and a subwoofer).

Dolby Digital (DD)

DD, also known as Dolby 5.1 or AC-3, is the best known surround-sound standard as it was one of the defaults for DVDs. It encodes up to five speakers and a subwoofer (5.1), typically arranged in centre, left and right channels at the front and left and right at the rear. DTS was the competing format on DVDs.  

Dolby Digital Plus (DD+)

DD+, also known as Enhanced AC-3, is the successor to Dolby Digital and is used by most modern broadcast, Blu-rays and on-demand content. It encodes up to 16 channels, typically 5.1 or 7.1, with two extra side channels on left and right of the centre spot.  

Dolby TrueHD

Dolby TrueHD is a lossless, high-resolution 16-channel surround-sound format that was a successor to DD and typically found on Blu-rays. DTS-MA is the competing format for Blu-rays.  

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is the latest Dolby surround-sound format that operates differently to its predecessors. Rather than dictating the channel from which a sound is played, Atmos is object-based system, which defines where a sound is coming from in a 3D space including a height element. The Atmos soundtrack therefore encodes where the object should sound like its coming from, allowing the processor to then figure out which speakers to play it through. DTS:X is the competing format.

In the home, Atmos spatial information is delivered as an additional layer to Dolby TrueHD, or more commonly to DD+ soundtracks, as is the case with most on-demand content. Atmos-capable home systems are typically configured with five or seven surround speakers, a subwoofter and two height speakers (5.1.2 or 7.1.2). Height speakers are typically either mounted to the ceiling above the listener, or speakers that project sound up and bounce it off the ceiling.

Chromecast

Google’s gadget for streaming content to a TV. It is a stick that plugs into an HDMI port and streams content straight from the internet with a phone, tablet or computer acting as a remote, rather than a conduit. Google’s Chrome browser can also mirror a tab from computer or an Android phone can mirror its screen and audio directly to a Chromecast.  

Google Cast

Google’s method of sending video and audio to a Chromecast using a phone, tablet or computer as a remote or mirroring its screen. It is often used interchangeably with Chromecast, and is represented by the icon of a screen with radio waves moving into it from the bottom left corner.

Chromecast built-in

Google’s Chromecast technology that is directly integrated into a TV or other set-top box, which behaves in the same way as the physical Chromecast dongles.

AirPlay

Apple’s AirPlay and its successor, AirPlay 2, send video and audio directly from a smartphone, tablet or computer to a set-top box or speaker using wifi.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth, in internet terms, is the amount of data that can be sent or received at any one time, typically measured in bits per second (bps) and often referred to colloquially as the download, upload or, simply, internet speed. An 8Mbps internet connection can download 8m bits per second.

It’s worth noting that the bits travel at the same actual speed regardless of the bandwidth, just that more of them can travel simultaneously, and that there are eight bits in a byte, meaning a 1MB file will take one second to transfer across an 8Mbps connection.

Runners up

Virgin Media TV

Monthly from: £33 to £178.49

★★★★☆

pay tv buyer's guide - virgin TV


Minimum contract: 18 months
Connection: cable, broadband

Virgin Media is the other big pay-TV provider in the UK using cable instead of satellite, which has the advantage of avoiding any possibility of weather disturbances, but reduces availability to only those properties that are connected to Virgin’s underground network.

Virgin takes a different approach to Sky, acting as an aggregator of everyone else’s content and its V6 set top box acting more like a smart TV. That means you can get practically every channel, bar Sky Atlantic, on Virgin and often in oddly named “Oomph” bundles that are cheaper than those from competitors.

It has a unified search for all content across multiple services and a series of powerful recording options for shows, even spanning multiple channels. It also has practically every streaming TV app (apart from Now TV), including all the UK catchup services and BBC Sounds, and the Virgin movie and TV rental store. The V6 box is capable of 4K and HDR, but other than BT Sport Ultimate and Virgin’s own UHD channel, it lacks any other 4K broadcasts and is very short on 4K on-demand content, instead relying on streams from Netflix, Amazon and others.

While fast, the interface is dated and you cannot change the order of channels in the electronic programming guide (EPG), which makes it unwieldy and frustrating to use compared with Sky Q. Catchup and on-demand content is mainly streamed by the individual apps too, which means jumping into and out of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, etc, which can be a bit slow and awkward. Not all catchup content is in HD either, while streaming is reliant on your broadband, not the cable connection into the back of the box, which means if your router isn’t near your TV you might have problems.

You can have up to five set-top boxes for multiroom TV, including the ability to stream recordings between boxes. Virgin’s TV Go app streams live TV over the internet, and downloads for offline, but doesn’t access recordings on your V6 box, and the quality even over a fast connection can be hit and miss.

You also can’t buy TV without broadband, and many of the larger TV packages can only be bought in bundles which include broadband, phone and mobile phone (triple- or quad-play). Virgin has also had a few outages over the last several months, which has caused some of the services to go offline for short periods of time.

BT TV

Monthly from: £36.99 to £103.97

★★★☆☆

pay tv buyer's guide - BT TV


Minimum contract length: 24 months
Connection: aerial, broadband (3Mbps minimum)

BT TV is an add-on service for BT Broadband customers and is essentially a YouView PVR set top box with Freeview and BT’s exclusive AMC channel. On top you can subscribe to Now TV’s various entertainment, movies and sport packages, plus BT Kids or BT’s Sport channels and BoxNation, including BT Sport Ultimate in 4K.

The BT TV box comes in several versions, including just a TV box with no recording functions beyond short-term pause and rewind, one with full recording functions and one with recording and 4K support. You can edit the EPG and the boxes support all the terrestrial catchup and streaming apps – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Spotify and others – but some of the boxes suffer from app crashes and can be fairly slow to turn on, even from non-eco standby.

Multiroom is available with an additional set-top box, but it must have its own aerial connection and be cabled into your router via ethernet. It also requires higher broadband speeds, you can’t watch recordings from another box and multiroom is limited to just two rooms.

As with Virgin TV, you can’t buy BT TV without BT Broadband, which also requires a BT phone line, so it’s only available as triple-play. But you can change the channels you pay for each month, which makes it more flexible than most of the competition. BT recommends a minimum broadband connection of 44Mbps for 4K content.

Apple TV+

Monthly from: £4.99

★★★☆☆

pay tv buyer's guide - Apple TV+


Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (5Mbps minimum)

Apple TV+ is a bit of an odd offering. It is exclusively made up of movies and TV shows made by Apple, meaning there’s not an awful lot of it. There are some really good bits, such as The Morning Show, but much of it isn’t compelling, meaning you would run out of things to watch rather quickly if it was your only content provider.

The Apple TV app is available on Apple’s devices, including Macs, iPhones, iPads and the Apple TV streaming box, on a handful of smart TVs from Samsung and LG, plus Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku’s streaming boxes, but not Android devices or Amazon’s Fire tablets. Other devices can stream Apple TV+ in a browser. You can watch on up to six devices or rooms simultaneously, and download shows on Apple’s devices.

A year subscription of Apple TV+ is bundled with new Apple devices such as phones, tablets and computers or there’s a seven-day free trial available.

Britbox

Monthly from: £5.99

★★★☆☆

pay tv buyer's guide - Britbox


Minimum contract: one month
Connection: broadband (3Mbps minimum)

Britbox is the latest streaming service from BBC and ITV, which, as the name might suggest, concentrates on British TV show box sets and movies.

It draws content from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, which means the mainstay of the library is older dramas, comedies and documentaries that have been shown on terrestrial TV at one stage or another. It has 327 box sets dating from the 1980s till now. That means many of the TV shows are also available for free through the various catchup providers, such as BBC iPlayer or rival services such as Now TV, Amazon Prime Video or Netflix.

Programmes and movies are all ad-free and steamed in either SD or HD, depending on how old the material is. A minimum broadband of 3Mbps for SD and 6.5Mbps for HD streaming is required.

Device support is limited to a handful of smart TVs, including Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and LG; set-top boxes such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and YouView, plus web browsers on computers, Android and iOS devices. There are parental controls, which pin-lock any PG or older age-rated content.

The apps are a bit dated in features, slow to navigate and lag behind competitors by some margin, but are improving fairly quickly, including recent updates to provide offline downloads, remember positions in shows and similar. There are no individual profiles and the recommendations are a bit poor, but you can browse through everything on the service in about 15 minutes so it’s not overwhelming.

A 30-day free trial is available. Britbox.co.uk is not to be confused with Britbox.com, which is only available to those in the US and Canada.

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Technology

Apple security chief accused of bribing officers in exchange for gun permits

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Steve Proehl | Corbis Unreleased | Getty Images

A grand jury in Santa Clara, California, issued an indictment on Monday accusing Apple’s chief security officer, Thomas Moyer, of offering bribes to secure concealed carry permits for Apple employees.

Moyer allegedly promised to donate 200 iPads worth $70,000 to the Sheriff’s Office in exchange for four concealed weapons (CCW) permits “withheld from Apple employees,” according to a press release from the Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Tom Moyer is innocent of the charges filed against him. He did nothing wrong and has acted with the highest integrity throughout his career. We have no doubt he will be acquitted at trial,” Moyer’s lawyer Ed Swanson said in a statement to CNBC.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The charges filed on Monday are part of an investigation dating back to 2019 into whether or not the Santa Clara sheriff uses concealed carry permits to help solicit bribes and political donations. The sheriff’s office covers Cupertino, California, where Apple’s headquarters is located. Moyer has worked at Apple for 14 years and is now its head of global security, his lawyer said on Monday.

The Santa Clara DA said that while state law says that people who receive concealed carry licenses in California need to demonstrate “good cause,” as well as a firearms course and have good moral character, the sheriff has the final say in determining who should qualify.

“Ultimately, this case is about a long, bitter and very public dispute between the Santa Clara County Sheriff and the District Attorney, and Tom is collateral damage to that dispute,” Swanson said in a statement on behalf of Moyer.

The Santa Clara DA alleges that officials in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, Undersheriff Rick Sung, and Captain James Jensen, were part of a scheme where they solicited bribes in exchange for easier approval of concealed carry permits. An insurance broker with political connections in San Jose was also charged with offering bribes in exchange permits on Monday.

In 2020, an investigation from NBC Bay Area found that donors to the Santa Clara Sheriff’s political campaigns were about 14 times more likely to get a concealed weapons permit than those who didn’t contribute. Sheriff Laurie Smith hasn’t been charged. Previously, four people were charged with conspiracy and bribery in August as a result of the investigation.

The promised donation of the iPads was never fulfilled, according to the Santa Clara DA, because it was scuttled after a search warrant was executed for concealed carry records at the Sheriff’s office in August 2019.


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Apple extends fee waiver for digital classes in App Store

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Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California, onJune 13, 2016.

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Apple said on Monday that companies that offer digital classes or virtual events through iPhone apps won’t have to use Apple’s App Store in-app purchases through June 2021, enabling them to charge their customers directly without Apple’s 30% commission fee.

Apple said the extension was to help businesses by giving them more time to transition in-person events to digital events during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although apps are required to offer any paid online group event experiences (one-to-few and one-to-many realtime experiences) through in-app purchase in accordance with App Store Review guideline 3.1.1, we temporarily deferred this requirement with an original deadline of December 2020,” Apple wrote on its developer blog. “To allow additional time for developing in-app purchase solutions, this deadline has been extended to June 30, 2021.”

An Apple spokesperson did not have a comment beyond Monday’s announcement.

The move is the latest olive branch from Apple to critics of the App Store, which say the iPhone giant’s control over the platform and fees are anticompetitive. Apple also announced earlier this month that it planned to reduce its commission to 15% for app developers making under $1 million on Apple’s platforms in 2021.

Apple originally waived the in-app purchase requirement for group classes and events in September, after Facebook introduced a paid events feature and tried to include copy inside its apps warning that a cut of transactions for paid events would go to Apple. But at the time, Apple only suspended its fees through December. Monday’s announcement extended it for 6 more months.

Apple requires iPhone apps to use Apple’s App Store payment processing, which takes 30% of total payments, and has been an antitrust focus of policymakers around the world. However, in-person goods, like ordering a ride through Uber or buying something from an online retailer, are not required to use App Store payments.

In September, Apple clarified that one-to-one person classes through an iPhone app could be billed directly, but any virtual classes where an instructor or group works with multiple people were required to use App Store payments.

The New York Times reported in July that some app makers, such as Airbnb and ClassPass, were switching business models to include more digital classes as in-person experiences were negatively affected by the pandemic, and Apple had asked them to use in-app purchases which entitled them to 30% of the sale.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about the company’s policies around virtual classes and events at a congressional hearing in July by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler.

“The pandemic is a tragedy and it’s hurting Americans and many people from all around the world and we would never take advantage of that,” Cook said. “I believe the cases that you’re talking about are cases where something has moved to a digital service, which technically does need to go through our commission model.”


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Saudi Arabia’s STC Pay eyes rapid Gulf expansion

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Saudi arabian flag in Asir province, Abha, Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi Arabia’s STC Pay plans to expand its financial services offering across the Gulf region, after achieving a billion-dollar “unicorn” valuation on the back of a deal with Western Union.

“We are very proud of becoming the first unicorn in the Kingdom and the first fintech unicorn in the Middle East,” STC Pay CEO Ahmed Alenazi told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Monday. 

STC Pay reached the valuation last week after Western Union, the world’s largest money transfer firm, acquired a 15 percent stake for $200 million – giving the burgeoning payments business a value of around $1.3 billion. STC Pay is the digital payment arm of Saudi Arabia’s STC Group, the largest telco operator in the Kingdom.

“The business opportunity is bigger than money transfers,” Alenazi said. STC Pay says it has more than 4 million active users after successfully tapping into rising smartphone and internet penetration across Saudi Arabia, where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 and the government is reducing dependence on cash as a way to modernize the economy. 

Western Union, which has long seen the Gulf as a lucrative market for remittances, provides money transfer services that allow STC Pay users to send money from its app to more than 200 countries around the world. 

STC Pay is now in talks with Gulf regulators to seek approval to operate in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, subject to regulatory approvals. It said other countries were also under consideration. 

“This is where we want to change the way people look at financial services,” Alenazi said. 

STC Pay seeks banking license

STC Pay was the first fintech company licensed by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. It’s now negotiating with Saudi regulators to obtain a digital banking license.  

“This will allow us to do lending and other activities,” Alenazi said. “We have a lot to do in terms of products and services,” he added, indicating that a banking license would allow the business to expand into more valuable business areas.

“We don’t want to tap in with similar products and services available in the market, we want to tap in with a unique user experience,” he said. “We will work with the central bank to get it done ASAP.”


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