Will you get a YouView or Sky Q? Does it hold 1TB or 2TB? Can you record live TV or just pause and rewind? Here’s your guide to what set-top box providers offer and what you can expect out of each one.
Although some features — like catch-up and on-demand TV — are standard nowadays, every TV provider offers a different set-top box, and each of those boxes does different things.
Depending on who your provider is, you might be able to watch Netflix through your set-top box, or you might need an extra device. Some boxes let you record live TV while others only let you pause and rewind.
Here's a breakdown of each provider's set-top boxes, so you can know exactly what you'll be getting.
Sky launched its Sky Q box in early 2016. Within that same year, the company officially discontinued its Sky+ HD box, meaning all new subscribers receive the Sky Q and the only decision you’ll have to make is whether you want the 1TB or the 2TB box.
To help you in your decision, we've got a full Sky Q set-top box review of the 2TB version.
The Sky Q 1TB box has — as its name suggests — 1TB of space for you to store up to 500 hours of standard definition TV. It can record three shows at once while letting you watch a fourth live.
Depending on your Sky TV bundle, you can watch HD programming using the 1TB set-top box. You can navigate the Sky Q 1TB box using a standard, easy-to-use Sky Q remote.
If you also pick up a Sky Q Mini box, which gives you multiscreen capabilities, you’ll be able to watch Sky TV in two rooms at the same time. Or you can use Sky Go to stream live, on-demand or recorded shows on your tablet.
Sky Q 1TB set-top box features:
Recording up to 3 shows and watching a fourth live
Access apps like Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus and Spotify
Up to 500 hours of SD recordings storage
Watch films and TV shows in HD
Watch and record live TV
Access all your content on one Sky Q Mini box
In addition to all the features listed above, the Sky Q 1TB UHD set-top box allows you to watch TV and movies in stunning Ultra-HD. For this, you'll need a 4K TV, the Sky HD and UHD add-ons, AND a good broadband connection. To stream Ultra-HD you'll need a speed of at least 25Mbps.
In addition to having double the storage space of the 1TB box, the 2TB version of the Sky Q box has some added features.
With the 2TB box, you can record six shows while watching a seventh live, and you can get an additional Sky Q Mini box that allows you to watch Sky TV in three rooms at the same time.
Sky Go usability is also improved for subscribers with the 2TB box: up to two compatible devices — not just tablets — can stream live, on-demand and recorded shows through the app.
The Sky Q 2TB box comes with a revolutionary Sky Q touch remote, which uses haptic feedback and gestures instead of regular buttons. The remote is Bluetooth-powered, so if you ever lose it, you can find it by pressing a button on the set-top box. Additionally, you can use voice commands to search for content, too.
The last bonus feature on the 2TB box is its ability to handle UHD or 4K quality programming in addition to HD.
Sky Q 2TB set-top box features:
Record 6 shows and watch a 7th live
Get access to apps like Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus and Spotify
Up to 1000 hours of SD recordings storage
Watch films and TV shows in 4K Ultra HD
Watch Sky content on two Sky Q Mini boxes simultaneously
BT offers three different set-top boxes, each with its own set of features for you to choose from.
The BT TV Box Z4 lets you pause and rewind live TV for up to 30 minutes, but doesn't let you record TV shows or movies. You can watch Freeview channels, access on-demand players like BBC iPlayer, All 4 and BT Player and watch subscription services from BT TV.
In addition to pausing and rewinding live TV, with the BT TV Recordable Box G4 you can record up to 300 hours of TV on its 500GB hard drive. You'll also be able to access all the same subscription and on-demand services from BT TV, Freeview, BBC iPlayer, All 4, BT Player and more.
The BT TV 4k Recordable Box G5 has all the same features as the G4 but allows you to watch and record TV content in 4K/Ultra-HD. For this, you'll also need an Ultra-HD subscription like the Total Entertainment or Max package.
TalkTalk’s two set-top boxes are also built by YouView. Similar to BT, the box you get depends on which package you sign up for.
If you’re on TalkTalk’s standard TV package, you’ll get the TalkTalk TV Box.
The TalkTalk TV Box lets you pause and rewind up to 30 minutes of live TV, but you can’t record any programmes on this box. You can access on-demand content through catch-up services and apps within the device, however, or buy or rent TV series and films through the TalkTalk TV Store.
TalkTalk’s TV Plus Box is a step up from the TalkTalk TV Box. With the TV Plus box, you can record two programmes at the same time and store up to 185 hours of recordings on the set-top box.
If you have the TV Plus Box, you can also use TalkTalk’s TV Planner app on up to five devices. The TV Planner App lets you view the guide, set reminders for programmes or schedule recordings no matter where you are.
Read our TalkTalk TV Plus Box review.
Virgin has two different set-top boxes — TiVo’s 500GB box or the Virgin V6 set-top box. While some customers may still have a TiVo, all new customers will get Virgin's V6 set-top box when signing up for any package.
The V6 has 1TB or storage space, so you can pause, rewind and record up to 500 hours of TV. It also lets you record up to a record-breaking six shows at once. You can have up to three V6s in your home for multiscreen viewing, which gives you a total of 18 simultaneous recordings.
If you do have multiple V6 boxes, they can also link to one another — or to another TiVo box — wirelessly or through a Powerline adaptor so you can view recordings from other boxes.
The V6 lets you view 4K or UHD programming, and it’s future-proofed to handle upcoming HDR TV, as long as your TV can display it.
Although it’s not a touchpad remote like Sky Q’s, the V6’s remote is also Bluetooth-operated and has a location feature that links it to your set-top box, too.
It comes with all the same features as the TiVo, of course, including Series Link+, which works a bit faster on the V6 due to the updated hardware.
Read our full Virgin V6 review.
EE recently moved away from its own set-top boxes in favour of Apple TV. Now EE TV customers can stream all their favourite content live, as well as access catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4, and add subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and of course Apple TV Plus.
Get a better idea of what pay-TV services are available near you with our TV postcode checker, then browse through to find the best TV deal and equipment for you.