14:41 05 December 2012
With Sky and Virgin hiking their prices in recent months, the spotlight is on how to find the best-value TV deal - especially in the run-up to the festive season.
Terrestrial television used to have the monopoly on Christmas, it was free and it made seeing the latest films a bit of an event. These days, however, terrestrial has to fight for our attention with a huge amount of alternatives on offer elsewhere.
Satellite and cable options may come at a price, but the schedules of Sky and Virgin Media are shaping up to be more entertaining than the Queen's speech and another year of Only Fools and Horses repeats.
Sky put its prices up in September, and Virgin has recently announced increases to its line rental and bundled home, phone, broadband and TV services - so it's important to shop around for the best possible deal.
With just a few weeks left until the big day, here's a look at who's offering what, and also what you can get for free.
Rupert Murdoch's subscriber-only satellite television company has signed a big deal with Warner Brothers to exclusively show the entire Harry Potter series in HD this Christmas.
If you want to watch all eight films featuring The Boy Who Lived, however, you'll have to pay for a basic Sky package plus Sky Movies. But there's a half price promotion on at the moment which sees the price of Sky Movies cut to £8 per month for six months.
You can get a free Sky+ box and free installation when you pay for the basic £21.50 a month package, bringing your total to £29.50 a month with movies. That said, if you're just in it for the Boy Wizard you can pick up the entire eight-film set on Blu-ray for £28 or on DVD for £24 at Amazon.
The ongoing deal with Warner will mean Sky has first dibs to show the likes of The Dark Knight Rises, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Dark Shadows, as and when they are released.
Other movie highlights this Christmas will include The King's Speech, True Grit, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, among others.
With the basic package you also get Sky's catch-up service, On Demand, for free, so long as you have a broadband connection. This gives you access to a library of recent programmes to re-watch at your leisure. Also free is Sky Go, which allows you to watch Sky programmes on the move with your smartphone or tablet.
For £13 a month, Virgin Media will give you 80 channels, including 6 HD channels and around 2200 hours of TV On Demand. Among those 80 channels are favourites such as E4, Dave, Sky1 and ITV2.
The inclusion of Sky1 means you can watch popular Sky1 shows such as Arrow, Elementary and An Idiot Abroadwithout having to cough up for a more expensive Sky subscription.
The catch is that you have to live in a cabled area to receive Virgin TV. You can check if you do here.
If you don't live in a cabled area, there's another option. Virgin revamped its movies service recently, rebranding as Virgin Movies. It allows you, non-Virgin customers included, to stream or download a film (as a rental) online.
Provided your broadband connection is at least 3Mb, or 6Mb for HD movies, you'll be able to choose from a library of 500 films including the likes of The Hunger Games and Men in Black 3, with prices ranging from 99p to 3.99p.
You can check your broadband speed here.
Bear in mind, however, that streaming and downloading movies will count towards your monthly download allowance, unless you're on a unlimited usage tariff. Downloading a standard definition film will be somewhere in the region 700MB, whereas streaming the same film would use between 250MB and 500MB, depending on the film length and definition.
TalkTalk doesn't do standalone TV packages as its YouView box requires an internet connection, but the company says its TV, broadband and phone bundle beats the Sky, Virgin and BT equivalents.
Its £24-a-month TV Plus package includes line rental and gives you unlimited broadband, inclusive anytime calls and a YouView box with access to 74 Freeview channels and 4,000 'boxsets' and shows to choose from on demand.
What can you get for free?
In the digital age there's still plenty to watch without having to pay a monthly subscription fee.
With Freeview you can still get channels like ITV2 and E4, as well as HD channels like BBC1 HD and ITV1 HD, so you can still catch the Downton Abbey Christmas special in all its high definition glory.
YouView is another alternative, providing free digital television channels and a free catch-up service. YouView promises more than 100 digital television and radio channels, seven day catch-up and video on demand using the libraries of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
Don't forget you can compare television, broadband and phone bundles right here at MoneySupermarket. Head over here to get started.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.
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