I guess like most people in the current economic climate, we’ve been looking at ways to save a bit of money. We’ve swapped telecoms providers saving on mobile calls, and now on landline costs, made a number of other changes, but one of the things I quickly identified was the Sky TV bill.
We’ve had Sky pretty much by necessity since we’ve moved here since down to a combination of factors about the only transmitter our roof aerial can pick up is stuff from the Crystal Palace transmitter in London. It’s not the best reception at that distance, meaning that reliable reception for digital services is not really a possibility. Since cable services aren’t available to us the only option was satellite TV, which at the point we moved in was Sky.
We started with a single Sky box, but as many people discover, recording from it is an absolute pain. Enter the Sky+ and an extra £10 a month on the bill, plus another £10 a month to have the old box plugged into the TV upstairs with the same channel selection. Then along came Sky+ HD to tempt us further, so by the end of this year when our lock-in ended we are paying over £40 a month.
I identified that we weren’t using any of the extra channels on the upstairs box – the TV was only used to watch CBeebies and the BBC News channel, both of which were available on the Freesat from Sky package, so dropping that would save £10 a month. However things moved on a bit a few weeks back when our original Sky box died. Having looked at the replacement options from Sky I went out and bought a Freesat box, and was pleasantly surprised. Although it has a slightly different selection of channels from Freesat from Sky it did contain the channels we used, and on top of that the box had built in iPlayer support. Unlike the phoney Sky Anytime video on demand service that wastes half of the space on your Sky+ or Sky+ HD box and a whole load of your electricity downloading programmes you didn’t ask it to, or the Sky Anytime+ service that is limited to Sky Broadband customers, this is video on demand for any user on any suitably fast broadband connection using the well regarded BBC iPlayer platform.
Having experienced that, I then started to wonder if we could save any more.
The basic problem is that whilst we could entirely downgrade to Freesat from Sky, we’d also lose the HD and recording functionality which Sky charge extra for. Looking at Freesat they have a wide range of Freesat+ boxes that have the more limited range of HD channels on the Freesat platform and recording functionality, but without the monthly bill. Indeed the Freesat+ functionality is more advanced than Sky+ in a number of areas.
The next question was whether there was stuff we wouldn’t be able to get on Freesat to which the answer was yes, but it was all stuff we could pick up on DVD, BluRay, or was available through Apple TV all for less than the amount we were paying monthly to Sky. Basically we pay for the things we wanted, rather than a large monthly outlay for hundreds of channels we didn’t really ever watch.
So decision made, I then looked around for options. We could directly replace the Sky+ HD with a direct replacement such as the well regarded Humax Foxsat Hdr, whilst that would be a good option, I then came across the Panasonic DMR-BS780EBK Blu-Ray Recorder which would also replace the Blu-Ray player and DVD recorder we had with one unit, with the added benefit that it would integrate nicely with our existing Panasonic TV. Thanks to a generous internet price matching policy from our local Panasonic specialist that gave me a significant saving over the retail, last week I took the plunge, cancelled our Sky subscription and put in the Panasonic box.
To be honest we’ve not really missed Sky. Most of our viewing is on the mainstream channels, we still have both BBC HD channels and ITV HD, Sky is apparently paying large amounts of money to Channel 4 and Channel 5 to keep their “free to air” HD channels on their system only, so although our Freesat box can pick them up, it can’t decode them, but it’s not too much of a loss.
The iPlayer functionality is excellent, and I have used it already – we’re also using it again over Christmas to get around a recording clash. If you do have a recording clash unlike Sky+ the box will try to help you sort it out. For example it knows when the same show is repeated later in the week and will suggest one of these instead, indeed if a recording fails for any reason it will automatically record one of these later showings.
It also knows when the same programme is showing on an HD channel, even if it is at a later time and if you select the standard definition version will suggest the HD alternative. The suggestions even go as far as suggesting other programmes you might find interesting, so for example recording Grand Designs sometimes gives suggestions of other programmes about homes and houses.
Looking at other functionality that the Sky+ doesn’t have, one of the big bugbears is that all Sky+ programmes are locked away on the Sky+ box on which it was recorded, short of opening the box up, physically removing the drive and copying that way there is no way to get the programmes off, even to another Sky+.
No such problem with the Freesat box. Whilst many allow you to archive programmes to USB drives, our Panasonic box includes a DLNA server, I just enable that option and I can watch programmes back on a computer, and if we bought a DLNA TV upstairs we could watch back programmes straight off the box across the network. Similarly I can push videos from my camera, pictures or music across the network onto the Freesat box.
It’s only been a week, but thus far it really feels like the right decision. Whilst there is definitely less choice, we have a lot more flexibility about how and where we can watch stuff, the quality isn’t any less – indeed for programmes downloaded onto the Apple TV the quality is noticeably better thanks to the heavy compression Sky use on some of their HD channels. Best of all though we’re saving ourselves the best part of £500 a year.
If you too are looking for ways to save money, sit down and look at what you’re actually watching, can you save some money by ditching Sky?