large image

Trusted Reviews is supported by its audience. If you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Best set-top boxes: The best affordable and premium PVRs

With the age of streaming, there’s a sense set-top boxes are being left behind. It used to be that a set-top box sat beneath your TV and fed channels you couldn’t get from terrestrial TV. Now they are getter smarter and evolving, offering more functionality, features and content in a one-box solution.

If you are interested in signing up to the likes of Sky, BT and Virgin, it helps to know that the box that sits beneath the TV will offer the features and access that you need and want. That’s why we’ve created this list, to help inform you of what’s on the market and the performance you get.

These days set-top boxes offer integration with video and audio streaming apps such as Netflix and Spotify, along with 4K UHD content, HDR support and multi-room functionality. They’re also versatile for storage options with some devices featuring up to 2TB of space for anyone looking to keep track of and record their favourite content. Not everyone has time to watch the latest shows as soon as they come out.

With several ‘free’ and subscription-based methods, set-top boxes offer a balance between those who want premium, content-rich options and less expensive boxes with support for catch-up TV apps. We looked at their video and audio performance, as well as navigate their interfaces and test out their recording features to determine whether they work as intended, and offer the best value.

Whether you’re looking for Freeview or satellite options, we’ve reviewed a number of options to cater to those interests. If you’re looking to move from one TV provider to another, have a look below to see what’s on offer. If a set-top box doesn’t pique your interest just yet, then have a look at our best streaming devices if you want to ditch PVR and satellite.

Best set-top boxes at a glance

How we test

Learn more about how we test set-top boxes

We watch a lot of TV on these set-top boxes, paying attention to the image and sound quality. When possible, we compare that picture quality to what is expected from the television itself, to gauge what, if anything, these set-top boxes are bringing to the picture.

Interface is a big part of how we review set-top boxes. Is the remote easy to use and responsive to presses. Is the user interface intuitive? Is it easy to navigate and what forms of navigation does it support? All these things will help determine how good the user experience is.

And what about content? How much content is available, which apps are supported and is support in terms of features up to the standards we’d expect. If a set-top box says it supports apps in 4K HDR, we’ll be looking for apps that actually carry support for those features.

Other features we look out for are the number of tuners supported, connectivity and how do the catch-up features work. Smarts are to be expected, and we’ll test these to judge whether they’re implemented well and live up to expectations

Finally, every element is judged against the price. If a machine represents good value generally, we’ll be a little more lenient on a bad remote. Pricier machines, however, had better be great.

Sky Q

Best set-top box 
rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star

Pros

  • Watch practically everything anywhere
  • Powerful interface
  • Brilliant Netflix integration
  • Lots of Ultra HD content
  • HDR and Dolby Atmos

Cons

  • Not cheap
  • HDR support limited
  • Dolby Atmos doesn’t work in apps

The Sky Q is a smart looking box, with a design that arguably set the tone for all the set-top boxes that followed like the BT TV Box Pro. It’s a sleek looking effort that looks well-suited to be placed beneath a TV, its form factor is much more attractive than the utilitarian design of the Virgin V6 box.

Sky’s UI is one of the best in the business in our opinion, offering a convenient means of finding on-demand content, recordings and browsing the TV guide. It’s clean in appearance, loaded with images for a more visual-based means of interaction as well as convenient text descriptions. There are dedicated sub-menus for different categories or types of programming, which comes handy for more specific searches.

Sky Q supports a multi-room configuration with additional Mini boxes. These are small devices that connect to other TVs to stream content from the main box. The Mini Boxes only support HD while the main Q box streams in 4K, which we found to be a disappointing development, especially if the Mini box is connected to a 4K TV.

Sky’s range of content is vast and arguably the best on this list, with US dramas, comedies, films, thousands of TV box-sets and sport in the Premier League and Formula One but the subscriptions are not particularly cheap – this is very a much a premium service. The UHD content is better than any other service provide we’ve reviewed, and there is paid content though the Sky Store that provides access to instant downloads.

Our reviewer found picture quality to be outstanding, with HD programming presented in sharp detail, and UHD content looking fantastic (although this will depend on the TV its watched on). Sky added HDR support, that brings better contrast and colour fidelity to content. On the audio front there’s support for Dolby Atmos, which we found produced a step-up in quality with extra height and width to audio.

Reviewer: David Ludlow
Full Review: Sky Q

Manhattan T3-R

Best Freeview box
rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Great picture when recording HD TV channels
  • Quiet HDD operation
  • Personal Watchlist for on-demand content

Cons

  • Limited simultaneous channel recording
  • No Netflix or Amazon Prime Video

The Manhattan T3-R Freeview Play is a smart looking, compact box that can easily fit beneath a telly. We found connectivity to be good with HDMI, aerial, optical digital audio output, Ethernet and Wi-Fi present. There is a USB port but it’s only for power.

The T3-R comes with 4K HDR support with HDR10 and HLG included for watching in HDR in apps such as iPlayer and YouTube. We found setup was convenient, a simple story of hooking the box to a TV and going through the process of tuning the channel list. The interface was easy to use and understand, ensuring that even the most technophobic will be able to find their way round the interface.

Freeview Play offers 85 channels, although most of these are in standard definition. On TVs less than 50-inches in size and the prevalence of standard definition content won’t be as big a problem as it could be on 65-inch TVs and bigger. Alongside live TV, Freeview Play has UK streaming catch-up and on-demand apps such as iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4 and My5, but at the time of review there was no sign of Netflix, Prime Video or Disney+.

There is a choice of either a 500GB or 1TB hard drive for storing locally recorded programmes, with 500GB model offering a capacity of around 300 hours for standard definition programming with series-linking and live pause included, which is nice to have. The T3-R can now record two channels simultaneously (it couldn’t at launch), with the ability to watch a third.

The T3-R is a solid performer for viewing live television. Our reviewer found that HD channels such as NHK look sharp without any artefacts, offering some great texture and depth. SD content is decent in terms of picture fidelity but will depend on your quality of your TV’s upscaling.

Reviewer: Steve May
Full Review: Manhattan T3-R

Freesat 4K TV Recorder

Best Freesat box
rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star rating-star

Pros

  • Record up to four shows
  • Simple interface
  • Supports HDR and Ultra HD

Cons

  • Channel 4 not in HD
  • No Dolby Vision

If Sky Q is too expensive, then the Freesat 4K TV Recorder is a more affordable satellite alternative. It is a neat looking box, with almost everything you would need in terms of connections with an HDMI port, Ethernet, a digital audio port for audio, and a pair of satellite inputs.

How these satellite inputs are used depends on which type of LNB (Low Noise Block) the satellite dish has. A standard LNB allows for two channels to be watched simultaneously, while wideband offers up to four. There’s also Wi-Fi for streaming over the Internet.

During testing we found the interface to be responsive and intuitive, with the minimally designed menus featuring convenient access to on-demand apps, live programming and saved recordings. We also found a good selection of live channels with 180 made available although only 24 broadcast in HD.

On-demand content constitutes of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, My5, STV Player and UKTV Play, giving access to most of the main free-to-air channels. There’s further convenience with a mobile app that allows for recording shows when you’re outside the house, although it’s worth noting it takes up to 30 minutes for recordings to appear on the box itself.

When it comes to visual quality, we found the Freesat conveyed HD channels in a detailed and sharp with no artefacts. With SD content, there is the typical softness around the edges of people and objects things, although the Freesat box does a decent job of reducing artefacts where possible. Unlike Sky Q, Ultra HD isn’t available on Freesat platform itself, with only Netflix and YouTube support 4K HDR. Watching Netflix in 4K HDR10 and our reviewer noted more impact in terms of excellent detail and colours with more subtleties in tone. A solid box and a more affordable price than Sky, although without as much content.

Reviewer: David Ludlow
Full Review: Freesat 4K TV Recorder

We also considered…

We’ve reviewed

599

DVRs and Media Player

See all reviews

FAQs

Can I get Netflix and Disney+ on set-top boxes?

Yes, that’s increasingly a possibility on set-top boxes, though not all boxes support the main apps.

Do set-top boxes support 4K and HDR?

Yes, the days of just HD support is being left behind as more set-top boxes support 4K and HDR10

How many channels can I record simultaneously on a set-top box?

That figure depends on the set-top box itself. Some will have up to 7 tuners for recording, others 4 and some have fewer than that.

Comparison specs

UK RRP
Manufacturer
Storage Capacity
Size (Dimensions)
Weight
ASIN
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Model Number
Model Variants
Resolution
HDR
Tuners
Ports
Connectivity
Colours
Audio Formats
Power Consumption
Remote Control
Apps

Why trust our journalism?

Founded in 2004, Trusted Reviews exists to give our readers thorough, unbiased and independent advice on what to buy.

Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

author icon

Editorial independence

Editorial independence means being able to give an unbiased verdict about a product or company, with the avoidance of conflicts of interest. To ensure this is possible, every member of the editorial staff follows a clear code of conduct.

author icon

Professional conduct

We also expect our journalists to follow clear ethical standards in their work. Our staff members must strive for honesty and accuracy in everything they do. We follow the IPSO Editors’ code of practice to underpin these standards.