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

With the Internet streaming becoming more prevalent, the way in which we consume is changing as OTT video services and platforms become more popular. But the good ol’ set-top box is evolving with the times, getting smarter and packing lots of features in a one-box solution.

Set-top boxes come with a wide array of functionality, with support for 4K UHD content, HDR content and multi-room functionality. As well as that, there are different storage options for those who like to record and keep content. Not everyone has time to watch the latest shows as and when they come out.

The likes of Sky, BT and Virgin all make set-top boxes, as well as other brands such as Humax and Manhattan. We’ve reviewed plenty of them and this list here is that of the best set-top boxes we’ve tested. We look at their video and audio performance, assess how easy it is to navigate their interfaces and test out their recoding features. There’s also those streaming services, and we’ll look and assess which ones the boxes have for those who want access to the streaming services along with their more ‘traditional’ TV services.

We’ve settled on options for Freeview and satellite users. 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 altogether.

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 
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  • Watch practically everything anywhere
  • Powerful interface
  • Recordings can be kept forever
  • Lots of Ultra HD content
  • HDR and Dolby Atmos


  • Not cheap
  • HDR support limited
  • Dolby Atmos doesn’t work in apps
  • Requires a satellite dish

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. 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. Easily one of the best set-top boxes if you can afford Sky’s premium subscriptions.

There is now the option of Sky Stream, which includes Atmos and Dolby Vision HDR among its specs, for those who want a streaming-based solution

Reviewer: David Ludlow
Full Review: Sky Q

Manhattan T3-R

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


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


  • 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, 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 HDR 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

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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

Storage Capacity
Size (Dimensions)
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Model Number
Model Variants
Audio Formats
Power Consumption
Remote Control

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