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Best set-top boxes 2020: The best affordable and premium PVRs

It used to be that a set-top box sat beneath your TV and fed you channels that you couldn’t get from terrestrial TV. Now set-top boxes are getter smarter and evolving, offering more functionality, features and content in one neat and tidy box.

They offer integration with video and audio streaming apps such as Netflix and Spotify, along with 4K UHD content, HDR support and multi-room functionality if you buy more than one box. They’re also versatile when it comes to storage options with some offering up to 2TB of space for anyone looking to keep track of and record their favourite content.

With several ‘free’ options 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 options. For some of the boxes on this list, their smart features make them a decent choice for upgrading a non-smart TV’s features if you’re not looking to purchase a new TV.

Here are the best set-top boxes available:

  • Best 4K: Sky Q
  • Best Freeview: Manhattan T3-R
  • Best affordable satellite: Freesat 4K TV recorder
  • Best sports: BT TV
  • Best HDR: Virgin V6
  • Best cheapest box: TalkTalk TV

Sky Q Sky Store

Sky Q

The best set-top box for on-demand and live content

Pros:

  • Watch practically everything anywhere
  • Powerful interface
  • Brilliant Netflix integration
  • Lots of Ultra HD content

Cons:

  • Not cheap
  • No HDR

The Sky Q platform is the best set-top box for those with satellite installation. It is an incredibly powerful system that integrates content from several services such as iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify and (later this year) Disney+.

The Sky Q and smaller Q Mini boxes offer smooth multi-room functionality and Sky Go continues the experience on your mobile devices. It isn’t the cheapest, but for this quality, you’re paying a premium price for a premium service. It doesn’t support HDR, which stops it from being the feature-complete box it aims to be.

Manhattan T3-R

Manhattan T3-R Freeview Play 4K Smart Recorder

Slick and well-made

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
  • Wi-Fi reception can be flakey

This Freeview Play smart recorder is one of the best set-top boxes for those who want a versatile box, but don’t want to pay the prices of Sky and BT.

It has support for HLG and HDR, and usability is strong, with an interface that’s easy to use even for tech luddites. Freeview Play integration is seamless, though watch out for SD quality on bigger TVs as its lack of clarity will be exposed.

Otherwise, audio-visual quality is good, with minor niggles being the lack of Netflix, Prime Video and limited channel recording.

Freesat 4K TV Recorder Hero

Freesat 4K TV Recorder

A future-proofed set-top box

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Channel 4 not in HD
  • No Amazon Prime Video
  • No Dolby Vision

The Freesat 4K TV Recorder is Freesat’s latest attempt to take on Sky, ditching the Humax boxes and coming up with a design and interface that’s all its own.

It’s compatible with Ultra HD content, but the only way to currently get 4K content through the set-top box is via Netflix or YouTube. Features are robust with the ability to record up to four shows at once, and the interface is simple, mixing live-TV with on-demand content.

If you prefer to get your satellite TV for free, this box is a great way to get it.

BT TV

A great choice for many

Pros:

  • Good value
  • Next-gen YouView interface is great
  • Good range of unique content

Cons:

  • No TV preview window
  • You can’t get all Sky Sports channels

BT TV is a great choice for many with the mixture of its own unique content, BT Sport UHD and premium range of channels.

Sporting the Next-Gen YouView interface (which was new back in 2017), it’s a stronger, more visually driven interface that blends Live-TV and on-demand well. YouView is powered by Freeview, and it comes with all the content available on that service as well as the option of paid-for On Demand films and programmes.

Picture quality is excellent, as long as you have the bandwidth for it, with Sky Q the only other option that’s better in this regard.

Virgin V6

Virgin V6

A smart upgrade to the TiVo

Pros:

  • Vastly improved performance
  • Clever multi-room option HDR and 4K support

Cons:

  • Interface looks dated
  • Not much 4K content at the moment

For existing Virgin customers, the V6 is a worthy upgrade to the TiVo. It’s more compact, offers faster performance and just an all-round better performer.

An improved interface would have been nice considering how stodgy it is, and the smart multi-room functionality means older TiVo and V6 boxes can be used to increase the number of tuners.

With Virgin’s growing library of 4K HDR content, the V6 offers excellent value.

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