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Which digital system should you choose?
People in the Republic of Ireland outside NTL franchise areas now have a choice of digital TV supplier - Chorus Communication or Sky Digital. And with no sign of an ADSL rollout, and DTT over two years away, this is likely to be the choice facing Irish consumers. While the digital battle has gone over the heads of Irish people until now, competition is hotting up with the recent launch of Chorus Digital, and SkyDigital's free box offer, things are starting to hot up...
NB: When I first did this review, I was under the (mistaken) impression that Chorus was to roll out its direct telephony/FWPTMA service simultanously with digital - apparently telephony will be a few months behind. While this makes Chorus TV pack less attractive in the short term, given its price vis-a-vis Chorus Intro its still fairly good value IMO...
This review assumes that the Chorus subscriber has access to Chorus direct telephony services, and that the Sky subscriber is subscribing to eircomireland for fixed line telephone service.
Sky and Chorus are evenly matched in this regard. Its a fifty pound connection fee each way you look at it. Of course, if you're a current Chorus Intro subscriber you'll get free installation, giving Chorus a big advantage for existing cable and MMDS subscribers. One up for Chorus for existing subscribers, score-draw otherwise. DRAW
Access to terrestrial services is Chorus' big selling point. Only through Chorus can you get access to all Irish services in digital, as well as a selection of UK terrestrial channels. You're future proofed, since new RTE services will also appear on Chorus Digital.
Although Sky seem to be moving towards carrying terrestrial channels with the BBC launch, two channels aren't a full basket. With Sky, you're doomed to analogue off-air reception for all the other services (for now), which isn't the best in some areas, even for RTE. Chorus could improve things however by offering some of the new Free to Air services from the UK broadcasters, such as UTV2 and BBC CHOICE. Winner: Chorus.
Sky's basic package, Value Pack, is possibly the most lacklustre set of channels ever put forward as a basic package in a multichannel TV service. It basically consists of Sky One and a couple of news and shopping channels. Good for news junkies perhaps, but when you've no terrestrial channels you'll need something more solid. And Chorus TV provides it. Even excluding the terrestrial channels, its got the essentials you need from multichannel TV - two music, documentaries, and childrens channels each, Eurosport for sports fans, and Sky News and Bloomberg for news junkies. The price also includes a telephone line - adding that to the cost of the Sky Value Pack brings it up to £22, making Chorus the cheaper and better value option by far for those only wanting terrestrial services. Winner: Chorus
Full Entertainment Package
Family Pack £16 (plus £13 Eircom landline) Too
many channels to mention (about sixty - see SkyDigital page), including BBC ONE NI, BBC
TWO NI, Value Pack channels, a full range of channels
from UKTV, Granada Sky Broadcasting, Discovery UK, MTV UK
& Ireland, Nickelodeon and others...
Oh dear. Once
you go beyond basics, Chorus doesn't look nearly as
attractive. Factoring in the cost of an Eircom landline,
its full entertainment package costs only a pound cheaper
It must be said, Sky are vastly superior to Chorus when it comes to films. Not only are they cheaper in every respect, but they have twelve regular film channels instead of three, and 64 channels of pay per view films instead of 16. No contest here. Winner: Sky.
Both Sky and Chorus have chosen OpenTV as their software platform for interactive services. But beyond that, both are promising very different interactive content. Sky's strategy is to create a "walled garden", that is you can only access the services it provides. In the case of the interactive news and sports services they're very good, but that, unfortunately is as far as it goes. SkyText Digital is also very good but is essentially a teletext service (albeit a very fast and colourful one!). As for Open, the service is limited to a few games and browsing the stores (look, but don't touch - or buy...), and really isn't that much. Chorus on the other hand not only has full, free, always-on access to the web and e-mail, but an interactive portal full of local Irish content. I can see Chorus Digital customers fighting for the keyboard... Winner: Chorus.
The Winner Is...
The problem starts once you go beyond the basics. Sky's Family Pack offers a massive number of channels, far more than Chorus' TV4 option. And for movies and sports Sky is offering a far suprior service, with 12 movie channels instead of 3, 64 box office instead of 16, and exclusive interactive sports coverage.