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Chorus vs SkyDigital

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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.

Installation:
Sky: Pay 50 for standard installation.
Chorus: Free installation for Chorus Intro subscribers, 50 connection fee for new subscribers.

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


Terrestrial Services
Sky: BBC ONE NI, BBC TWO NI, BBC PARLIAMENT, ITN News Channel
Chorus: RTE ONE, N2, TV3, TG4, BBC ONE NI, BBC TWO, UTV, Channel 4.

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.


Basic Package Value:
Sky: Value Pack 9 (plus 13 Eircom landline) Sky One, Discovery Home & Leisure, Bloomberg, Sky News, CNN, QVC, BBC PARLIAMENT, Shop, TV Travel Shop, ITN News Channel.
Chorus: TV Pack 18.94
RTE 1, Network 2, TV3, TG4, BBC ONE NI, BBC TWO NI, ITV UTV, Channel 4, Sky One, Sky News, The Box, MTV UK & Ireland, Bloomberg TV UK,Discovery, Discovery Home and Leisure, Eurosport, Cartoon Network, UK Style, QVC, Discovery Kids, Chorus Sports Channel.

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

Sky: 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...
Chorus: TV4 Pack 27.93: As well as TV Pack channels, this also includes:
Nickelodeon, Paramount Comedy Channel, Granada Plus, Granda Breeze/Granada Men and Motors, National Geographic Channel, History Channel,UK Gold, Trouble, Bravo, UK Horizons, Living, Discovery Animal Planet, VH1, CNN International, Boomerang, and TCM.

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 than Sky.
All of Chorus' channels are on SkyDigital. The range of channels on Sky expands by the month, while Chorus is preciously close to its limit for MMDS customers. For sheer amount of channels, Sky is by far the best value. The widest choice, the best satellite-only channels. Winner: Sky.


Sports Package
Sky: Family Pack + Sports 30 (plus 13 Eircom landline). Family Pack plus Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, Sky Sports 3, Sky Sports Extra. The Family pack includes two sports channels, Sky Sports.com TV (a sports news channel) and British Eurosport.
Chorus: TV4 + Sports: 43 TV4 plus Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, and Sky Sports 3. You'll also have Eurosport International and local GAA coverage on Chorus Sports.

Pretty evenly matched here in terms of price. However Sky has the edge for sports fans with two exclusive channels - Sky Sports Extra for interactive coverage and full up to date Sports News coverage on Sky Sports.comTV. You'll also get the British version of Eurosport instead of the international one - arguably more relevant. All Chorus can throw at this is its Sports Channel - which concentrates on club GAA and isn't really a factor. Of course, if Chorus were to bid for and get the rights for the National League or All-Ireland Championship, it would be different. Winner:Sky.


Movies
Sky: Family Pack + Movies 30 (plus 13 Eircom landline): Family Pack plus Sky Premier 1-4 and Widescreen, Sky Moviemax 1-5, Sky Cinema 1 & 2, and TCM. You'll also have access to Sky Box Office films - 48 channels at 2.99 a film, and U>Direct Films at 16 channels at 2.99 a film.
Chorus: The Lot 45: Paying for the whole Chorus package (including Sports) gets you the regular Sky Premier 1, Sky Moviemax 1 and Sky Cinema 1, as well as TCM. You also have access to Chorus Select Films (probably a rebranded U>Direct, but I can't confirm this), 16 channels at 3.50 a film.

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.


Interactive Content
Sky: Sky News Active, Sky Sports Extra, SkyText Digital, Open Interactive (limited service for ROI customers).
Chorus: Unison TV-Internet Access.

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.


Electronic Programme Guide
As mentioned previously the basic software for the EPG is the same on Chorus and SkyDigital, nevertheless both have produced radically different guides. SkyGuide has universally been praised as the best EPG, and I don't think anything Chorus have done can change that. Sure enough, from the Chorus pics I have seen, their EPG is good (nice, soft, green backround, good, clear navigation instructions), but its not as good as SkyGuide, and doesn't have the prequiste planner view. Winner: Sky.


And The Winner Is...
I'm going to disappoint you by not picking a winner. The trouble is, these are too pretty good digital TV systems, but neither is by any means perfect. There is of course, the ITV Question, so called because of the absence of ITV from Sky Digital in preference to ONdigital. On the sole question of the presence of Britain's most popular channel, many people in the UK chose ONdigital. And so here people will choose Chorus Digital, because of the presence of the UK terrestrial channels. Its no concidence that every Chorus advert parades the fact that BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 are on Chorus Digital. Access to UK and Irish terrestrial stations is the platform's Unique Selling Point. Also Chorus' basic package is far better value than Sky's, offering a greater and more varied number of channels. Chorus interactive service, simply by offering access to the web for free 24/7, is also a massive selling point, one Sky will never have. Chorus' content is far more tuned towards the Irish market - all Sky can offer you is Tara, consisting mainly of RTE repeats.

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.

Pros:
  • Irish and UK Terrestrial Channels
  • Irish and Local Content
  • Better value basic package.
  • Free TV internet access.

Cons:

  • A lot less channels
  • No interactive sports coverage.
  • Less PPV screens.

Buy if...
You want to continue enjoying RTE, BBC, and ITV in clear digital with stereo sound. You want full, free, internet access through your TV 24/7.

Pros:
  • Far more channels by a long way...
  • Better value full entertainment pack
  • Interactive News and sports coverage
  • More PPV film choice

Cons:

  • No Irish content
  • UK terrestrial channels - BBC 1 & 2 only
  • No local content
  • No internet access

Buy if...
You want the most channels possible and the best sports and movies.