To some, Sky’s satellite-based proprietary TV system is something of a dinosaur in a world of multi-screened streamed services, such as Netflix. Imidlertid, Sky’s so-called limitations are actually its strength, as it has proved time and time again, and they now form the basis of the most advanced premium TV platform currently available, Sky Q.
Just as Sky+ brought hard-disk recording to the masses, and Sky+ HD popularized HD, Sky Q is the next-generation platform, designed to eliminate recording clashes, boost multi-room viewing at home, bring tablets and streaming into the equation, and make the most of the best on-demand system available. If that sounds a little superlative, trust me, it isn’t: Sky Q really does something that no other platform does. For those that love the content mix on Sky (the latest movies, HBO shows, such as Game of Thrones, and the best sports), Sky Q is going to be something you’ll want; if you’ve thought that Sky was an expensive luxury, Sky Q might just make you think twice about that decision.
An overview of the system
Sky Q brings flexibility to your package, letting you watch all of your live channels, recordings and on-demand programmes where and how you want, both inside your home and out. The easiest way to describe it is that it essentially brings Netflix-style viewing to your premium TV package.
At the heart of the system sits the main Sky Q box, of which there are two options. The best option is the Sky Q Silver box, which I’m reviewing here. It has a 2TB hard disk (1.7TB available) for up to 350-hours of HD programming. It also has 12 (yes, 12) HD tuners, which means you can have four for recording, one dedicated to the live channel, one for picture-in-picture (PIP), two for Sky Q Mini boxes, two dedicated to Q Apps, one tuner for data such as images, and one spare for future use. Som resultat, you’ll always be able to watch live TV and you’ll never have to worry about a recording schedule clash ever again, no matter what you’re doing anywhere else. What’s more, det box is fully upgradeable to Ultra HD, with delivery over satellite and via on-demand.
The other option is the Standard Sky Q box, which has 1TB of storage (700GB available) and ‘only’ eight tuners: one for live TV, three for recording, one for tablets, one for a Sky Q Mini box, plus the reserve and data tuners. At the moment, Sky’s not currently offering this box with any Mini boxes, so additional viewing is limited to tablets only.
Sky Q Mini boxes are designed for watching around the house. These connect via a robust 5GHz mesh network, giving you access to all of your live channels, recordings and catch-up TV stored on your main box. Selvfølgelig, you get all of the features you’d expect, including the option to pause and rewind TV, but you also get powerline networking built straight into each unit, although this is currently disabled and isn’t ready for roll-out yet. Most people shouldn’t need it, but it’s a shame it’s not ready yet, as it could solve some of the few connectivity issues I had during testing.
When it’s not practical to have a Sky Q Mini box, you can use a tablet with the Sky Q App instead. Tablets can even download recorded shows and view channels remotely, letting you take your TV package out of the house.
Endelig, if you opt for Sky broadband, you also get the brand new Sky Q Hub. Using this with the system turns every single Sky Q Mini box into a Wi-Fi hotspot, boosting signal strength for all your regular devices, too. You don’t need Sky broadband, as the system will work quite happily with other broadband providers, although you do lose the hotspot features as a result.
Installation of Sky Q is a little more involved than a regular Sky setup. For starters, the Low-Noise Block converter (LNB) on the dish needs to be replaced. With the old Sky system, each tuner needed its own cable; with the new system, each cable powers up to six tuners, so you can run the Silver box with just two cables.
On top of that, Sky has to perform a wireless survey of your house to detect problem areas. If its engineers spot a weak point in your home, you may also need a Sky Q Booster to amplify the wireless mesh signal. Installation is, therefore, as much about guaranteeing the signal strength around your home, as it is about putting the hardware in place.
That brings me on to an important point: the mesh network that powers the system is extremely reliable, but any changes you might make to any of the devices can destabilise it and cause connection issues. I særdeleshed, be wary of forum advice on which options to change, as the advice doesn’t always consider how the mesh network works. Read my guide on how to fix Sky Q connectivity issues for more details.
Sky Q Silver
I reviewed the Sky Q Silver box, the top-of the line model in the range. It’s definitely the one that I’d choose to buy, too, as its extra tuners lets me record more, it’s upgradable to Ultra HD in the future, it has a larger hard disk and it supports more Mini boxes and tablets.
Although the Sky Q Silver is a lot more powerful than the Sky+ HD box, it’s a fraction of the size and takes up very little room. That’s rather impressive engineering, and the new box is a step up from the old one, neatly sitting underneath any TV. Round the back are connections for power, two satellite cables, two USB ports (for future use), HDMI (upgradable to HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 for Ultra HD) and an Ethernet port blocked by a tab to try and stop you from using it.
It might be worth using Ethernet if you’re not getting particularly fast download speeds: in my tests, downloads came in more than twice as quick when using an Ethernet cable when compared to wireless. Imidlertid, you have to follow my guide on setting up Ethernet on Sky Q, as it’s not as simple as just plugging in a cable.
There’s also a blocked off HDMI In port, which is marked for future use as well. Sky hasn’t mentioned anything about how this port could be used, so your guess is as good as mine at the moment.
The old Sky remote was so brilliant that it barely changed design in years. For those used to it, the new Touch Remote bundled with Sky Q is a bit of a mixed bag, as it’s both brilliant and frustrating at the same time. Starting with the good stuff, it’s Bluetooth, so you no longer need line-of-sight to control your box; secondly, if you hit the Q button on the front of the box, your remote will play a high-pitched tone, making it easier to find; thirdly, when Sky enables the feature, the voice button on the side will let you search using speech in a similar way to the new Apple TV.
Where it goes a bit wrong is with the touch buttons and the touchpad (the entire disc on the front). In some ways, the touchpad is quite clever, as it can tell how far away your fingers are from the edge and scroll faster through lists as a result. Imidlertid, it takes some getting used to and it’s easy to scroll rapidly past the option you want when you first start using it.
Likewise, the play/pause, rewind and fast forward buttons all take a while to get used to, as they’re touch sensitive and have different modes. For eksempel, tapping the search controls activates fast-forward or rewind, with subsequent taps increasing speed. Imidlertid, you can also fast-forward and rewind by sliding your finger or thumb from play/pause towards the controls. Imidlertid, this method only fast-forwards and rewinds while your finger is in place, with the distance from the play/pause button speeding up the search speed. It’s a little fiddly to use and I wish that Sky had just included proper buttons.
A third way to navigate is to swipe up on the remote to display the progress bar and then slide left or right to scroll through the current recording. Unfortunately, it’s very sensitive and it’s easy to quickly jump back miles through a recording. A software update to reduce the sensitivity could help, as Apple proved with the most recent Apple TV update, but we’ll have to wait and see if Sky push one through. In addition, the remote would also occasionally rewind automatically, even though it was sat untouched on a table. Heldigvis, this only happened twice during testing, and the problem seems to have gone away for now.
The new remote also has several buttons that are ‘missing’ from the old model, such as the Guide button that took you straight to the TV guide with a double tap. On the new remote you have to tap home, slide up and then select the guide, which is a little infuriating. Blink and you’ll miss that the Sky logo is actually a button, too, acting as a shortcut to your recordings. These minor annoyances are largely negated by the Search shortcut, so you can at least look through recordings and TV shows quickly.
If you really can’t get on with this remote, you can use the regular remote that ships with the Sky Q Mini or buy the accessibility remote, which looks like the old remote. Both are IR-only models, selvom, so won’t support voice search, and neither has a guide shortcut button. They are, imidlertid, more responsive.
Sky has completely revamped its interface, keeping everything in vertical panels, with the TV mini guide on the left and menu options open to the right. I found it really easy to get going with the system right from the start, as all of the menu options are clearly labelled, allowing you to quickly find what you want, such as Sports, Sky Store, Sky Movies, Recordings, og så videre.
The My Q section is a particularly neat new addition. This shows you recently viewed programmes, so you can quickly get back to what you were watching from any device, as part of Fluid Viewing. The one thing that doesn’t appear in My Q is live channels from other boxes, so you can’t start watching on one box and continue watching on another. There’s a little workaround for this: hit record on one box, then the recording appears in My Q for you to carry on watching from another device.
I found the new interface to be much more modern, but it’s not always as clear as it could be and is sorely lacking in shortcut buttons. Aside from the missing guide button, there’s no shortcut button to delete a recording either, so you have to select a recording, then slide over to its menu of options, then select and click Delete. Why not just assign one of the four coloured buttons to this? There’s no on-screen help either, so it’s not immediately obvious how to skip forward 24 hours in the EPG either (press the fast-forward button, in case you’re wondering).
Largely, it’s a huge success, but it feels as though there’s an update or two in store as feedback comes in. To be fair, Sky is brilliant at this, with the launch Sky+ HD interface barely recognisable compared to the current version. Picture-in-picture mode is used to great effect on the Sky Q Silver box thanks to its dedicated tuner as well. Så, bring up the channel guide (slide up on the remote) or the previous channel (slide right on the remote) and you can see what’s on another channel, complete with a live, soundless preview. It’s a small touch, but one that’s very neat and really quite handy if you want to keep an eye on the football, for example, while continuing to watch another programme.
As well as playing content from the box, the Sky Q Silver has Apple AirPlay (audio) and Bluetooth support, so you can play music directly from your phone through the box. Some people might not use this much, but it’s a nice option to have, particularly as the TV tends to be connected to the best audio system in the house. Your Sky boxes will automatically appear in your phone or tablet’s AirPlay settings, but you might need to dive into the Sky Q box’s settings to find out what it’s called.
Sky Q Mini
Elsewhere in your home, you can place the Sky Q Mini box. This connects via the wireless mesh network, and lets you watch any content from your main Sky Q box (live, on-demand or recordings). This box streams at full 1080p quality from your main box, one-upping the tablets, which have to take a slightly reduced stream.
The Sky Q Mini has an HDMI output (1080p), as well as headphone and optical S/PDIF outputs and a USB port (future use, again). There’s also an Ethernet port, although it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to use it unless you live in a very large home and can’t get a reliable wireless signal.
You can have double the Sky Q Mini boxes as your main box has tuners for, but only half can play content concurrently. For eksempel, if you have a Sky Q Silver box, you can connect up to four Mini boxes, but only two can play content concurrently. Sky has styled the Mini after the main Q box, but it’s a little smaller since it doesn’t have a hard disk or tuner inside it. I stedet, it only needs to decode and play the stream from the Silver box. It’s a neatly made box and is small enough to tuck out of the way, making it well suited to kitchens or bedrooms.
The Sky Q Mini doesn’t support the fancy touch remote and instead has a regular remote with buttons. Depending on preference, you might actually prefer this remote. I certainly do, as the more responsive buttons make it easier to move through the interface and to fast-forward and rewind. The downside is that it’s not Bluetooth and it won’t support voice search in the future.
You get exactly the same interface as on the main Sky Q box, with the remote providing exactly the same buttons, except with cursor keys instead of the touchpad. As everything is streamed through your Sky Q box, you get the same access to recordings, on-demand and EPG as you do from the main box. The system is intelligent, too, so you can’t delete a show that other people are recording, for example.
The one thing that the Sky Q Mini doesn’t have is picture-in-picture mode. I stedet, it only shows static shots of what’s on another channel instead of a full preview, as it only has access to the one live tuner, unlike the main box, which has a dedicated picture-in-picture tuner.
AirPlay and Bluetooth
As with the main Sky Q Silver box, each Mini can be used as an AirPlay or Bluetooth receiver, which can be handy if you want to play music from your phone, particularly if you’ve got the box hooked up to external speakers.
For extra flexibility, you can run the Sky Q app on tablets (there’s no phone app, as of yet), which lets you watch all of your recordings and live TV inside the house, and can stream and play synchronised content when you’re away from home. If you opted for Sky Q Silver, you can have two tablets playing content at the same time; the regular Sky Q box supports just one tablet.
Sky has set up its tablet app to replicate the main one on the TV, so it will be instantly familiar. If anything, the interface is actually better on a tablet, as you can jump to where you want to go quicker, and you can slide your finger to where you want to be in a live show or recording. Selvfølgelig, on your home network, you can manage all of your recordings and on-demand shows.
Playback uses a slightly reduced quality stream, although it’s a close-run thing compared to the live content. Reducing quality also means less bandwidth, which is likely to be a good thing, given that your tablet may not be part of the mesh network, relying on regular Wi-Fi to connect.
There are some minor oddities with the tablet app, selvom. For eksempel, watch a live programme and you’ll find that the stream lags a good 30s or so behind the live version on your main Sky Q box or a Sky Q Mini. In most cases, this isn’t a problem, but if you’ve got the football on the main TV and on a tablet elsewhere in the house, so you can keep an eye on the action, being behind on your mobile device is a little annoying. The only way around this is to start recording the show and then watch the recording via the tablet, reducing the lag to a matter of seconds.
When you’re away from home the Sky Q app switches to remote mode. From here, you can watch any of the recordings that you chose to sync to your tablet, plus you can watch most of the Sky channels and watch or download anything available on-demand. In this way, Sky Q replicates the features in Sky Go Extra, which costs £5 more per month on top of your current package (although it was included if you bought multiroom for an extra £12 a month.
I do have a couple of issues with the app. Først, there’s no remote record option outside of your home network, which seems absolutely crazy. I stedet, you need to have the old Sky+ app, which can still send the remote record option from a tablet or smartphone. For det andet, there’s no phone app for Android or iOS. If you want to watch TV away from home on your smartphone you need to fire up the Sky Go app instead, but you can’t download content as you’ll be told that you don’t have a Sky Go Extra account. It feels a little lacking at the moment, although Sky is working on phone apps at the moment.
One of the best features of the tablet app is that you can synchronise recordings from your box directly to the tablet and play them wherever you are in the world offline. TV addicts and parents facing a long trip are going to love this feature. All content can be synchronised with the exception of BBC content. This is due to the way that the BBC licence works, rather than a problem with Sky, and shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as the iPlayer app allows downloads anyway.
Indtil nu, I’ve covered all of the features that are unique to each box, but the system as a whole has plenty of shared features, from the excellent on-demand system to the range of content that’s available, all of which I’m looking at here.
I can’t stress enough how brilliant Sky’s on-demand system is. While everyone else provides on-demand via a lower-quality online stream, Sky lets you download the full broadcast-quality version to your box. Intelligently, the system works out your broadband speed, making a programme available to watch at the first possible moment: if you’ve got fast broadband this can be a matter of seconds; those on slower connections may have to wait for a few minutes.
Imidlertid, regardless of how fast your internet is, it means that anyone can enjoy exactly the same quality content, and content at the same quality as when it was broadcast. If you want to watch a boxset, Sky Q will download the next episode while you watch the first one, so you can binge your way through a series while watching at a higher quality than other rival services. On-demand extends to movies, too, so you can grab a film in high quality when you want and watch it when you want, too.
Selvfølgelig, once a piece of on-demand content is on your main box, you can fast-forward and rewind through it in the same way as a regular recorded show (no more re-buffering!), and you can watch from anywhere inside your home.
The main thing that Sky has going for it is the breadth of its content coverage. It has a better range of sports than any other provider, it has more new films, and it has the best of the US, including HBO shows such as Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic, and it has tons of boxsets, so you can catch-up with older shows that aren’t on anymore.
Faktisk, there are more than 50 HD channels, which is by far the biggest selection in the UK. Largely, the decision as to whether Sky Q is for you or not comes down to one simple question, do you want the content it has? For me, the answer is yes. I’ve been a Sky customer for more than 10 years and the mix of content is what gets me to stay, as other providers simply aren’t able to match the quality of programming and on-demand content.
Så, is Sky Q expensive? Well, the answer is that it’s more expensive than some of the competition, such as Netflix, but it’s not particularly expensive if you want the latest content. The easiest way to look at it is to compare the cost of Sky Q to a regular Sky+ HD service.
Nu, Sky+ HD with one box costs £36 a month with an installation fee of £10 for The Family Bundle (cheaper non-HD bundles are available, but that’s not really a fair comparison). If you want to watch in another room and download shows to a tablet, you have to pay an additional £12 a month, bringing it to £48 a month in total. Exactly the same with Sky Q Silver costs £54 a month, with an installation fee of £10 (down from £99 at the time of writing). This also gets you a Sky Q Mini box and you can stream to tablets, giving you multi-room Sky and the ability to download shows. Plus, you can get additional Sky Q Mini boxes for a one-off fee of £99, with no additional monthly cost.
Add in Movies and Sports on Sky+ HD and you have to pay £36 a month, plus £6 a month if you want them in HD. With Sky Q Silver, the HD is included, so it’s just £36 extra a month for both packs. That takes the price of both packages to £90 a month.
On top of that, your Sky Q boxes are rented, rather than owned by you, so if you get a problem, it’s Sky’s problem to come and fix it; with Sky+ HD you owned the box, so any problems were yours to pay for.
If you don’t like Sky’s mix of content, then Sky Q isn’t going to change your mind about signing up and you may be better off with a Now TV subscription for those times you want to watch something on Sky. Imidlertid, if you love the Sky channels and are a heavy user today, or you like the idea of Sky but the previous inflexibility put you off, Sky Q is excellent, well-priced and the package for you. It’s a triumph of quality and flexibility, and there’s simply nothing else like it in the UK or the rest of the world.
Tuners: 12x satellite, Dimensions (WxDxH): 330x210x43mm, Networking: 1x 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Powerline networking (not enabled), Internal disk capacity: 2TB (1.7TB available), Warranty: Life (hardware is rented), Details: http://www.sky.com/shop/sky-bundles