Sky Q: the set-top box that’ll transform how you watch TV

Update: Stay tuned to Alphr. We’ll be having a hands on of the new Sky Q box coming soon!

You wouldn’t think it to look at it, but the Sky+ box sat underneath your television set is 14 years old. Not that one, necessarily, unless you’ve stubbornly refused to upgrade, but the Sky+ box itself first emerged all the way back in 2001 – back in the days when Netflix – and even YouTube – didn’t exist. Hell, neither did the iPhone or iPad.

Things have changed, and while the box itself has added extras such as HD broadcasting and on-demand services, the box and its UI hasn’t moved too much. All that is about to change with Sky Q.

Sky Q at a glance:

– Sky’s next generation of TV box, allowing 12 tuners for multi-room watching and recording, plus downloadable recordings for tablets.

– Release date: Early 2016, but with some features to follow.

– Price: TBC, but expect ‘premium’ pricing.

What is Sky Q?

Sky Q is what the company describes as ‘the next generation home entertainment system.’ The company aims to adapt to the changing ways people consume television with new features for multi-room support, a brand new interface and the ability to transfer recordings to your phone or tablet for TV on the go.

According to Satellite Today, Sky Q uses MaxLinear’s MxL5x2 Full-Spectrum Capture satellite receiver ICs for the multichannel reception, and the same manufacturer’s EN5520 digital channel stacking IC for apartments and commercial buildings.

Does Sky Q replace Sky HD?

For now at least, Sky Q isn’t seen as a replacement for either Sky+ or Now TV – the company has been quite clear that it’s going to be its own brand, at the top end of Sky’s services.

This could mean that Sky+ will continue to exist at a reduced price point or that Sky Q will just move Sky’s pricing up a tier, but we’ll update this article when we know for sure.

What’s the Sky Q box like?

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At the centre of Sky’s new TV strategy is the Sky Q Silver box itself. This is the beast that will be connected to the satellite dish, and packs a two terabyte hard disk, which the broadcaster boasts will store a whopping 350 hours of HD video. Just as well, really, as it’s also going to include 12 (yes, ‘twelve’) tuners to allow you to watch and record channels across multiple devices. It will support Ultra HD – or 2160p – after an update later in 2016.

There’s also the Sky Q regular box which offers a slightly weaker experience at a cheaper price point – one terabyte of storage (150 hours), eight tuners and only 1080p, rather than Ultra HD.

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Then there’s the additional Sky Q mini boxes. These are for auxiliary TVs outside the living room, and work as remote Sky boxes, connecting wirelessly to the main system and offering full sky services remotely. They don’t include their own hard disks, but do allow you to watch recordings on the main Sky Q box, as well as on demand TV and all the other features you’d expect. These, like the cheaper Sky Q regular box, only support 1080p.

Finally there’s the Sky Q hub. This is a broadband router designed from the ground up to play nice with the wider Sky Q family. It includes powerline networking, allowing you to use mains wiring to connect your Sky Q devices, if you don’t trust your WiFi to cope.

Why does Sky Q have 12 tuners?

Yes, 12 tuners does sound a bit like overkill, but there’s method in the madness.

Let’s tick them off one by one: the first one provides the channel you’re watching right now on your main lounge TV. That’s simple enough. On top of that, Sky wants you to be able to record four other programs at the same time. So that’s five, not quite half way, but getting there.

The satelite boxes occupy another two. The Sky Q box supports two of these, so two tuners are reserved for boxes in other rooms. That taks us to seven. Add on another two for phones and tablets, and we’ve hit nine.

The others could all be classified under the UI umbrella: you’ve got one for the user interface and its fancy live feed of other channels while you’re browsing, another one keeps everything on the box up to date and the final one is kept spare for something else, more than likely Ultra HD when it launches.

Has the Sky Q remote changed much?sky_q_touch_remote_on_white

The remote, too, has seen a total redesign, looking pretty unfamiliar to existing Sky customers. The main change is its new touch-sensitive pad, allowing viewers to swipe and tap their way around menus, rather than using the tried-and-tested buttons of previous generations.

Like most modern remotes, it’s making the switch to Bluetooth, meaning you won’t need to point it at the box to make it work anymore. Rather neatly, losing the remote is no longer an issue – simply press a button on the box, and the remote will beep for your attention, letting you find it easily. Voice support is planned in the long run, but it won’t be included for launch.

What features will Sky Q offer?

As you’ve probably guessed, the main feature Sky Q offers is allowing you to watch your favourite shows in different places with less fuss than you have currently. The Sky Q mini boxes offer a genuinely complete Sky viewing experience, without screen mirroring or interfering with the main set.

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The tablet apps work the same way, allowing Sky Q to work across three TVs and two tablets at the same time, and allow up to four channels to be recorded simultaneously. You can even pause and rewind them all to your heart’s content.

All this is very well and good, but even Sky has accepted that this ‘fluid TV’ (as it calls this) isn’t the most requested feature. That’s honour goes to the transfer of recorded programs on to tablets, and they’ve included that too. Called ‘Q Sync’, films and TV series recorded to the Sky Q box will be able to transfer via the Sky Q app.

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Unfortunately, not every recorded programme will be available to transfer for offline viewing at launch – blame rights issues for that – but Sky maintains the majority of shows will be available, and we’d be surprised if that didn’t include the biggest hitters.

It’ll feature a bunch of Sky friendly apps at launch, along with some others including Facebook photos, YouTube and a GoPro channel, but at this point it’s not clear whether the likes of Netflix and Amazon Instant will get a look in. We wouldn’t bank on it, frankly.

One company that may well be represented, however, is Vimeo. According to The Telegraph, Sky and Vimeo are currently in talks about getting the service on to Sky Q boxes when they appear in customers homes later this year. It has also been announced that online video publishers including Funny or Die, Electus Digital and Barcroft TV will include some of their videos for direct play on the Sky Q box.

When can I get Sky Q?

So far, Sky has declined to name exact dates, other than a general promise of ‘early 2016’. We’re inclined to suspect the company will hit that target – especially as they’ve already made it clear some features will be coming to the service later in the year.

How much will Sky Q cost?

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The million dollar question is still a closely guarded secret, but we make some inferences from things that Sky has already said.

Firstly, the company has made it clear that this is a ‘premium product’. Secondly we know that they’re not planning on killing off the Sky+ box. With those in mind, it seems likely it’ll be a subscription cost on top of existing packages – but we doubt it’ll come cheap.

One analyst has stuck his neck out with a guess, however. David Mercer, Startegy Analytics’ Principal Analyst, told the Daily Star, “we suspect its more likely to be near £10 a month.” He added that if it were to go a little higher than that – £13 per month or so – it would push some existing packages over the £100 per month mark, “as its possible to spend £87 a month today.”

Exact prices – for now, your guess is as good as ours. We’d expect subscribers to begin hearing in January 2016, and we’ll be sure to update this article when we have more concrete details.

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Image: m01229 used under Creative Commons

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