Sky Q review: Everything you need to know
It took two Sky engineers more than three hours to install Sky Q at my house. Mounting a dish to the outside of the house, running the cable and then setting up, installing and upgrading the firmware on three TV boxes and one booster is no simple task, and it’s a sign, if you weren’t already aware, that the first major upgrade to Sky’s premium TV system in more than a decade is more than a humdrum upgrade – it’s a radical overhaul, a complete rethink of the way its TV system works. Prepare to adjust your set.
More than that, however, Sky Q is also a measure of how seriously Sky is taking the threat to its traditional broadcast TV business from streaming TV. Services such as Netflix and YouTube, and low-cost hardware such as the Chromecast 2 and Amazon Fire TV Stick, are dragging a new generation of TV watchers away from traditional providers. Sky Q is the broadcaster’s way of reclaiming the high ground, and it does so in a quite spectacular manner.
Sky Q review: What is it and how does it work?
What makes Sky Q such a significant upgrade, and such a major departure from anything that has gone before, is that it’s a total reworking of the way broadcast and satellite TV works.
Instead of a single box that sits underneath the TV in your living room that might (if it feels like it) communicate with the app on your phone or tablet, Sky Q has been designed from the ground up as a multiroom system.[gallery:13]
Buy the full package, including Sky Broadband, and you’ll get a Sky Q 2TB box and two Sky Q Mini boxes. You’ll be able to watch live TV simultaneously on all three of these, and because they talk to each other over Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to stop watching something on one box and continue watching it on another.
That’s not all, however. Sky has released a Sky Q app that lets you watch live TV on up to two tablets simultaneously, pausing, recording and rewinding, just like you can on the main TV and Mini boxes and, as an extra trick, you can also transfer downloaded or recorded programmes to your tablets so you can watch them offline.
That’s quite a list of capabilities, so how does Sky Q pull it off?
Sky Q review: The boxes
At the heart of every Sky Q system sits a Sky Q 2TB (formerly Sky Q Silver) or standard Sky Q 1TB box. Externally, these don’t look particularly exciting. Yes, it’s nice that they’re considerably smaller and slimmer than the old Sky+ HD boxes, but otherwise, there’s no indication that they’re anything more than just a slightly redesigned set-top box.[gallery:17]
They connect to your TV and satellite dish in exactly the same way as before, and they’ll sit, just like your old Sky+ HD box, below the big TV in your lounge.
Under the skin, however, the boxes are very different. The Sky Q 2TB box packs an enormous hard disk for storing recorded programmes and downloaded catch-up TV, and has not two, or even three, but a huge 12 tuners, plus the ability to show 4K content. The regular box has a 1TB hard disk and eight tuners and is limited to 1080p. Both are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled.
|Key features||Sky Q 2TB box||Sky Q box||Sky Q Mini box|
|Resolution||Ultra HD/4K (only 1080p at launch)||1080p||1080p|
|Remote control||Bluetooth touch remote||Bluetooth touch remote||Traditional IR remote|
|Wi-Fi||802.11ac (2×2 2.4GHz, 3×3 5GHz) mesh network||802.11ac (2×2 2.4GHz, 3×3 5GHz) mesh network||802.11ac (2×2 2.4GHz, 3×3 5GHz) mesh network|
|Other features||Proprietary Powerline AV 1.1 networking (coming soon)||Proprietary Powerline AV 1.1 networking (coming soon)||Proprietary Powerline AV 1.1 networking (coming soon)|
So what on earth does Sky Q need all those tuners for? It’s because the main box, be that the 2TB or standard model, is used as the system’s central conduit for both the TV signal and storage. The Sky Q Mini boxes simply hang off it, streaming live footage and recorded and downloaded content via Wi-Fi.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what the 2TB box’s 12 tuners are used for. The first tuner provides the channel you’re watching right now on your main TV. That’s simple enough. On top of that, on your main box Sky shows you a live picture-in-picture on the now-and-next guide at the bottom of the screen. It also lets you record five other programs at the same time (or six if you enable the feature in settings).[gallery:26]
The secondary Sky Q Mini boxes occupy another two. The Sky Q 2TB box supports two of these, so two tuners are reserved for boxes in other rooms. That takes us to nine. Add on another two for tablets/smartphones, and we’ve hit eleven.
The last tuner can be classified under the UI umbrella: it’s a data channel that receives all the pictures, electronic programme guide (EPG) and so on for the fancy new UI (see below). And that’s your lot.
The standard Sky box is a simpler version, allowing the recording of three channels instead of four, and the connection of one Mini box and one tablet.[gallery:19]