Sky's top-of-the-range service is here and T3.com has now had time with it in one of our own homes.
UPDATE: Sky Q will soon be getting Ultra HD - we'll be updating this review after the launch date.
Given that Sky Q is being pitched at the top end of Sky’s product line, it is expensive even though it's not quite as much as we feared. It will cost around £88 for the top-notch Sky Q Silver package with Sky Sports and Sky Movies. You'll also probably pay £99 for installation. For the package we have – with one Silver, one Q Mini, Sky Fibre broadband, phone and every single channel, you’re looking at £130 per month on a minimum contract of 18 months.
There are also all sorts of upgrade options. For full details on all the pricing configurations, check out Sky Q price, availability and more: here's what you need to know
So what is Sky Q?
It’s best to think of Sky Q as a collection of services launching with a redesigned Sky box. You can stream recordings to tablets (and download them to the tablet) and pause a show in one room and resume in another (or on a tablet). The idea is that you can pick up anywhere having left off anywhere. Once you’ve hit record on either your Sky Q Silver, Mini or Tablet, you can then pause and resume watching on any of those devices, wherever you are in the house. And if you sync your recordings to the Sky Q app on your tablet, you’ll be able to take them with you as well.
In Sky parlance this is called 'Fluid Viewing'. And you may have seen The Avengers turning into blobs, rolling over a carpet and re-materialising on a TV in another room in Sky’s TV ad campaign. We'll tell you more about what we think of this below.
There’s also a new Touch Remote (with an iPod-style touchwheel) for navigating a brand new Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) which also gives you recommendations based on what you’ve watched before as well as ‘the next episode’ of series once you’ve finished watching the previous one.
Sky Q also has its own iOS and Android app which includes all the features of the Sky Go and Sky+ apps. Essentially, Sky Q is how TV should be, with the ability to get any content anywhere. However, Sky Q isn’t just on-box services; it’s also about hardware. There are several options here, so let us break it down for you.
- A new 1TB (with 700GB for your use – so around 150 hours of HD recordings) Sky Q box which is the new-style Sky box that sits under your main TV and connects to your dish. This is the default box for Sky Q and can standalone or be used with the Sky Q Mini or Sky Q Hub below. It features the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and enables you to record three channels while watching a fourth. You can also watch live TV on one tablet via the box.
- The Sky Q Silver box is an upgraded version of the standard Sky Q box (so you either have one or the other) with the ability to record four channels while watching a fifth, 2TB of storage and Ultra HD compatibility. You can also watch live content on two mobile devices, too. In fact, Sky Q Silver has a total of 12 tuners inside. This box isn't yet compatible with Ultra HD though; there will be a firmware upgrade before the new channels launch (the box is only HDMI 1.4 at present rather than HDMI 2.0).
- Sky Q Mini is a £99 optional box for multi-room viewing up to 1080p. You’re able to have two of these boxes if you have Sky Q Silver and one if you have the standard Sky Q box. It doesn’t connect to the dish like old-school Sky Multiroom (which it will replace), instead using your wireless or wired network. It's dependent on your main box, it can't standalone.
- There’s a new Sky Q Hub (a new broadband router), so Sky broadband can be bundled with the package, too. If you have a Sky Q Hub, then all your Sky Q devices become Wi-Fi hotspots, which is rather cool. Sky will presumably upgrade your router for free if you're getting Sky Q or for a small cost. You don't need Sky broadband to use Sky Q, however.
One thing it isn’t hard to compare it to is BT Sport’s Ultra HD service. That’s because, although the top-end Sky Q Silver box is Ultra HD compatible, we won’t be seeing any Sky Ultra HD services until the summer. At that point, expect Sky Movies Ultra HD, Sky Sports Ultra HD and some kind of entertainment channel – if we were betting on it, we’d go for Sky One Ultra HD.
The best bundle by far is the Silver with either one or two Mini boxes depending on how many TVs you have in your house. This way you have multi-room without the cables and you’re UHD-ready in your main viewing room.
- Don't forget to check out our complete guide to Sky Q price and availability
Sky Q installation and setup
Installation was, by all standards, very simple. My house isn’t exactly massive and my Wi-Fi signal is strong (stronger actually with the Sky Q Hub – which I’d set up already) throughout. The Sky Q Silver and Mini boxes also act as Wi-Fi boosters, and I found out during the course of the week that I had much better signal throughout my house.
The installation started with one of the engineers – there were two of them – scoping out the house for wireless signal. I opted for the Sky Q Silver in the lounge and Sky Q Mini in the bedroom. My Sky Q Hub is in the dining room so this was really just a check to make sure there was a strong enough signal – as the Sky Q Mini relies on a Wi-fi connection to communicate with the Silver box.
While installing, the engineers did tell me that sometimes it’s hard to get a signal – especially in huge houses where there are TVs a long distance away from each other. If there are problems, Sky can hardwire it – so it’s not a massive issue, I guess. After plugging in and turning on (and the engineer doing a few more checks on an iPad) everything appeared to be working fine.
The system asked what TV I had on setup. I was a little disappointed that I can no longer turn my Marantz amp on and off using the Sky remote, but never mind. What did annoy me a little is they fact that I can’t – for the meantime anyway – use my Logitech Harmony to control the system. Not Sky’s fault I guess (the Sky Q box has Bluetooth, which the Touch remote uses as well as IR) but it means I now have to turn everything on and set the right inputs when wanting to watch. First-world TV viewing problems, I know.
So what's Sky Q like to use?
The ability to record four shows at once – and watch a fifth live on Sky Q Silver – is pretty damn cool. It’s a TV junkie’s dream, in fact. And on the previous evening I did catch up on a few recordings I’d done at once – a programme about Gary Player on Sky Sports 4; highlights of a La Liga game; and an episode of Impractical Jokers on Comedy Central. Sure, I could probably get all of these on On Demand, but it was really cool testing Q’s recording ability out.
Sky Q has a brand new interface. While it might look alien to you now, we guarantee you'll get pretty famililar with it quickly. The navigation menus 'unfold' from the left across and there tend to be 2-3 sub-menus for each of the top-level options. Don't worry - BBC One is still on 101. The actual TV guide works very similarly to before.
You can search for anything at any point - just click the Search button on the remote.
The top-level options include all the standard stuff you're used to from Sky, with TV Guide, Catch-up TV and Recordings (the old planner) top of the tree. Then comes My Q, which is basically the stuff that's been selected for you. This is based both on what you've watched before as well as new shows Sky Q thinks you might like.
My Q includes three sections. Continue (shown above) shows you all the shows you're part way through watching - remember you can resume these from any room or device - as well as new episodes of stuff you've recently finished watching. We reckon this is where most Sky Q customers will spend a lot of their menu time.
But there is a problem. You can't pause a programme in one room and pick up in another - you have to press the record button first before it appears in My Recordings. This wasn’t exactly how I imagined Sky's self-styled 'Fluid Viewing' to work – there’s bound to be an update as Sky Q evolves. At least there’s a workaround, even if it does mean unwanted recordings on the planner (which I can delete of course – and there’s plenty on space on the 2TB Silver box). Note that the Sky Q Mini doesn’t have a hard drive, so any recordings started on that box will go on the Silver box.
I’d love it to work on live TV – without recording the thing I’m watching. But, like I said, you can work around this (just remember to delete your recordings).
The For you screen (below) which includes recommendations for programmes based on what you have watched. This changes depending on the time of day so you wouldn't see Winnie the Pooh or Loose Women (this is what Sky people watched, not T3.com!) in the evening.
And then the third part of My Q is New series, which shows you completely new stuff it thinks you might like. Note that My Q doesn't just lazily pull you stuff in from Sky 1 and Sky Atlantic; there's BBC and Dave stuff in here, too. We're not really sure who Sky got to fill up this demo box, but they certainly watched some interesting crap.
The rest of the new Sky Q guide
Here's a few shots of the rest of the Sky Q EPG. Note that each key content area also has its own entry on the Sky Q menu. So here's the movies and music homepages, for example.
Top Picks enables you to check out new TV that you've perhaps missed. So I hit the Home button on the Q touch remote and ventured to Top Picks – where you land by default. I gambled on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – it was ready to play in around 30 seconds. After this mediocrity, I watched some live football (Burnley v Blackburn if you’re interested). Now, I had this functionality on my old Sky HD box, but Sky Q definitely makes everything easier to find – and discover new shows that I may have missed. My Q also gave me some suggestions (in the first few days it was saying it was still learning what i liked) on what to watch, as well as giving me the shows I’d started watching but not finished.
Note the sub-menus are curated so they're subject-specific. These are often based on pretty simple logic, it's reasonable to offer you radio when in the music section.
Each of these genre-specific areas includes both things that are on now as well as things you can pull down on demand as well as any Box Office offerings.
Naturally, you can also record any of the shows you're offered here, as well as view other showings or more episodes. These genre areas will fulfill a purpose for some viewers for sure, but we can't see them being used a great deal by most Sky Q customers who will surely stick to the standard TV guide and My Q.
You can access Sky Store, of course, but it isn't rammed in your face and we saw it only occiaionally appear in the recommendations based on what had previously been watched on the box.
Note that you can always see what you're watching when in the menu (above). But what about the Mini Gude when you're watching something already. This also looks a lot different with Sky Q - pressing Select brings up this view where you can skip to the previous or next episodes. These could be on demand - the beauty of Sky Q is that it doesn't distinguish.
If you're watching a movie or something that doesn't have a next episode, Sky Q will find you recommendations and show you More like this... instead (see below).
Sky Q streaming and apps
If there is a weak area of the Sky Q offering, we're about to tell you about it. Sky Q includes YouTube and Vevo (music videos) as apps while Sky has also announced Barcroft TV, Electus, Funny Or Die, GoPro, Red Bull and more as content partners, too. But compared to many current smart TVs it is a weak offering. If you've got a 4K TV, chances are you'll also have an app store that'll smash this one into the ground.
If you want to watch streaming video, it might serve a purpose for you but unless you've something specific you want to watch (maybe in 4K in future!) we think this area of Sky Q will remaind chronically underused, especially if you're used to using a Chromecast or Apple TV. More apps could change things, however, and remember that On Demand apps are already very much a part of Sky Q.
Talking of apps, Sky has also announced a few sidebar apps for Sky Q - these pop up at the side of your screen like this. At present mostly Sky apps are available but Sky says it will be looking to add to this in the near future. Again though, this is an area that will remain relatively unused unless some big name apps can be attracted. These sidebar apps are accessed via a new dedicated button on the remote (see below).
Sky Q can also be used as an Apple AirPlay media streamer, while you can also connect Bluetooth devices for streaming. Of course, many home audio devices now support these technologies, but many older home cinema systems do not. If you've one of these, it could be a good way to bring streaming audio to your AV system.
Sky Q remotes
So here's the brand new Sky Q remote. Despite appearances, many of the controls are very similar to existing Sky remotes, though there are a few new additions such as a Home button and a Search button, too.
The Sky button now takes you to your most recent recordings, which we think is a bit weird - we've always been used to the Sky button being the 'get rid of this menu and take me back to what I was watching' button.
The key difference is the touchpad. This enables you to move through menus by swiping from side to side and up and down, while you're able to do things like move through recordings at different speeds, too, using the panel above the touchpad. It does take a little bit of gettting used to but we found we were well away after only a few minutes. We did still have a few sticky menu situations, but as we only spent 45 minutes with it, we're sure these would be ironed out over time.
The record button now Series Links by default, but you can click it once more to record just the one show and again to cancel.
Voice search is also coming to Sky Q at some point after launch and there's a microphone in the remote to enable this. The remote is actually based on completely different tech than the old Sky remotes (it's Bluetooth) so they're not backwards compatible.
And your Sky box can even help you find your remote - press the Q on your box and the remote will start beeping.
Even though I’d used it before, the Touch Remote took a bit of getting used to – you have to slide up and down/left and right to navigate and I just kept pressing it in, thus selecting something I didn’t want to. Teething problems and a learning curve for me; but overall the system was easy to navigate. I immediately set the output to 1080p and set up some parental controls – changing the pin via the box which you previously couldn’t do.
I navigated to Sky Sports HQ HD – I like the fact you can choose Sports from the Home menu and then select On Now – and watched for a bit. Everything was set up fine and to my liking. I also liked the new, slicker OSD as you change channels manually – and being able to go to the previous channel by swiping down on the Q Touch remote.
However, not every box comes with the snazzy new remote. Instead, the Sky Q Mini multiroom box comes with this really much less attractive version. However, we actually found it quite nice to use. Perhaps it's because it's a bit more like the existing Sky remote, we dunno. However, we could imagine, say, our Dad (sorry Dad!) preferring to use this one instead of the touch-based version.
Sky Q app
There's a completely new app for Sky Q that basically takes the functionality of every other Sky app and stuffs it into one convienient place. Well, OK, maybe not Jeff Stelling's Football Score Centre, but basically every other one OK?
If you followed the recent news about Sky Go's redesign. the look and feel of this app will be famililar and indeed, it follows the new EPG design you've seen in previous parts of this article. The TV Guide looks very similar to the on screen version, for example.
And you can also see new Sky Q features such as My Q and Top Picks.
What's really interesting is the Recordings section of the app. This is all the stuff that's recorded on your Sky Q box...
...and you can choose to download it directly to your iPad for a period of 30 days (or 48 hours after you start watching it). The encoding for iPad is done by your Sky Q box, so the transfer speed is rapid. If you transfer an on demand recording across, this is downloaded from the internet. Clever stuff.
The app only works on tablets at the moment, but links into your Sky Q box to give you pretty much all the functionality of a Sky Q Mini on a mobile device – including being able to record shows to your main Sky Q box.
I'd actually recorded a good chunk of the golf from the previous night, so I started watching that – just by accessing the recording from the My Recordings section in the app. It’s extremely cool being able to access your recordings on a tablet.
I then used the Q Sync feature on the Sky Q app to transfer the recording to my iPad. It worked flawlessly. I imagine this is going to be one of the big pulls of Sky Q – being able to take your recordings wherever you go. It’s certainly a massive plus for me (although some content, such as BBC iPlayer stuff won’t work due to licensing issues).
Similarly, like Sky Go, you can watch live TV or on demand shows, as well as being able to download on demand TV to your device when you have a Wi-Fi connection. The whole fluid viewing philosophy was starting to make sense. But wouldn’t it be ace if you could pause something at home and carry on watching on your smartphone as you left the house. The latter would just be amazing – and I hope Sky is working on it.
It’s futile to deny that Sky Q is brilliant. True, few of the features are previously unseen on their own (though making all Sky Q devices into Wi-Fi hotspots is so, so clever) and the streaming services aren’t a patch on those available elsewhere, but the beauty of Sky’s services has always been that they guarantee a certain level of slickness; a seamless experience in an age where the connected home remains a bit of a hotchpotch.
We love the multi-room functionally without the cabling; and we very much like Q Sync. We really want fluid viewing stretched to the live TV tuners, but it's a small quibble you'll soon forget. So while it's expensive and has quirks and missing features – Sky Q is a brilliant system that takes TV watching to another level. It also becomes very easy to use very quickly. If your main TV is in constant demand (and/or you want multiroom) and you're happy to pay the extra to upgrade, Q is for you.
Liked this? Check out Sky Q isn’t just a set-top box - it’s Sky’s bid to be the centre of your smart home