The fu­ture of TV is here, but is it worth the price?

FOR Great con­tent; slick de­sign; multi-room TV re­ally works AGAINST Ex­pen­sive; some fea­tures seem a lit­tle niche

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

Sky Q is the big­gest over­haul Sky has given to its pack­age since it in­tro­duced Sky+, aim­ing to do for tele­vi­sion what Sonos did for mu­sic – make it truly multi-room.

The pack­age is built around the Sky Q Sil­ver box, which essentially works as a hub for up to two sep­a­rate Sky Q Mini boxes and two tablets simultaneously. That’s right, you can watch four chan­nels live and record a fifth all at once. It’s just a case of find­ing enough screens.

They‘ve got the look

The Q boxes are easily the most at­trac­tive Sky has ever pro­duced. The 2TB Sil­ver box be­fits the pre­mium price you’re pay­ing, both in ap­pear­ance and build qual­ity, and the Minis look a bit like high-end wi-fi routers. But if you find them a bit plain, they’re small enough to tuck away be­hind the TV, and be­cause the re­motes work us­ing Bluetooth you don’t need to point them di­rectly at the box.

The Mini boxes are plug’n’play, too. All they need is a power cable and a con­nec­tion to the telly, so they can easily be moved around if re­quired. That doesn’t mean they’re less ca­pa­ble than the main Sil­ver box though – there’s still an op­ti­cal out for au­dio, or they will out­put Dolby Dig­i­tal over HDMI if it’s se­lected.

There’s no doubt this is the best­con­nected Sky box ever. There’s built-in wi-fi for con­nect­ing to the in­ter­net, but it’s the net­work it cre­ates with the Mini boxes that makes Sky Q re­ally stand out.

It’s a Sonos-style mesh net­work, mean­ing the speed of your broad­band doesn’t mat­ter – the wi-fi net­work it­self de­ter­mines how well the sys­tem streams con­tent around your home. If you have Sky Broad­band, how­ever, each box works as a wi-fi hotspot.

Us­ing the Mini boxes is al­most iden­ti­cal to us­ing the main one. The in­ter­face is the same, it gives you ac­cess to any­thing on the Sil­ver’s hard-drive (and you can delete stuff or down­load more) or watch live TV. It’s part of Sky’s ‘Fluid View­ing’ con­cept which also al­lows you to stream to a tablet. Again, qual­ity is good and the sig­nal solid, al­though our orig­i­nal ipad Mini lags a lit­tle when scrolling through the EPG. Our ipad Pro had no such prob­lems.

Sky is keen to point out that the sys­tem also al­lows you to stop watch­ing a show on one TV and pick it up on an­other screen elsewhere. You can, and it works

“The Sky Q Sil­ver box works as a hub. You can watch four chan­nels live and record a fi€h all at once. It’s just a case of find­ing enough screens”

seam­lessly, but it’s not re­ally some­thing we’ve ever had any cause to use.

Fluid View­ing ex­tends out­side the home, but only as far as caching down­loaded or recorded Sky con­tent on your tablet, so you can catch up with Game Of Thrones on your com­mute or fill up on movies for a long-haul flight. It’s rea­son­ably fast too, so you don’t have to set it all to down­load the night be­fore you leave in the morn­ing. Al­low about 60 sec­onds for ev­ery 10 min­utes of TV you want to store.

Clearer def­i­ni­tion

While the Sil­ver box is ca­pa­ble of re­ceiv­ing Ul­tra HD, it wasn’t avail­able at the time of test­ing. It is sched­uled to be ready in time for the start of the Premier League sea­son (a week af­ter this mag­a­zine went to press), but for most, HD will be good enough right now.

There are more hi-def chan­nels on of­fer than ever. Delve down to the more left­field ones at the bot­tom of the EPG and things get fuzzy around the edges, but on the main­stream chan­nels that you’ll watch 99 per cent of the time qual­ity is ex­cel­lent, par­tic­u­larly on Sky’s own. The movie chan­nels (re­cently re­branded as Sky Cinema) even use a new for­mat that claims to im­prove pic­ture qual­ity. In gen­eral the pic­ture is crisp, packed with de­tail and blessed with a pleas­antly rich colour bal­ance. Con­trast lev­els are good, with deep in­sight into dark scenes and plenty of punch in brights. Mo­tion han­dling is smooth and mostly sta­ble.

Im­por­tantly, the qual­ity on the ex­tra boxes and tablets dot­ted around the home is ex­cel­lent too, de­spite no di­rect con­nec­tion to the satel­lite. On-de­mand con­tent is down­loaded rather than streamed, so the pic­ture isn’t sus­cep­ti­ble to break­ing up or pix­e­lat­ing if some­one elsewhere in the house starts stream­ing Stranger Things on Net­flix and puts ex­tra strain on the con­nec­tion.

Sound sup­port

The qual­ity of the sound you’ll get from Sky Q de­pends largely on what you plug it into, but it sup­ports Dolby Dig­i­tal and can out­put to a 5.1 sur­round-sound sys­tem or sound­bar over HDMI or op­ti­cal cable. Not ev­ery chan­nel sup­ports it, but it kicks in au­to­mat­i­cally when the rel­e­vant sig­nal is de­tected. Who needs sur­round sound for Univer­sity Chal­lenge any­way?

Across the range of pro­gramme types, sound qual­ity is good. Voices are well

ar­tic­u­lated, whether it’s a Scandi drama or com­men­tary dur­ing a cricket match, while mu­sic and ef­fects are punchy with­out go­ing over the top. Vol­ume seems to be well stan­dard­ised across the chan­nels, so you don’t have to keep reach­ing for the re­mote when­ever you switch over.

When it comes to mu­sic, on its own it will never re­place a proper stereo sys­tem or even a de­cent Bluetooth speaker but you can get away with us­ing it to play mu­sic from a phone over Airplay or Bluetooth.

There have been re­ports of sound dropouts when us­ing Sky Q, and we ex­pe­ri­ence prob­lems early on too. But a soft­ware up­grade, which should be avail­able across the board by now, seems to have fixed the is­sue.

Hand­some handset

The Sky Q touch re­mote is a frac­tion of the size of its hefty pre­de­ces­sor. The part you’ll use most is the touch-sen­si­tive panel that

“The qual­ity on the ex­tra boxes and tablets dot­ted around the home is ex­cel­lent too, de­spite no di­rect con­nec­tion to the satel­lite dish”

nat­u­rally rests un­der your thumb. Swipe left, right, up and down to nav­i­gate Q’s re­designed menu, and push it to se­lect a chan­nel, down­load a show or con­firm a set­ting. Sim­ple.

That user in­ter­face is a rev­e­la­tion. It can some­times take one too many steps to get some­where, but it makes the old Sky+ EPG look pos­i­tively an­tique. Us­ing the panel to swipe around its menus soon be­comes sec­ond na­ture, and the cres­cent-shaped area above it is per­fectly placed for the fast-for­ward and rewind func­tions it of­fers.

Some­times it can be a lit­tle too sen­si­tive, and it’s easy to ac­ci­den­tally pause or rewind what you’re watch­ing by brush­ing against the wrong part of the re­mote. There’s an alternative handset that’s iden­ti­cal ex­cept for a set of stan­dard di­rec­tional but­tons in place of the touch panel. It’s this style of re­mote you get with the Minis.

Net­flix’s orig­i­nal con­tent grabs the head­lines these days, but you can’t ar­gue

“That user in­ter­face makes the old Sky+ EPG look an­tique, and us­ing the touch panel to swipe around its menus soon be­comes sec­ond na­ture”

with the sheer quan­tity of what Sky of­fers. With over 350 live chan­nels alone, not to men­tion all the on-de­mand movies and TV shows, the choice is sec­ond to none – and that’s be­fore you fac­tor in the live sport.

BT Sport might have eaten into Sky’s foot­ball of­fer­ing, but Sky still shows the lion’s share of Premier League games, plus the Cham­pi­onship, La Liga and MLS for real foot­ball hip­sters.

On-de­mand ser­vices from the ter­res­trial chan­nels are in­cluded too, with pro­grammes down­loaded to the box rather than streamed.

New to Sky Q is an on­line video sec­tion, which of­fers Youtube and Vevo apps but also has sec­tions for Sky’s own picks un­der var­i­ous head­ings, in­clud­ing ‘Quick Laughs’, ‘Style’, ‘Food and Drink’ and ‘Sports’. It’s not bad for killing time, though it some­times feels like Sky is try­ing a bit too hard to be ‘down with the kids’.

Manag­ing the com­pe­ti­tion

There’s no Net­flix or Ama­zon Video here but that’s no sur­prise. Putting those ser­vices on a Sky box would be like ex­pect­ing Burger King to sell Big Macs. Be­sides, chances are you’ve got ac­cess to those ei­ther di­rectly via your TV or through an­other box that’s plugged into it.

With Q, Sky re­ally has never been bet­ter, but it has also never been more ex­pen­sive. If that’s the ele­phant in the room, it’s a pretty size­able an­i­mal.

The num­ber of pos­si­ble pack­age per­mu­ta­tions is dizzy­ing, but the most ba­sic Sky Q Sil­ver is £54 per month, plus £99 for in­stal­la­tion – that’s £18 per month more than a ba­sic Sky HD pack­age. That set-up fee rises to £299 if you don’t sign up for the Sport and/or Movies pack­age (both to­gether is an ex­tra £34.50 a month, just movies is £17, just sports £25.50), or com­mit to Sky Broad­band. For that you get only one Mini box, to add a sec­ond it’s an­other £99. Plus you don’t get to keep the boxes if you de­cide not to re­new.

Kit that can keep up

If you're think­ing of up­grad­ing to Sky Q right now, you prob­a­bly need an Ul­tra HD TV to get the most out of it. Sky's 4K con­tent is in­cluded in the price, so you're miss­ing out if you can't take ad­van­tage. You also need plenty of screens and enough sets of eyes to point at them. This isn’t a sys­tem that you’ll get the most from in a one-bed­room flat.

But as an over­all pack­age, Sky Q feels ut­terly con­tem­po­rary, com­bin­ing al­most ev­ery way of watch­ing tele­vi­sion and al­low­ing you to ac­cess each of them all over your home (and, to an ex­tent, out­side it). This is as good as TV gets – if you can bear the not-in­con­sid­er­able cost.

We think the box de­sign is Sky’s smartest effort yet. Nicely fin­ished, too

On the side of the re­mote con­trol is a small button with a mi­cro­phone logo. Sky is plan­ning to en­able a voice­con­trol fea­ture fur­ther down the line

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.