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Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

The Good

  • Fluid menus with logical layouts
  • Smart, touch-sensitive controller
  • Watch content anywhere with My Q, Fluid Viewing and Sky Go
  • Silver box ready to receive 4K channels

The Bad

  • It’s not cheap
  • WiFi booster feature unavailable to non-Sky Broadband folks
  • You don’t get to keep the hardware post-contract
  • Not all promised features available from launch
4.5

We review Sky Q ahead of the pay TV giant’s launch of 4K Ultra HD TV channels later this year. 

Sky Q has been a long time coming. The last time Sky shook up digital TV was with Sky+ which in 2001 introduced the then-novel concept of being able to pause and rewind live TV as well as record programmes. Fast forward to 2016 and much has changed. 

An increasing number of us now choose to stream live or on-demand content as well as watching traditional broadcast TV. 

Netflix and shopping giant Amazon let us tap into their ever-growing libraries of original commissioned content and licenced shows and movies from big US studios whose content was previously only available with a pay TV subscription. You can even stream content virtually anywhere there’s a decent WiFi connection on your laptop, tablet or phone. 

So how does a traditional pay TV broadcaster like Sky reinvent itself for the content-hungry on-demand age? Sky Q is a many-faced answer to that question. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q: Life is like a box of chocolates

Sky Q has a lot to offer customers. We’ve broken our review up into sections covering the hardware that you get with a Sky Q Silver Bundle subscription, how the remotes work, how the Sky Q user interface works and how you can watch content elsewhere in the home with My Q and when you’re out and about with Sky Go. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q: What channels do you get?

With Sky+HD, you can pick from three different channel bundles – Original, Variety and Family – which give you increasing numbers of channels. Then you can add premium channel packages like Sky Sports and Sky Movies. In order to get more channels in HD, you’ll need to take the Family bundle and pay a small monthly HD premium.  

Sky Q keeps things simple. There’s just one basic package of Sky Q channels, which includes all HD channels as standard. 

What is HD? The difference between 720p, 1080i and 1080pSky Sports 4K Ultra HD demo: First impressionsFor your money you’ll get Sky channels like Sky 1, Sky Arts and Sky Living as well as UKTV pay channels like Gold, Good Food, Alibi and W (the new name for Watch), plus SyFy, Comedy Central, Universal, ITV Encore (a Sky exclusive), Fox, Discovery, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1 and many more. 

All Sky Q subscriptions include Sky Atlantic, one of the jewels in Sky’s pay TV crown. While you can get channels like Sky 1, Sky Living and Sky Sports on other TV platforms like Virgin Media, BT TV and TalkTalk TV, Sky Atlantic is jealously guarded.

Only folks with a Now TV subscription can access Sky Atlantic shows too, but even those HD streams are capped at 720p HD; the full high definition goodness is reserved exclusively for Sky TV punters. 

If you want to add premium channels like Sky Sports, that’s an extra £25.50/month and Sky Movies is an extra £18/month. 

If you want to take BT Sport, that’ll cost you an additional £23.99/month or £6/month if you’re taking it with BT Broadband – see our feature on BT Sport prices for the full low down on this

As we mentioned, the main difference between the two Sky Q subscriptions is hardware and in the case of Sky Q Silver, the option to add 4K Ultra HD channels. 

We don’t currently know how much extra this will cost (if anything) and exactly what you’ll get; pricing and availability is due to be announced later this summer. It’s not been confirmed, but it’s a safe bet that we’ll know before the next Premier League season begins.

Sky Q: What’s in the box? 

The review units we’ve been sent consist of the Sky Q Silver set-top box and two Sky Q Mini boxes. 

To recap quickly, there’s two different Sky Q subscriptions or Bundles available; the Sky Q Bundle (the basic £44/month entry-level service) and the Sky Q Silver Bundle (the premium £56/month 4K-ready service). 

Specs-wise, the main differences between the boxes, besides the Sky Q Silver box being ready to receive 4K Ultra HD content, is in the number of tuners each has. The basic Sky Q box has eight tuners while the Sky Q Silver box has 12. 

Sky Q apps for phones coming ‘later this year’These allow for multiple recordings of TV shows (up to three at once on the basic box and four on the Silver) and can support streams of content to secondary devices including tablets and (eventually) phones as well as Sky Q Mini boxes. In the case of the Sky Q Silver box, there’s a tuner that’s dedicated to delivering video to the picture-in-picture windows that appear on the main menu and when you tap the ‘i’ button.  

Whichever of the two bundles you opt for, you will get a main Sky Q set-top box and the ability to add at least one more Sky Q Mini box. 

Your main Sky Q box is connected to the satellite dish and router and receives broadcast and on-demand TV via these. Content can then be sent to a Sky Q Mini box via WiFi to be watched on a TV or tablet in another room. This basically eliminates the need for you to have to fork out for a Multiroom subscription, which will be a big selling point for family customers. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

How does Sky Q Mini work?

Your Sky Q box will support at least one extra Sky Q Mini box. These can can be hooked up to any TV or display via HDMI – we got it working perfectly on our Xgimi Z4 Aurora projector – and it connects to the main Sky Q box via your home WiFi network. 

That thankfully means no extra cables trailing about the place and gives you the freedom to move the Mini Box around, providing your network is up to snuff.

If it’s not then you will (eventually) be able to connect your Sky Q boxes with proprietary Powerline adapters, which effectively turn your home’s wiring into a jury-rigged Ethernet connection. 

As this feature wasn’t available at the time of writing, we can’t say how well this works but if you’ve ever set up any Powerline adapters in your home then you should have an idea of how this will fare. Sky Q uses Powerline AV 1.1 technology which provides top data rates of up to 200Mbps. As with any Powerline product, the quality of your wiring will have an effect on speeds, so results may vary.

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

You can also connect Sky Q Mini boxes to your router with Ethernet cables, although of course you’ll need to have several meters of Ethernet cable tacked alongside the skirting boards of your walls for this to work. 

During your Sky Q installation, engineers will test to make sure everything’s working as it should and won’t set up a Sky Q Mini box in a room that’s not able to support a decent WiFi stream. 

We had no troubles with connectivity, lag or other issues, which was refreshing for such new technology. In fact, the only time we ever saw a ‘can not connect to the main Sky Q Box’ message was down to a separate WiFi issue, which was quickly resolved with a quick router reset.

You can stream any channel straight from your main Sky Q box, independent of whatever’s being watched or recorded on the main set. You can also set up recordings for the main box, including series links and the rest, as well as watching anything that’s already been recorded, just as you would have been able to from the old Sky+ mobile apps. 

Speaking of which, we were pleased to discover that while the Sky Q apps are not available for download on phones (that’s in the pipeline though), we were able to set recordings from our phones using the old Sky+ app.

Sky Q review: All streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV

Sky Q WiFi Booster: Only works if you’re a Sky Broadband customer

Being able to sling content streams around the home is great and everything, but what if WiFi reception is patchy in the upstairs bedroom?

Instead of having to fork out for a Powerline WiFi adapter, Sky has cunningly fitted out its Sky Q set-top boxes with built-in wireless modules that sees the hardware itself essentially doubling as a WiFi hotspot. Given that Sky Q is all about letting you stream content on mobile devices, this is a very smart move from Sky. 

Unfortunately there is a small catch – this feature can currently only be turned on if you’re a Sky Broadband customer.

Seeing as nobody at Team Recombu could (or would) sign up for Sky Broadband at the time of writing (one of us lives within spitting distance of a street cabinet but can’t currently get FTTC; we’ll stick with Virgin thanks), we’ve been unable to test this out. As and when we get around to sorting this out, we will update this section of the review accordingly. 

Each Sky Q set top box features the same WiFi module – 2.4GHz 2×2 MIMO and 5GHz 3×3 MIMO antennas, all b/g/n – which gives you some idea of how they’ll perform in your home. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q remotes: Tactile and tactical Bluetooth blasters

Perhaps mindful of the fact that the modern mobile phone has encroached on the role of the traditional telly remote, Sky has grafted a big touch-sensitive pad onto the centre of the Sky Q peripheral. 

This lets you gracefully flick, swipe and scroll through menus either one step at a time or, by holding your thumb down, accelerate through a long list of options. Media controls (i.e. pause/play, skip forward and back) sit to the north of the pad and like that big black disc, these respond to finger swipes and taps. 

Initially we weren’t too sure about this; we’d been able to have a quick play around with it during demo sessions earlier this year and our initial impression was that this was a purely gimmicky addition. It took a while for this opinion to shift as it’s not the easiest thing to use at first. 

Those media controls are especially tricky to master. When you want to zoom through the ad breaks or skip back a couple of seconds, the idea is that you rest your thumb or finger on the centre of the silver arc and then gradually drag your digit to the left or the right accordingly. The further in each direction you move, the faster you’ll go. Releasing your finger sees the programme resume playing as normal. 

With practice, it becomes effortless; powering through the ads at the maximum 30x speed becomes a perversely enjoyable minigame. You can also pause/play and skip by simply tapping on the icons as if they were mechanical controls, but we’ve found that’s not as precise (or fun).

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

At present, there’s no way for you to tweak the sensitivity of these controls in the settings and at the time of writing we’ve been unable to find out from Sky if this will be included in a future update. What is coming to the remote in the future is a voice search option, which will let you sift for content much like you can do on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV

As well as letting users zip through menus and recordings, we loved the nice little graphical trick – a barely perceptible pulse of white light – that accompanies each swish, swipe and tap. Even if you noncommittally rest your finger on the touchpad for a second, whatever the cursor happens to be hovering over at that point will emit that same subtle glow. Swiping left or right on a menu option is also typically accompanied by a corresponding gleam, as if the menu icons were actually fashioned from chrome and not a bunch of pixels. These are completely inessential features, but we bring them up as examples of the obsessive level of presentational flair Sky’s committed to here. Sky Q positively shines from every angle. 

One other slightly more practical feature is the ability to track lost remotes by tapping on the blue Q logo on the front of the Sky Q box. This will see the remotes emit a loud beep, so you can easily find it if it’s fallen down the side of the sofa or one of your little ones has wandered off with it (spoiler alert: kids love remotes). As the Sky Q remotes communicate with your box via Bluetooth instead of IR, you don’t need direct line of sight. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

It has to be said that the newfangled remote is something of an opinion divider. For those who just can’t get on with Sky’s strokeable stick, a more traditional remote, complete with an old school rubberised d-pad, is included. 

Regardless of which weapon you choose, you’ll find the two other buttons you’ll probably use the most – Back and Home – sitting underneath the touchpad/d-pad area. 

The Back button acts as an escape rope, teleporting you straight back to live TV land, wherever you find yourself in the Sky Q menu. Likewise, hitting the Home key will take you to the home page, which is the first thing you’ll see when you power on your Sky Q box or wake it up from standby mode. We’re going to do a deep dive on the home page and everything else that’s important now. 

Sky Q: Navigating the user interface

Like Amazon’s Fire TV, your options are presented in a hyper-logical acrostic-style hub and spoke layout; scrolling through the list gives you access to the likes of Recordings, TV Guide, Sky Box Sets and at the very bottom, things like Settings and My Account. This visual style is prevalent throughout the entire UI, from the TV Guide to the Settings page. 

Possibly taking cues from Tinder, you swipe right to open a menu/confirm and swipe left to go back or cancel. You can also action commands by pressing down on the touchpad or hitting the central d-pad key. Once you’ve got your head around the left-to-right way of doing things, the consistency of the design comes into its own. 

Whenever you turn your Sky Q box on or hit the Home key, you’ll be taken to the home page, which puts you in front of something called Top Picks. Above Top Picks sits the TV Guide (the Sky Q EPG), Catch Up TV (access to BBC iPlayer, All 4 and other players) Recordings (self-explanatory) and the aforementioned My Q section. 

Underneath are links to Sky Box Sets, Sky Movies, Sky Store, Sports, Kids, Music, Online Video and at the very bottom, sub menus for things like Settings, Help and My Account. 

Most of these labels are fairly self-explanatory; things like the Sky Movies and Kids sections essentially serve as quick links to the same kind of content you’d find on the programme guide and by using the Search function. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q TV Guide: Browsing the EPG and setting recordings

The new-look EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) looks every bit as you’d expect it to; there’s tabs for things like HD programmes, kids channels, sport and movies or if you’d just prefer to cycle through the guide the old-fashioned way, you can do that too. 

A nice feature that’s unique to Sky Q is that once you’ve found the programme you want to record, tapping the red Record button once will see the box automatically series link the whole run of programmes. If you don’t want that to happen and you just want to record one episode or show, hit the Record button again. Press it a third time (if you’ve made a mistake) and the recording will be cancelled. 
 
One surprising omission here is you don’t get the option to skip forwards 24 hours in the programme guide, which is something we’d like to see added in a future update. 

Luckily for forward planners who like to schedule recordings with the kind of precision that’d make the NATO high command blush, there’s a Search tool at your disposal which starts canvassing the Sky Q library for upcoming programmes (as well as on-demand and box set downloads) based on single letter searches. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q Catch Up TV: Keeping up with the Qardashians

Sky Q boasts one of the most comprehensive catch-up libraries out there. As well as access to content from all of the PSB catch-up portals – that’s BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 – you get access to specific players for individual Sky channels as well. 

This gives you access to the likes of Modern Family, Arrow and A League Of Their Own (Sky 1), The Catch, Blindspot (Sky Living) and Veep, Silicon Valley and (natch) Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic). 

If this wasn’t enough there’s also catch-up portals for Comedy Central, Gold, SyFy, Fox, Universal, TLC, MTV, W, Alibi, Challenge, Dave… 

As with Sky+HD, you don’t actually stream anything from services like iPlayer – you merely download content which you can then later access from the Recordings section. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q Recordings: Exploring your digital hoarding space

Tapping the ‘Sky’ button at the top of the remote takes you straight to the Recordings section. Everything is logically broken down into discrete sections for downloads, recordings, titles you’ve bought or rented from Sky Store or search for content stored on your hard drive on an A to Z basis. 

You’re even given a detailed breakdown, expressed in gigabytes (GB) of what’s taking up all the space on your hard drive. This means you can make an informed decision as to what shows get to stay and what gets the chop. 

The hard drive you get with the basic Sky Q box is a 1TB drive which in terms of recording space equates to 150 hours of HD recordings, according to the official spec sheet. The Sky Q Silver box comes with a 2TB drive under the hood, which on paper gives you 350 hours of HD recording space. 

Sky doesn’t say how many hours of SD recording space you get but as a general rule of thumb, SD programmes take up roughly half the space. 

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

My Q, Fluid Viewing and Sky Go: Tying it all together 

Fluid Viewing is easily Sky Q’s best party trick. It’s designed to allow you to pause a show and carry on watching on another room – either on a tablet or through one of the Sky Q Mini boxes. 

This works almost instantaneously; after pausing a show on the screen you’ll see it appear in the My Q section of secondary devices. The Fluid Viewing system lets you continue watching recorded and downloaded shows you’re halfway through watching. If you need to vacate the living room because somebody has to watch the football/The Great British Bake Off/Game of Thrones it doesn’t really matter what you were glued to before, you’ll be able to pick it up precisely where you left off. 

This works in almost every case; you can’t pick up shows downloaded from BBC iPlayer on tablets. This isn’t the end of the world of course – there’s perfectly good iPlayer apps for iOS and Android – but it is something of a loose thread in that otherwise seamless Fluid Viewing experience. 

The Sky Q Mini boxes and tablet apps reproduce the basic look and feel of the main Sky Q UI. Some of the non-essential graphical glitz and picture-in-picture goodness is gone. The Mini boxes are also not 4K-ready and for some reason the YouTube and Vevo apps were missing from the menu. Aside from that, the basic functions are there. 

Tablet can download recorded shows to their device for viewing when out and about. 

You should note that as with EE TV’s Replay feature, Sky Q’s Fluid Viewing system is really designed for use in the house. 

As standard, you’ll be able to stream content on the go through the Sky Go apps. Just as you do with a Sky+ subscription, you get to stream on up to four mobile devices at once. As Sky Q is designed to be a multiroom service, you don’t have to shell out another £5/month for Sky Go Extra, as you would with a Sky+ contract.

Sky Q review: The all-streaming, all-dancing 4K-ready pay TV system

Sky Q Top Picks: One stop recommendations shop

Top Picks where Sky will serve up daily recommendations for the best of Sky’s on-demand content. Depending on your subscription, you’ll see anything from movies, cartoons, sports highlights, comedy shorts as well as new releases that have just hit the pay-per-view Sky Store. 

While only on-demand content is served up in Top Picks at the moment, Sky has said that in the future it’ll add more types of content here, including ads for upcoming shows that aren’t available to download yet but will be broadcast later in the day. 

Sky Q Content Portals: Sky Box Sets, Sky Movies, Sport, Kids, Music and Online Video Content 

Much like on Sky+HD, Box Sets are broken down into genre on Sky Q – Comedy, Kids, Drama, etc. There’s also sections for Sky Originals (homegrown hits like Karl Pilkington’s Moaning of Life plus Sky collaborations like The Tunnel and Penny Dreadful). 

Tucked away in here is also a section for Ultra HD content which, at the time of writing consists of just two shows – series 1 of The Blacklist and Richard Hammond’s Jungle Quest. Not a huge library at the moment but we’re sure this will change once those new channels hit the service later in the year. 

One new addition is Online Video, which serves up highlights from YouTube and GoPro channels, Funny or Die and Fail Army sketches and animal videos from The Pet Collective. It’s a  kind of ‘best of the web’ section that will appear strange to anyone used to watching content online normally, but perhaps serves as a good way to introduce any Internet-phobes in your family to the joys of cat videos. 

On the other hand, as there’s a built-in YouTube player, it’s good for those times when you want to be able to share the latest YouTube hit with everyone in the room – or watch BT Sport’s Champions League final without having to pay for it. As well as YouTube, there’s a Vevo app serving up hits from Universal and Sony artists. The jury’s out on whether or not more third party services will come to Sky Q. Netflix and Amazon Video have all but been ruled out so it remains to be seen how this section develops in future. 

Sky Q Prices: How much is it?

Sky Q is a premium service. As such, expect to pay a pretty penny for it. We’ve posted a detailed breakdown of all of the prices here, but to recap, here’s how much you’ll pay every month for the Bundles and premium packages.

  • Sky Q Basic Bundle: £44/month
  • Sky Q Silver Bundle: £56/month
  • Sky Sports: £25.50/month
  • Sky Movies: £18/month

Set-up fees start at £99 but can be as much as £349, depending on the channels you’re taking and if you’re an existing Sky TV customer. If you’re taking Sky Sports and/or Sky Movies, you’ll get a discount. 

Similarly if you’re taking Sky Broadband you’ll also get the same discount. Standard prices for Sky Broadband are as follows:

How much is Sky Broadband?

  Sky Broadband Unlimited Sky Fibre Sky Fibre Unlimited
Download speed up to 17Mbps up to 38Mbps up to 38Mbps
Unlimited unlimited 25GB unlimited
Standard price £10/month £10/month £20/month
Line Rental £17.40/month £17.40/month £17.40/month
Standard total £27.40/month £27.40/month £37.40/month

Here’s how the Sky Q set-up fees break down for new customers and existing Sky TV subscribers. 

Sky Q one-off fees for new customers

  With Sky Broadband or Sky Sports/Sky Movies Without Sky Broadband or Sky Sports/Sky Movies
Sky Q Bundle (inc. Sky Q Box) £99 £249
Sky Q Bundle (inc. Sky Q Silver Box) £149 £299
Sky Q Silver Bundle (inc. Sky Q Silver Box, 1 Sky Q Mini) £99 £299

Sky Q one-off fees for upgrading Sky TV customers with HD or Multiscreen

  With Sky Broadband or Sky Sports/Sky Movies Without Sky Broadband or Sky Sports/Sky Movies
Sky Q Bundle (inc. Sky Q Box) £249 £249
Sky Q Bundle (inc. Sky Q Silver Box) £299 £299
Sky Q Silver Bundle (inc. Sky Q Silver Box, 1 Sky Q Mini) £99 £299

An installation charge of £50 also applies to existing Sky customers, which sees the one off fees rising to £149, £299 and £349 respectively. 

While the Sky Q Silver Bundle includes one Sky Q Mini streamer, it’s capable of supporting up to two. You’ll be able to buy an additional Sky Q Mini for £99. 

Sky Q Prices: Should I buy it?

Yeah, Sky Q isn’t cheap. But is it worth it? Yes, if you can afford it. The service is incredibly polished to the point where it actually makes the act of searching for things to watch weirdly enjoyable. We think that families will love the Fluid Viewing concept and the ability to record up to four shows at once. 

The sheer number of channels and catch-up services you get with the basic subscription alone makes Sky Q worth the money. When you consider that people are prepared to shell out the same kind of cash on a new iPhone contract every year, those subscription rates look reasonable. 

We don’t like that you rent the hardware from Sky. Once your contract is up, the boxes will need to be sent back. Considering how much you have to pay up front, this seems more than a little cheeky. With a Sky+ subscription, those set-top boxes are yours to keep once the subscription’s up. 

We also don’t like that if you want to make use of the WiFi Booster feature, you’ve got to take Sky Broadband. We live in hope that Sky will make sure that everyone can use this, regardless of their ISP in the future. 

We’re interested to see if there’s an extra premium for 4K content when those channels launch later in the year which would affect our judgement. 

Sky Q: Verdict

Sky Q just about lives up to the hype. It’s a very slick package that offers subscribers multiple pathways to a near-inexhaustible content goldmine. The Fluid Viewing multiscreen concept works well and the four included Sky Go logins mean you can stream content on the move. 

It’s not without its flaws and drawbacks, but it’s very early days. 4K Ultra HD content is in the pipeline as is support for Powerline adapters and we’re interested in seeing how the service evolves over the months. 

It’s pricey, but then again it’s a premium service. Whether or not the flexibility and choice Sky Q offers is worth stumping up at least a hundred quid and then around £50 every month is up to you. 

Specification

Hard drive1TB/2TB
No of on-demand services25+
TV outputsHDMI
Audio outoutsHDMI, Optical S/PIDF
Number of channels700+
Number of tuners8/12
Mobile serviceYes - Sky Go and Fluid Viewing
PriceSet up from £99. Subscriptions from £44/month.

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