When it was originally launched, Sky Q was pitched as the company's flagship TV offering, delivering a number of new features above and beyond what is available with the standard Sky HD package.
Now it is the only offering available to new customers, with the 1TB version of the box being the provider's standard device on a range of attractively priced TV packages.
It is also available at reasonable cost for existing Sky subscribers looking to upgrade their ancient boxes. So is it worth it and should you also opt for a multi-room solution?
The answer is, resoundingly, yes.
Sky Q: What we've reviewed
For the purpose of this review we've got the Sky Q 2TB box with a Sky Q Touch Remote, two Sky Q Mini boxes in separate rooms, the Sky Q Hub powering it all, and the Sky Q app on an iPad for watching content elsewhere in the house, or on the go.
We already had a Sky Fibre broadband internet connection from an earlier install. As such we've not tested the 1TB Sky Q box but, bar the lack of 4K Ultra HD content and fewer TV tuners, much of the experience is similar.
Sky Q 2TB box review: The big daddy box
- 2TB hard drive for recordings
- 1TB option also available
- 4K Ultra HD support
- 12 TV tuners, with four able to record at once
The Sky Q 2TB box is at the top of the Sky Q food chain and is sexier, slimmer and less boxy than the Sky+HD hardware - about half the size. It has a staggering 12 TV tuners inside and is 4K Ultra HD compatible. It doesn't support high dynamic range (HDR) picture tech but there is no broadcast content in that format presently anyway.
The 2TB box is the storage hub of the home solution - even though the router is technically named as such, as it (or the 1TB Sky Q box) is required to make the whole system work.
It has a 2TB hard drive inside for recordings, hence the name, or to store downloaded shows and movies. And that HDD can be accessed by all other connected devices around the home, including Sky Q Mini boxes, Android tablets or iPads.
The 12 TV tuners can't all be utilised for recordings (that would be insane). Instead, one is used to provide the live TV broadcast, one for picture-in-picture view of another channel while looking at the on-screen mini-EPG, and four can simultaneously record different shows at once. You can also watch another during the process. There are two tuners set aside for connected tablet devices, and two for Sky Q Mini box connections, so they can all watch content live from the box, plus a network tuner.
Sky will also push an update this year (2017) that will expand the abilities of this box to record six shows whilst watching a seventh. It's something the rival Virgin TV V6 box is capable of, which has seemingly prompted Sky to match.
The 1TB Sky Q box has eight TV tuners, and similar splits them for different tasks. Three are for recordings rather than four, while only one is utilised for external tablet use, and just the one for simultaneous viewing on a Sky Q Mini box. Ultimately, that means fewer simultaneous recordings/viewings from the standard box. Both Sky Q boxes also have an HDMI input as well as out, which could be used in the future - although that functionality isn't currently available to users.
All Sky Q devices can talk to each other over powerline connections, which means that if they cannot detect a Wi-Fi signal or it's not stable enough, they look to transmit and receive network signals through your home's existing electrical cables instead.
You can also use a direct Ethernet cable for connection.
Sky Q Touch Remote review: Buttons and touch-control
- Touch sensitive controls
- New HDMI source button
Both the 2TB and 1TB Sky Q boxes come with a Sky Q Touch Remote. The build isn't as "spongey" as the previous remote and functionality has been vastly improved - a plethora of buttons you probably never used have been ditched. It really adds something different to the TV experience by adding swipe controls to the usual button-press experience, although can, as we've found, present its own set of problems.
Connected via Bluetooth rather than infrared - so you don't have to have direct line-of-sight to the Sky Q box - it's ideal if you want to hide the box in a cupboard out of view. Plus, if you lose the control down the side of the sofa then a quick press of the "Q" logo on the Sky Q box will force the remote to beep so you can track it down - with three kids in the house, we've already used this feature a lot.
On the remote itself is a large, round touch-panel that we've used the most. It works in a similar way to the latest Apple TV remote - in that swipes and occasional presses on the pad replace almost every other function you've previously needed a button for. A click of this touchpad brings up the on-screen electronic programme guide (EPG), which can then be navigated through using the touch functionality.
The touch features don't just extend to the black circle on the remote, as the silver dial to the top of the dial can be used with swipes to control the speed of fast forward and rewind, although you can still tap if that feels a little too "futuristic".
It theory is sounds great, but in practice even the slightest touch will spin whatever you are watching careening forward or back. Nobody will like you. You have to be gentle with it at first, but soon get used to its little peccadilloes.
There are still plenty of traditional buttons though, including a red record button to make sure you won't miss a programme, but gone is a direct button to the TV guide (no, really).
Welcome additions are a dedicated button to your recordings, search, and a HDMI input switch so you can finally ditch your dedicated TV remote once and for all. There are also a three-dot button used to jump to the app side-bar and a voice-control button that will be enabled in early 2017, we understand. In six months of using the service, we've not used the app button once.
Meanwhile, the standard Sky Q Remote, which comes with the Sky Q Mini boxes, has mostly the same functionality, albeit minus the touchpad. That is replaced instead with a dedicated selection of buttons.
The experience is akin to the remote Sky HD customers will be used to, but with the functionality of some of the new buttons detailed above. This remote is infrared rather than Bluetooth too, so you will need a direct line of sight to the Mini box - a shame as that means you won't be able to hide them away like you can the main Sky Q box.
And before you ask, no you can't use the older Sky remotes with Sky Q. You can, however, use the Sky Q Touch Remote to control a Q Mini - you don't get one with it, but you can buy extras separately if you really want.
Sky Q Mini review: TV in other rooms
- Doubles as Wi-Fi hotspot
- Lets you carry on watching in another room
- Access recordings from main box
Even though the Sky Q Mini is essentially a media streamer only, it cleverly acts almost exactly like the 2TB or 1TB Sky Q box that feeds it. You will barely know the difference, with little or no lag in video streaming between them.
It is super quick in operation too, having the same tech inside as the Sky Q 1TB box, save for the tuners. That means 1080p "Full HD" output quality.
Multiple Sky Q Mini boxes can be situated around a home, but only two can be used concurrently (with 2TB box - only one can be used at a time with the 1TB model). They will also act as Wi-Fi extenders if you have the Sky Q Hub broadband router, working to boost your Wi-Fi signal around the house. They don't offer that feature if you are using your own third-party router or are with a rival broadband service.
Sky Q Hub review: The source of entertainment?
- Only two Ethernet ports
- Comes with Sky Broadband package
Dual-band, with 2.4GHz and 5GHz bandwidths working concurrently, the Sky Q Hub router has Gigabit Ethernet support, but only two sockets rather than the four previously found on the Sky Hub.
That's a huge pain, especially if you've got lots of other devices needing a connection and a surprise given the amount of smarthome connected devices requiring a bridge to connect directly to your router these days. For us, we've had to get a network switch (NetGear) to cope with "connected bridges" for Philips Hue, Honeywell Evohome, and other smart devices we've brought into the house. It also means you'll have might have to now wirelessly connect your Xbox One and PS4 too.
Sky Q review: A new user experience
- New interface with high-level of personalisation
- Lots of features added monthly like spilt screen for sports
- Online apps like YouTube and Vevo
The hardware aside, the user experience is by far the most important part of the Sky Q setup. Yes, those TV tuners are necessary and the multi-room features exciting, but the main menu system and smart abilities of the software are what make Sky's new tech next-generation. It's like the Sonos of TV, or Sling box if you can remember that far back, taking many of the features other streaming services have adopted as standard and applying that to all your TV stations.
It starts with the homepage (Top Picks), which will come as a revelation to those who already use a Sky box. Although the user interfaces (UI) on those boxes have been refined to within an inch of their lives, this is a bold new step in the right direction, with a layout that makes it so much easier to navigate. It encourages more scrolling and adds a number of additional cool features to initially figure out, but ultimately feels intuitive and natural.
Rather than a top bar of tabs on the conventional Sky boxes, navigation in Sky Q is through horizontal planes, which run from left to right. On the left, there's a picture-in-picture view of the current channel. On the right-hand side you always see the relevant information of content for a specific section. It's initially complex but after some learning it's easy to understand. You flick through menus in a similar way to media apps such as Plex, by selecting subject headings in simple to access lists. They are all meticulously thought out, so that the content you most want to get to quickly is available through as few swipes on the touchpad as possible.
The other thing you immediately notice about the Sky Q UI is it is very picture based and content rich. All films and shows are represented by cover art, whether they are your own recordings, streamed/downloaded shows, or content available on the internet (such as YouTube or Vevo videos). And that's key to Sky's philosophy behind the new system: it needn't ever matter to the end user where the content is coming from, it's about presenting the shows you want to watch when you want to watch them, regardless of the source. The new UI really showcases the depth and breath of Sky's offering.
The menu system also has highlights sections to help you find programmes you might be interested in. Top Picks an example of showcase featured shows, or, for example, while the Kids section which is even broken down as far as "shows on Milkshake". The upshot is that we've already watched a number of programmes we didn't know existed.
There are additional software tools that help aid that goal too, including the My Q section of the homepage. This is split into several sub-categories, with curated content suggestions, suggestions of programming based on other shows and films you've enjoyed in the past, and perhaps most excitingly, a function whereby additional episodes of series you are currently watching automatically appear in your collection as they become available.
Watch episode four of Fortitude, for example, and episode five will appear in your My Q section as soon as it has been broadcast, while things you've got half way through watching are ready to watch where you paused them. It's like the "You're watching" feature in Netflix and makes things a lot easier to pick up where you left off.
Sky Q review: 4k TV
- Movies, TV shows, and sports
- Downloads and live broadcasts
- Need the 2TB box and 4K TV
Sky's 4K offering is still in its infancy, but it is getting better.
On the movies front it is fairly decent already but is populating quickly too. Not always with the same parity as new Sky Cinema releases, but with some regularity, although that does leave you with the decision whether or not to watch the latest premiers or wait for it to come in 4K later down the line.
Films can be stunning. Watching movies like The Revenant, The Martian and Forest Gump really showcase the technology, although the lack of HDR support will annoy the purists, who might favour their Ultra HD Blu-rays instead.
But it's not just movies that are available as part of a Sky subscription, there are Sky Box Sets as well. This depends on whether or not the content is available in 4K of course, but there is a good mix, including The Young Pope, The Blacklist, Fortitude and the David Attenborough nature programmes he recorded specifically for Sky.
Strangely, rather than stream content, like Netflix, Amazon and Virgin Media, Sky forces you to download shows and films to your hard drive, although, depending on your broadband speed, you can often start watching soon after the download begins. You do have to remember to delete the content after though, if you don't want it taking up space.
Once you've consumed all you can through the available downloads, you can also rent or buy Ultra HD content through the Sky Store. New content is being added weekly, but again, not all shows or films are available in 4K. The industry is still catching up.
When it's not movies and TV shows, it's about sports with Sky broadcasting football and F1 (from mid-2017) in Ultra HD. Action is incredibly crisp, although the contrast on sunny days can cause issues.
Ultimately, if you enjoy movies and sports, Sky's Ultra HD service is certainly worth enjoying if you've got a 4K TV. It's noticeably better than the HD version of the same experience, although quality does vary depending on the source (an issue we suspect comes from the film maker rather than Sky); some movies look spectactular, others just great. You also have to ensure you have a Sky Cinema and/or Sky Sports subscription to access 4K movies and/or sports respectively.
For TV box set fans, while there are shows to enjoy, there are still a lot of gaps in the offering.
Sky Q review: Fluid Viewing, but not for live TV
One of the big selling points of Sky Q when it first launched was "Fluid Viewing". Sky hasn't used the term as much recently, but the feature is still very welcome.
It lets you pick up where you left off on devices around the home. Start watching a recorded show in the lounge and if you want to go and curl up in bed you can simply fire-up the Sky Q Mini and carry on. It's the same on a tablet too.
Perhaps somewhat misleading is that this is not possible with live TV. There is a work-around, by recording the show before you move locations, but nonetheless something that confused us at the start.
Sky Q review: Other features
Sky Q has plenty of other features too, including a couple that have been added in the year since launch.
For instance, if you click on the touchpad during a TV show that is either recorded or streamed, you get an option to scroll through other episodes and subsequently download them, all while you continue to watch the one that is currently being played. And if you do the same with a film, you can see recommended similar films.
Music is now heavily catered for too. There's a dedicated section in the UI that highlights the broadcaster's Sky Arts coverage a lot better, while music channels, national radio and Vevo all get equal billing. Vevo offers three 24-hour music channels along with the ability to create your own radio station based on an artist in a similar way to Spotify Radio.
And when you've given up trying to work out what to listen to from the various channels and services from Sky you can Bluetooth or AirPlay music from your own device to the TV. Then send the track to all boxes around the home, synchronising them if you're having a house party. Sonos who? Multi-room eat your heart out.
The Sky Q software experience is rounded and, on the whole, excellent. It's picture rich, easy to find your way around and comes with new features like the ability to share Facebook pictures or even go as far as check your bill. In terms of parental settings it's as good as you would expect, giving you peace of mind if you've got kids.
The system isn't always perfect though. There's no quick way to get to the TV guide, for example, although we've found you all but forget about it in time. Who watches linear TV these days anyway?
There are also strange tweaks that make sense after a while but will be alien to most Sky+ users. Pressing "i" on the remote while watching a show or movie brings up the information card, but pressing it again as you used to on Sky HD doesn't dismiss it - you have to use the dismiss key instead.
Likewise, you now press down to go up the channels, rather than pressing the up key. That's logical for many competitor EPGs, but it's the reverse of what Sky has used for so long. We suspect many long-time Sky subscribers will initially be baffled, and six months in we still get it wrong. Things like this aren't going to destroy the experience, but you should expect there will be some learning to do, and more so than we expected.
Sky Q review: Apps make for more than just TV
Aside from the new EPG to master, Sky has introduced apps within the Sky Q experience. There are two types of applications: ones that you can slide load while watching television like Sky News or the weather; and more traditional ones that provide content.
The first apps that you get with Sky Q initially are for music and video services Vevo and YouTube. There is currently no Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. They are both as in-depth, smooth-to-run and intuitive as equivalent apps on any other platform, but it's worth noting that YouTube is currently not capable of 4K video streaming, even on the Sky Q 2TB box.
Sky has secured content deals with other video sources, but rather than present them as separate applications, it places the video clips in one of its own homepage menus, with similar styling to the rest of the Sky Q experience. There's plenty to discover, with different categories (including "cute") and we anticipate many more content partnerships to be struck in the future.
Sky Q app review: Sky Q on the go
- Works on iPad, iPhone and Android devices
- Can download content and recordings for offline viewing
The Sky Q app is available on the smartphones and tablets and offers a similar experience to the main UI. Much of the offering will also be familiar to users of Sky Go, but it also gives access to recordings as long as you are on the same Wi-Fi network. You can also download them to watch when you're offline - travelling on the Tube, for example.
You can download any of the shows and films available as part of Sky's on demand service, but the ability to actually stream or download your own recordings is a major feature that rivals are only now catching up with.
Sadly, you can't stream your recordings when you're not on your home network (that would've made it even better) but as long as you make sure you download what you want to watch before you leave the house you'll be as happy as Larry. Not all content is available to download because of rights deals, but the vast majority is, and we've already enjoyed Sky Q on a plane.
The app really is, therefore, a one-stop shop to watch pretty much anything you want, at home or away, and is perfect for travelling.
How Much does Sky Q cost?
Sky Q is now available from Sky's own online store.
Existing Sky customers
Prices for existing customers wishing to upgrade vary depending on whether they already have a Sky Multiscreen subscription or not:
- If you already have a Sky Multiscreen subscription, you will be charged an installation fee of "up to" £49 for the Sky Q 1TB box, up to £99 for the Sky Q2TB box.
- If you don't already have Sky Multiscreen, you can get it for £12 per month on top of your existing bundle, with a Sky Q Mini box included. In this case a Sky Q 1TB box will cost you a £15 installation fee. A Sky Q 2TB box will cost £60.
- Alternatively, you can get a Sky Q 1TB or 2TB box without a Multiscreen subscription for a £199 installation fee.
New Sky customers
New customers have different pricing structures depending on what bundle they opt for:
- An Original TV package, with 270 channels and 1TB Sky Q box costs £20 per month.
- A Variety bundle, with more than 300 channels, including kids TV, and 1TB Sky Q box costs £32 per month.
- A Box Sets bundle, with more than 350 channels and access to hundreds of TV box sets on demand, plus the 1TB Sky Q box costs £38 per month.
- The installation fee for the Sky Q 1TB box is £15.
- You can add Sky Q Multiscreen, which includes one Sky Q Mini box, for an additional £12 per month. In that instance, you can swap out the 1TB box for the Sky Q 2TB box for a £60 one-off installation fee.
- If you want the Sky Q 2TB box without Multiscreen it will cost a £199 installation fee.
- Sky Cinema usually costs an additional £18 per month.
- Sky Sports costs an additional £27.50 per month.
The future of Sky Q
Sky has announced that it will also be offering Sky Q via broadband from 2018. This means you'll be able to get it without a satellite dish - which is mandatory at present.
It's an exciting move and one that opens up the service to millions of new customers, but there are few details on how it will work at present.
Sky created a system and family of devices to suit all tastes and needs, with a strong multi-room focus and a modern outlook on household entertainment desires.
The user interface is vast and has the power to change how you watch television, encouraging you to watch more content when, where and how you want to. There's still live TV aplenty, but it's almost been pushed to the background. Of all the enhanced features, it's being able to watch our recordings remotely that excites us most. And we love it.
The addition of 4K content for the 2TB box makes this a flagship entertainment offering that covers all the bases, although the inclusion of HDR would have been the cherry on the top.
There is still the odd bug and annoyance for Sky to iron out, but we've seen plenty of updates since its launch and there are more to come. They prove Sky is heavily committed to improving the experience over time.
If you want the ultimate TV package that covers TV, movies and sport, with much of it in Ultra HD, this is hard to beat.