Sky Anytime+

With over 200 channels, you would think that there is already enough to watch on Sky, but if that's the case why are you always saying there's nothing on? Don't worry you aren't alone, and perhaps hearing the cries that people just want to watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it (what?), Sky launched its Anytime service a couple of years ago.

That's great, but that service only pushes a handful of TV shows and movies to your box, and is dependent on a number of factors like what's available that week, and how much spare storage space you've got on your Sky box for all those programmes and movies.

In steps Sky Anytime+, a new service that will let you stream stacks of movies and TV shows to your Sky box from Sky's servers at the press of a button. But is it any good and should you think about getting it in time for Christmas? We've been living with the service for a couple of weeks to find out.

It's free. Yep that's right, the service adding all those extra things to watch won't cost you a penny more on top of your current Sky subscription; the catch is that currently to get the Sky Anytime+ service you have to be a Sky Broadband customer either by installing a dedicated line or switching your broadband service provider.

Sign up to the Sky Unlimited package costing £5-7.50 a month (you'll need the unlimited usage caps if you are looking to watch lots of on demand shows and movies), get the rather dinky-looking Sky Broadband router that looks like the Sky 1TB box, plug it in via a wired connection or wireless connection, and after a quick phone call to Sky, off you go. If that sounds daunting, you can have a Sky engineer come around and install it for you, however there is a cost involved if you go that route.

It sound great, but the fact that you have to be a Sky Broadband subscriber is the Achilles heel to the whole system to be honest, not because Sky Broadband isn't any good (more on that in a bit), but because it means that if you aren't a Sky Broadband subscriber then you'll have to switch to get this service. That, depending on whether you are locked into a current contract, are free to move, or already on Sky Broadband, will ultimately determine whether you read on or not, hence why we are mentioning it now.

Of course dangling a carrot at the end of a very long stick, Sky says that it isn't planning on adding further support for other ISPs, however, at the moment there is no date for when that is happening and no information on whether that will be for everyone or select partners. And no, we've tried, there is no way of tricking the system because it has to be turned on at Sky's end rather than you just plugging in your own router and being done with it.

To get to the new Sky Anytime+ features, all you have to do is turn on your Sky box, go to the TV Guide and then press the red button to access Anytime. Yep it's in the same place as before, no it is not the same boring list interface. Instead of just a couple of TV shows and movies that have been pushed to your box, you are presented with a very different interface that is considerably more graphical, teasing you as to what new content lies beneath.

Dive into the movies tab and you're presented with 10 boxes representing a different genre or category. Aside from the usual like Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, and Thriller, there are Highlights, the ability to view all the movies (over 600 and counting) and New.

If that's not the best way to for you to find the content you are looking for there is a list option, as well as the ability to search for shows or movies via Sky's simple search mechanism. Not ditching its Anytime service altogether, Sky has implemented a couple of icons to let you decipher what's what and help you determine whether its content that you'll have to download or content that has already been downloaded to your box via Anytime.

Confused? Basically, if Sky has pushed the content to you already you'll be able to watch in high definition. If you've got to download it will only be available in SD.

Requesting shows or movies is done via the remote, and it's integrated into the system and interface as best as it can, to set the download it is a case of just having to press the "Record" button on your remote. That automatically transfers it to your Planner queue and you can then ready yourself to watch it. 

Thankfully, Sky has opted for a progressive download system which means you'll be able to start watching it before it has fully downloaded. Zip over to your Planner page and there is now a new "Download" page that lets you track your downloads, with the system alerting you whether or not it's ready to watch.

As the shows and movies are SD rather than HD this shouldn't be too long, and with our 3.5MB test line we were able to watch movies virtually instantly (less than a minute for a 90-minute movie for example). Quality was, well, SD, which is a pain if you are used to watching HD, but liveable seeing as you've now got shows and films to watch that you weren't able to before.

The selection of films isn't great, but it's not too bad either, and we know this will change as more and more titles are added - it did let us fulfil a guilty pleasure and watch Steven Seagal in Marked for Death for example. Of course we should point out that this is all dependent on your Sky Broadband connection, which in turn will depend on where you live as to how good a speed you can get from your broadband.

Downloading multiple movies at once to watch later did slow the process down, and you might find that you catch up with what you are watching and therefore have to wait a bit longer before you start watching again. There is a simple way around this though, which is to only download what you watch as and when you need it, or as the system allows; queue them up for when you go to bed.

Any parents worried about letting their kids watch over 600 movies that they shouldn't be allowed to watch; the same parental controls exist and that means you can lock out any age-rated programme.

And that's the key selling point here - there is plenty to watch, from movies to TV shows to sports, and much more besides, and Sky is promising plenty more content as the months tick on in line with customer’s core subscription package entitlements - as well as a strong movie proposition. That's the other catch by the way, you'll only get access to those 600 movies if you are subscribed to the movie channels.

Verdict

If you're a Sky Broadband customer this is a no brainer, which gives you a tonne of content to watch when there is nothing on television. The system is easy to use, integrates seamlessly into your Sky electronic programme guide experience, and will have you watching shows or films you didn't realise you wanted to watch in no time.

As for those without Sky Broadband, the question is whether you are happy to swap ISP (remember there is no date to when the service will open up) to get the extra benefits. Sky's Broadband service is cheap, it's worked well for us during our test and we've had no complaints when it comes to being online, and as you can imagine we are online a lot.

If you're fed up of nothing being on this will solve that problem, the new problem will now be deciding what to watch.