(Pocket-lint) - Sky Q is Sky's premium product, now offered as the de facto option for newcomers to Sky TV.
Existing Sky+ users can upgrade to Sky Q at reduced rates, and the company is keen to switch all of its customers to the platform. But what is Sky Q exactly? What does it offer and why is it different to other paid TV services?
We answer those questions and more below, as we give you everything you wanted to know about Sky Q.
What is Sky Q?
Sky Q is not just a service, but a complete family of devices. It incorporates a number of enhanced elements over Sky+ boxes, while still providing many of the features you expect from the TV company.
The range of Sky Q hardware devices start with a top-of-the-range 2TB Sky Q set-top-box that's designed to sit in the living room, much like the lesser-specced Sky+ HD box. There is also a second main set-top-box, the Sky Q 1TB box, that has a smaller hard drive and lacks some features (such as Ultra HD support), but is a great alternative for those on a budget.
There are other devices and ways to connect too, with a Sky Q Mini box to extend the Sky Q experience into other rooms (replacing Sky Multiroom), a Sky Q Hub internet router, and a Sky Q voice remote with voice control. The remote has a touchpad, though there is an alternative too, with buttons rather than a swipeable panel.
There was a dedicated Sky Q mobile app too, but that has since been integrated into Sky Go.
With the various devices, the overall Sky Q experience is all-encompassing, letting you watch what you want, where you want and whenever you want.
The current Sky Q set-up requires a satellite dish connected to either the 1TB or 2TB set-top-box.
Sky Q: The hardware
Main Sky Q boxes
The main Sky Q box replaces the traditional Sky+ or Sky+ HD box under your TV. It offers a slim design, so is more compact than previous Sky+ boxes.
There are two boxes available, the 2TB model being the more advanced with 12 TV tuners, allowing recording of up to six channels while watching a seventh (the rest are used for other features, including one reserved for live 4K UHD events). It's also compatible with 4K Ultra HD with plenty of Sky Cinema, Sky Sports and TV content available to view in that resolution. HDR (High Dynamic Range) support has been added - although it has some way to go before there is enough content to make it truly worthwhile.
The 1TB box that'll still enable you to store up to 500 hours of Full HD content and is also compatible with 4K Ultra HD. There was a different 1TB Sky Q box previously, but it wasn't Ultra HD-capable.
You might find your more recently-released 1TB box is compatible with HDR, but you should check with the compatibility list here.
New features are being added regularly - such as HDR (as above) and Dolby Atmos surround sound support. Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video are available on both Sky Q boxes (and the Sky Q Mini boxes). You can either subscribe to Netflix or Disney+ through your Sky bill (for full integration with the Sky Q interface) or use an existing Netflix account to watch through an app.
A Kids Safe Mode is also available these days that gives you the option to lock any Sky Q box (including a Mini, as below) to the Kids section on the menu screen. That ensures children can only access content appropriate to them while the box is in that mode.
Sky originally said that homepage personalisation was also on the way, which will also work with sports so you can choose your own football team, for example. This hasn't really happened yet, but the interface does reflect your viewing habits.
Sky Q Mini box
The Sky Q Mini box is your gateway to viewing Sky content in other rooms. This connects to your main Sky Q box, either by Wi-Fi or via powerline networking, letting you use your electrical wiring to carry the information between boxes. Powerline networking is built-in across Sky Q devices.
It serves two purposes. First, it will kick in to ensure a stable connection between boxes when streaming video if there is a dip in the Wi-Fi connection for any reason. This will also work if you are with any broadband service provider.
Then there is the ability to turn your Sky Q Mini boxes into Wi-Fi extenders - additional hotspots dotted around the home. This also uses the powerline connection, but will only work if you also have Sky Broadband and the Sky Q Hub router.
You get full access to all the Sky Q features through the Mini box, be that live TV, watch recordings stored on the main Sky Q boxes, or view on-demand content. They only work in 720p HD though, not Full HD or 4K Ultra HD.
In addition, even if you have a Sky Q 2TB box capable of playing 4K content, the Sky Q Mini boxes can still only play video in Full HD.
Sky Q remote
The main remote includes touch, so there is less button pressing and more swiping to help you get around. It's also a Bluetooth remote, so there's no need for line-of-sight, perfect for those who want to hide the Sky Q box out of sight.
A new version of the remote also allows you to choose to use clicks rather than swipes and touch controls - it is selectable through the Sky Q settings. New boxes ship with the new remote.
No matter which version you own, it features a built-in microphone, which works with voice search functionality. By holding a button on the side of the remote (for the touch remote) or the blue button on the newer remote, customers can look for shows and movies through voice commands, such as "films by Tom Hanks with five star ratings" or "Liverpool game".
Great effort has been made to improve Sky's voice search capabilities in recent times, mainly thanks to a switch to a Comcast voice recognition system that has been in development almost as long as Apple's Siri.
It will also improve further in time.
Sky Q Hub
There's a dedicated 802.11ac broadband router to sit behind Sky Q, though you can use it with other broadband providers. Like all of the Sky Q TV boxes, this router for Sky Broadband integrates powerline networking, so you can use the mains wiring to connect it to your Sky Q devices as well as use its Wi-Fi capabilities.
You can also have any of the Sky Q boxes act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your Sky Broadband. If you struggle to get a signal upstairs or in your man/woman cave, Sky Q should now solve that problem.
Sky Q multiroom and multiscreen viewing
One of the Sky Q system's biggest talents is that you can watch your content in different rooms and on different devices. This is thanks to the multiple tuners in the Sky Q set-top boxes enabling you to record, as well as share content around the house.
The Sky Q Mini box doesn't need to be connected to your satellite dish, it works wirelessly (or through powerline connectivity) so is a perfect bedroom solution. It's integrated with the main box, enabling you to view live or recorded content, as well as watch catch-up and on-demand services.
The same is true of the tablet/smartphone app, letting you view in different rooms, on your iPad or Android tablet for example. This is now through the main Sky Go app that also works with Sky+, rather than a dedicated Sky Q app as before. You can use it to stream content or even download your own recordings from the main Sky Q box for viewing when offline.
Sky Q will work across up to two tablets or smartphones and three TVs simultaneously - you can upgrade this to four mobile devices if you have Sky Go Extra. It will record up to six channels at once - all thanks to those 12 TV tuners in the 2TB box.
You can not only watch in different rooms through this super-connected arrangement, but you can pause and resume elsewhere, rather like you can on most streaming services.
You are able to flow from room to room and watch whatever you want. You don't have to run cables around your house and use an IR blaster just because you want to watch Sky upstairs, as Sky Q is designed to do exactly that.
More intelligent user interface
Sky Q is far more image-led than previous Sky platforms. The main interface has everything laid out clearly, like On Demand, Recordings, TV Guide and more down the left with images of content on the right.
Home intuitively gives you content suited to you. It pulls in shows you didn't get a chance to finish watching, your latest recordings, as well as other recommendations based on your viewing habits. These also include Netflix or Disney+ shows if you subscribe to Sky's Ultimate TV package.
Sport can now be viewed via live matches listed in the all-new "sports centre" or by digging down into your favourite sport and searching what's available that way. Ultra HD broadcasts can also be started or recorded from there.
A tap of the remote button brings up a sidebar with apps that are quickly available, with the integration of things like Facebook photos and videos, or a side-bar to access Sky Sports news, for example. You'll can also access apps like Vevo, Spotify and YouTube. You can also cast YouTube to the box from a device while it also works with AirPlay but only for audio - you can't AirPlay video.
4K Ultra HD TV
Sky's 4K service is one of the best around. It offers a healthy mixture of live sporting events, delivered through the dedicated extra TV tuner, and on on-demand and TV shows. There are plenty of 4K films to watch if you have a Sky Cinema subscription as part of your bundle, all available to view on demand.
Box sets of series are also available. They download to your box, but you can start to watch soon after the downloaded commence depending on the speed of your broadband connection.
The Sky Store also features Ultra HD content, with many recent blockbusters available to rent.
Where can you get Sky Q and how much does it cost?
Sky Q is available from Sky's own online store, starting at £25 a month on an 18 month deal. For more, read our Sky Q review: The future of multi-room television?