(Pocket-lint) - Launched in 2016, Sky Q, a subscription-based TV and entertainment service, has evolved dramatically since by constantly adding new features to try and make the viewing experience as seamless and easy-to-use as possible.
Sky Q is the company's flagship offering, allowing you to not only access terrestrial TV stations, but a bevy of dedicated channels from Sky and others, including BT Sport. There's also built-in access to Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, Fiit and YouTube (separate subs required where needed), plus you can rent and purchase the latest movies and TV shows as they announced.
So, should you opt for the all-singing, all-dancing Sky Q system, or does it cost too much to warrant its cover price?
How Much does Sky Q cost?
Sky Q is now available from Sky's online store. Prices vary drastically depending on what channels you take, whether you bundle in broadband (recommended as it's unlimited for Sky Q customers) and whether you bolt on extras like the additional Sky Q Mini boxes.
Prices start from £22 for the basic setup and can soon escalate to around £100 a month if you opt for all the packages and options.
Sky Q boxes
- 4K (UHD) capable
- 2TB and 1TB storage options
- Record 6 channels, while watching 7th
There are two main options when it comes to getting Sky Q in your home. Sky offers a 2TB or 1TB UHD Sky Q box with either the ability to add additional boxes in other rooms of your house (and app support with Sky Go Extra), or go for a single-room experience.
The box hardware and design is the same regardless of which hard drive size you choose. Unlike the original Sky Plus experience you can record up to six shows at once, while watching a seventh channel live. The 1TB storage space gives you 150 hours of HD recordings, which soon gets eaten up, especially if the kids series link their favourite TV show. The 2TB box delivers around 300 hours of HD recordings.
The boxes are both 4K ready and although you can't currently watch 4K movies or TV shows on live channels, there is a wealth of 4K content, including TV shows, films, and sport available to download. Some sport - including all F1, Premier League matches, some cricket and rugby - is available in 4K via a dedicated tuner, but encounters a short delay of about 30-seconds as a result (if you hear people cheering down the street when someone scores, that'll probably be why).
The chances of you wanting to watch seven things that all happen to be on at the same time are fairly slim, but that array of tuners is designed to let you watch content on the additional Sky Q Mini boxes in other rooms or preview channels while you're watching another.
Yep, those tuners also allow you to carry on watching television on the main screen while getting a preview of another channel in the pop-up electronic programme guide (EPG) at the same time, which is really handy if you're one of those channel hopping types.
There's support for up to four Sky Q Mini boxes, which connect to each other via Wi-Fi and then act as Wi-Fi extenders to beam your Wi-Fi signal around the house. It's not as good as Mesh networks from the likes of Google or Linksys and we've found you will have to have the boxes fairly near to each other - those in big houses will need to account for this - but it does let you not have to bother with cables all through your home.
If all that sounds complicated, it shouldn't. Sky engineers install the system in your home, make sure the Mini boxes can talk to the main Sky Q box, and it starts working straight away.
Sky Q Touch Remote and other controllers
- Two remote control styles
- Bluetooth, so don't have to point at box
- Voice control functionality
The Sky Q system comes with two remote controls: a fancy one for the main Sky Q box; and a more traditional one for the Sky Q Mini boxes. Both are well designed and feature all the buttons you need.
The fancier one connects to the Sky box via Bluetooth so you no longer have to even point it in the right direction. It can be used to control your home cinema speakers, such as the Sonos Playbar, and originally came with a touch-sensitive pad for speedy navigation and a voice control button on the side.
The traditional remote generally used for the Sky Q Mini boxes loses the touch-sensitive controls, the voice command button, and the Bluetooth functionality.
Following an update, however, the fancier remote has been redesigned. It instead features the same spongy buttons as the Sky Q Mini remote, and moves the voice command button to the front rather than it being on the side.
Voice command works much like a walkie talkie. The mic is in the remote, so you don't have to shout, and the system quickly works out what you are asking for and displays the results your TV set. This makes a real difference, being especially handy if you're switching channels or searching for something specific.
And before you ask, no you can't use older Sky remotes with Sky Q.
Sky Q Mini & Sky Go app: How to watch TV in other rooms
- Sky Q Mini: 1080p (Full HD) maximum, not 4K (UHD)
- Lets you carry on watching in another room
- Access recordings from main box
- Doubles as Wi-Fi hotspot
Even though the Sky Q Mini is essentially a media streamer, it cleverly acts almost exactly like the main Sky Q box that feeds it. You will barely know the difference, with little to no lag in video streaming between them.
Unlike the previous Sky Plus multi-room service, all recordings are recorded to the main hub, which means all the recordings are available at any point. That's a huge benefit over the original system, which saw you relegated to the bedroom, because that's where you recorded it. Such is the benefit of the network between these boxes.
However, the Sky Q Mini boxes only offer 1080p (Full HD) resolution rather than 4K (UHD). They're considerably smaller too, although not as small as a Roku streaming box or Apple TV for example.
That goes for the Sky Go Extra app (previously called the Sky Q app). Available on four of your chosen devices (smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc.) you can watch at the same time or even enjoy later without any internet connection. Yes, that opens up watching Sky while you're in the bath.
The Sky Go Extra app apes the Sky Q main interface and is easy to use. It also allows you to access all the Sky content (aside from the BBC) outside of your home, allowing you to take your entertainment with you.
It's worth noting that you'll only be able to access your Sky Q box recordings when on the same Wi-Fi network, but you will be able to download shows directly to the app to watch later without a connection.
That's brilliant if you want to catch-up on your favourite shows and movies on the go, and especially handy if you've escaped for the weekend but still want to watch something specific on Sky - even if where you're staying doesn't have the service installed.
Sky Q: 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 and offering. It starts with the homepage. 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 you always see the relevant information of content for a specific section.
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 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 user interface is it's very picture based. All movies 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.
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 My Q section of the homepage gives you curated content suggestions and the option to carry on with recordings you've been watching without having to scroll through other areas. The TV Guide is easy to get to, which makes up for the lack of a dedicated remote button. And sections for Sports, Kids and Music make it easy to get to relevant programming.
Beyond Sky's traditional content there's an Apps section where you'll find access to Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, YouTube and other services. Separate subscriptions are required where necessary, though Sky does do a bundle that includes Netflix.
In terms of parental settings there's lots of control too, giving you peace of mind if you've got kids. We love the ability to make sure the young'uns aren't watching movies or TV over certain classification ratings, and the ability to lock them into the Kids area so they can only watch suitable content if you're elsewhere is fantastic. It would be nice to be able to lock the whole experience down altogether to stop them sneaking off to watch the TV, but you can't have everything.
Sky Q in 4K
- Movies, TV shows, and sports
- Downloads and live broadcasts
- Need the 2TB box and 4K TV
If you own a 4K TV, Sky Q's 4K (UHD) offering is one of the best ways to find content that makes use of it. Its 4K movies section is well populated and is updated regularly, while Sky also offers a number of its own TV shows in Ultra HD too. Shows like Chernobyl are simply stunning through the Sky Q system.
Sadly, Sky Q doesn't support HDR (high dynamic range). It says it's coming, but it's been saying that since 2018 so don't hold your breath just yet.
Unlike services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, the Sky Q system is designed around downloading content rather than just purely streaming it. If you've got a fast internet connection this isn't a problem and you can start watching a show fairly soon after you request it. If you've got slow internet you might have to wait a while, especially with 4K movies, and it's also worth remembering to delete them from the box afterwards to save storage space.
Once you've consumed all you can through the available downloads, you can also rent or buy 4K content through the Sky Store. New content is added weekly, but again, not all shows or movies are available in 4K.
When it's not movies and TV shows, it's about sports with Sky broadcasting football, F1, cricket, and other sports regularly in 4K. The action is incredibly crisp.
Ultimately, if you enjoy movies and sports, Sky's Ultra HD service is a must 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: some movies look spectacular, 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, and many of the blockbuster HBO hits (available on Sky through Sky Atlantic) aren't available in 4K. That's right, no 4K Game of Thrones for you.
Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos
Sky Q comes with Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos support. It's not used on much content as yet, mainly live 4K football matches or the odd theatre production on Sky Arts, but does makes a difference if you have a Dolby Atmos AV receiver, system or soundbar. As you would expect, it adds extra depth to the audio mix and is especially great with crowd effects. The Sky Q menu interface isn't very good at labelling Dolby Atmos content either, probably because there isn't much.
Sky has created a system 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.
The addition of 4K content makes this a flagship entertainment offering that covers all the bases, especially when it comes to movies and sport, but it's disappointing that there is still no HDR support, Dolby Atmos is lacking on most movies, and the Sky Q Mini boxes at Full HD maximum.
Still, we've seen plenty of updates to the service since its launch in 2016, including the addition of Netflix, as one example, with much more to come, showing that Sky is committed to improving the experience.
In addition to exclusives, there's a huge amount of extra content on offer, including from services beyond Sky's own offering. It's all this that makes the system hard to beat. So if you like watching TV, it has to be Sky Q.