Every so often, something comes along that makes you sit back and think, “Yes, this is what it’s supposed to be like.” Sky Q is exactly that, for telly. Announced back in November, we’ve been looking forward to getting up close and personal with the TV service for some time now. I got the chance to fiddle with it last week, and it’s safe to say I like it like it.
If you’ve read up on Sky Q, you’ll know that one of its biggest draws is a little feature called Fluid Viewing. It essentially drags television into the 21st century, and allows you to watch up to five programs on the various screens in your home at any one time. All while you record up to four other channels. What’s more, anything recorded to your Sky Q box can also be downloaded to your mobile device of choice, allowing you to watch Sky’s goodies while you’re out and about.
Simply put, you can kick off an episode of Dinner Date on your TV in your living room, continue through the app on your tablet in the kitchen, pick things up again on the bog with your trusty smartphone (just give it a wipe down after), and then finish up (if the action’s still on-going) on the Tube or bus.
Consumption capabilities differ from Sky box to Sky box, with the top-spec Sky Q Silver the hostess with the mostess. That model comes with a 2TB hard drive, which is enough for up to 350 hours of HD loveliness. The slightly pared-down Sky Q box has half the storage, while the the plug-and-play Sky Q Mini offers live TV through a broadband connection.
Oh, and all three of these Sky Q boxes double up as Wi-Fi hotspots when you connect them to your Sky broadband router, which is handy if you’re rich enough to live in a large house with Wi-Fi blackspots. Unfortunately, this feature is only available over a Sky connection. BT and TalkTalk users, bad luck.
Sky’s sexed up its interface up too, keeping that famous blue colour scheme but going heavy on movie cover art. If you like your posters, you’ll definitely enjoy flicking through the listings. Sky will regularly switch up its collection of on-demand films and TV shows, and its new Showtime deal could see favourites like Ray Donovan, Penny Dreadful and Dexter land on Q.
One of my favourite new additions is the ability to search for shows by either title, actor or team name (I’d kill hours watching nineties and early-noughties Blackburn Rovers highlights), with the touch-sensitive remote. It takes a few minutes to get used to its circular, swipeable touchpad -- think back to the first time you used a touchscreen smartphone -- but it could barely be easier to figure out. You can flick through menus quickly and easily, with a big swipe taking you up or down a single slot, and swipe-and-hold letting you fly through listings.
As it’s Bluetooth-enabled, it works regardless of where you point it, which is fantastic. Piles the mugs and bowls high on your coffee table -- no awkward arm-twisting necessary here. Voice search is another great-sounding addition, though Sky seems to be taking longer to sort this out than expected, and I sadly didn’t get to see if it would be able to understand my monotonous tones. If you'd rather stick to what you know, there's a traditional remote control too.
Back to the new interface. My Q is the new one-stop-shop for recommendations, with the selection of suggestions continually changing, depending on your viewing history. Top Picks is a similar, albeit less personal option, consisting of a bunch of Sky-recommended shows, while you can also hit More Like This once you’ve homed in on a program you know you like, but perhaps don’t want to watch all over again.
Since apps now run the world, Sky’s included a few of those too. A sidebar offers Sky News, Sky Sports News, Weather Help and My Photos, which allows you to show off your Facebook snaps without any of the risk that comes with handing your phone over to someone. YouTube and Vevo have also got some Sky Q love, so you can watch stuff like the vomiting ‘Skunk spray sweets’ kid right on the big screen.
Sounds more than a bit alright, doesn’t it? Sadly, there are two hulking great elephants in the room, and they’re not going to be shifted for a little while yet.
The issue of 4K content is the first of these trunked beasts. Even if you snap up Sky Q and invest in a 4K TV, you won’t be guaranteed the super-sharp viewing experience of your dreams. There’s simply not a lot out there. Sky’s assured us that a range of 4K movies, sport and entertainment shows will land later this year, but gathering a strong base is likely to be a lengthy old process.
There’s also the small issue of pricing. Sky hasn't yet talked figures, but you can bet your bottom bitcoin that Q isn't going to come cheap. As it's designed to sit above the current Sky+ offering -- which is already more than many consumers can afford -- brace yourself for a financial hit. Still, if we had the money, we'd dive straight in.