Skip to main content
Menu
Jump to navigation
sky q hands-on 1

Sky's next-gen set-top box is on sale today.

To find out what all the fuss is about, we hot-footed it to Sky's London HQ to spend some quality time with it.

Here's what we made of it...

The interface

sky q hands-on 2

As soon as you turn on Sky Q, the most striking thing is the interface. It's a lot more visual than Sky+, with plenty of cover art replacing the text-based layout.

The graphics have been given a polish, and now look suitably new and shiny.

In menus, the screen is usually split into three columns.

The left-hand side one shows what's on now on the channel you're watching. The middle one contains the menu options, and the right-hand one is a sub-menu.

So select Sky Movies in the middle menu, and the right one will show cover art from the latest films. Select one, and a description will tell you more about it.

Recommended viewing

sky q my q

As well as giving it a slick cosmetic redesign, Sky has re-engineered the interface to better serve up content you might like. This is housed within the My Q section.

My Q contains three sub-menus: Continue Watching; New Series; and For You.

Continue Watching brings together everything you've been watching lately and lets you dip back in without having to trawl through your recordings.

New Series recommends shows based on your viewing history as well as the time and day, with Sky director of TV experience, product design and development Dave Cameron explaining that the box is "using your profile to surface the things that are most relevant to you".

It splits the week into different time zones, so it'll recommend different things on weekday afternoons to weekend afternoons, because your viewing habits are different at those times, and different people are watching.

This also applies in the Movies and Store sections.

The remote control

sky q hands-on remote control

One of the biggest changes is the remote control. Instead of pressing buttons on the d-pad as on the old remote, it features a circular touch pad.

Swipe up, down, left or right, and you'll navigate the menu with the corresponding movement.

One swipe is one movement. But if you swipe down and hold your finger on it, the scroll will speed up. It's very handy for scouring long menus.

Above the touch pad are three capacitive buttons: pause/play, rewind and fast forward. A touch of your finger activates them, or you can swipe and hold to speed up the rewind or fast forward function. Release your finger, and it stops.

According to Cameron, the new remote will help customers engage more with the product, instead of just pressing buttons. "We want customers to feel more part of the experience," he says.

We didn't use it long enough to confirm or deny if this achieves its goal. But in an age of smartphones and tablets, it does feel a lot more modern.

It actually took a bit of adjustment, especially after using the trusty old Sky remote for years. But after a couple of minutes we'd got the hang of it, and were swiping around the menu with ease.

The remote works over Bluetooth, so doesn't need line of sight. That means you can have the Sky box in a cupboard and it'll still read actions from the remote.

The remote also opens up some other cool features. Touch the touch pad while you're watching something, and it'll bring up the mini guide at the bottom of the screen.

This lets you scroll forwards and backwards through the schedule to see what's on later or what you missed earlier.

Choose a different channel, and a little picture-in-picture will start within the mini guide, so you can see what's on and how it looks without changing channels. (This doesn't work on the Sky Q Mini box though.)

Touching the touch pad while watching a recording will bring up other episodes in the series, so you can click to watch them, or download them in advance. "It's a really simple way of getting to the next episode," Cameron says.

If you lose the remote, pressing a button on the Q box will make it beep so you can find it. We've seen this on the Roku 4 before, but it's still a handy feature.

Fluid Viewing

sky q hands-on sky q mini

Fluid Viewing is Sky's name for starting watching on one device and continuing on another, whether it's an iPad, smartphone, or a Sky Q Mini box in another room of the house.

In our demo, it worked seamlessly. Pause what you're watching on the main Sky Q box, fire up the Sky Q Mini in another room and you'll be able to pick up where you left off by selecting the show in the My Q menu. Simple.

You can also take your recordings out of the house with you. Within your recordings is an option to download to iPad.

Select it, and it'll start downloading (this should be quick, as the Sky Q box prepares a version optimised for iPad in advance). Then you can take it with you. Those long car journeys should fly by.

You can register four mobile devices to watch on, which should keep the whole family entertained.

Other features

sky q hands-on sky q silver

So what else can it do?

There's a new Music section that brings together all the radio stations and music channels Sky offers, along with Vevo's catalogue of music videos (though these are accompanied by adverts, and there's no subscription option to banish them).

You can also now record radio shows onto the Sky Q box.

Sky has also brought some short-form online videos to Sky Q. These are from Funny or Die, GoPro and GQ, among others. From our demo, they look like great timewasters, but not a deal breaker.

All of the videos are already available online, and you can't search within them on the Sky Q box.

The new Sky Q app gives you the main functions like planning and watching TV on your mobile, but it doesn't have remote record at launch.

This feature will be added later. However, it won't let you control your Sky box from your phone, as you can with the Sky+ app.

According to Cameron, customers thought this feature was a bit of a gimmick, and other functions were much more important to them. So Sky left it out. 

You can also stream music from your phone to the Q box over AirPlay using a compatible service like Spotify, Apple Music or TuneIn Radio, or over Bluetooth from Android devices.

When you do, the cover art stored on your phone is displayed on the screen.

sky q airplay

Sky has made a few apps for Sky Q, like weather. These can be displayed while you're watching TV. At the moment they're all made by Sky, but it is open to the possibility of third-party apps.

"We're not trying to create an app store on the product," Cameron says. "Like with Vevo, if we find an app experience that we think will work with the product, we'll partner. Otherwise we'll create ones for ourself. We've got great brands – News, Sports etc – to create these things with."

Finally, the search function is smarter. Sky's aim is to have found your desired programme in the top three search results by the time you've typed the first three characters of the search query.

Future skills

sky q app

We already know Sky Q will add voice control and 4K later this year, but another couple of skills could also be on the way.

We asked Cameron whether viewers would be able to personalise the Sky Q home page in future, and while he said there are "no specific plans right now," he hinted it could be in the pipeline.

"Obviously we know it's important as we go forward that customers demand their products to be more personal," he said. "We're looking at a number of ways that we might do that.

"Q is not finished, we're going to keep innovating and adding to the product going forward. And we know that being a more personal system is important to customers. So I think we'll just work out the right way to do that going forward."

What about virtual reality? Sky has made virtual reality videos before, themed around topics like the European migrant crisis.

It's also invested in VR video maker Jaunt. Could Sky Q ever stream virtual reality videos to viewers' headsets?

Cameron replied: "There's nothing concrete I can tell you on that right now," but added that Sky Q is "a very capable platform" and that "all of these upcoming innovations" do provide opportunities for Sky.

Sky Q contains a whopping 12 tuners. While these have dedicated purposes – live TV, recording TV, picture-in-picture etc – they could theoretically be put to other uses.

"As we get more sophisticated with the product, we might look at more sophisticated management [of these tuners]," Cameron said.

"But to begin with, we'll dedicate them for these purposes because then it's simple for everyone, simple for us, more reliable as a product, and easier for the customer to understand."

Pressed on whether the tuners would be put to other uses, Cameron replied: "Potentially. Never say never, but we'll see where we get to with that in the future."

Not forgetting Sky+

So where does this leave Sky+? Sky hasn't forgotten about it, and will continue to add new features.

"We're continuing to develop new features for Sky+ regularly," Cameron says. "It's still very important to us, and it obviously has a lot of customers.

"We tend to update that about three times a year. So there will be new updates and releases coming regularly."

Verdict

We spent about 40 minutes with Sky Q, and came away impressed. The user interface is a big improvement over Sky+, and it has some very clever new features.

The lack of 4K and voice control at launch is disappointing, as is no remote record function within the app.

But Sky has confirmed these features are coming, as is a whole lot more, if we read between the lines.

Sky Q is a powerful piece of hardware, but devices are sold on what they actually do, rather than their potential.

It'll be interesting to see if Sky has done enough to convince customers it's worth upgrading.

Find all the official details on price and release date here.

Join the conversation

comments powered by Disqus

Stay up to date

  • Google+ Follow uSwitchTech
  • Subscribe to our RSS feed

Latest comments

Search news