It's been six months since Sky Q went on sale. In our hands-on, we were bowled over by the new features, new look and new remote.
But now we've been living with it for a few months, how does it stand up?
For the uninitiated, Sky Q is Sky's next-gen set-top box. It's a leap into a telly world increasingly populated by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and mobile devices and tablets.
It offers the ability to start watching on your TV and to carry on using your tablet or other telly. And, for the first time, it brings 4K (aka Ultra High Definition or UHD) viewing to the mix.
So with today's changing TV landscape, is Sky still top dog? Let's find out.
Update: In 2017, Sky will update Sky Q with some new features. These include the ability to record six channels while watching a seventh, a personalised homepage, the ability to start watching a sports match from the beginning if you join halfway through, and voice search through the remote control. We'll test the new features when they've rolled out. Until then, you can find out more info in our feature.
First impressions and design
The box is much sleeker than Sky+. And from what we've seen so far, it's a lot trimmer than Virgin Media's forthcoming V6 box. Its finish is matte rather than gloss, so doesn't attract too many fingerprints.
The Q logo on the front also serves a purpose. It glows blue when the box is on (with the light swirling around the logo), and red when you're recording something. It's not a crucial feature by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a nice touch.
It also helps you find your remote. Press the Q logo, and your remote will beep, helping you find it. (Hint: it's probably down the back of the sofa.)
The service features two boxes, one of which features a whopping 2TB of storage and is the model we've been testing. That's enough space to fit hundreds of films, though the exact number depends on their resolution (HD and 4K will take up more space than standard definition).
There's also a cheaper 1TB box. This one can record three shows at once while you watch a fourth channel live, whereas the higher-end Sky Q box can handle four simultaneous recordings while you watch something else.
There's one other difference between the boxes. The 2TB one can stream to two TVs and tablets, while the 1TB can only stream to one. But the two boxes look identical.
Installation only takes about 20 minutes, and that includes installing the Sky Q Hub router that you'll need for Sky Q.
The Sky Q box connects to your TV with an HDMI cable, which means you can watch shows in high definition. Sky recently flicked the switch on its 4K service too, but more on that later.
Performance and software
Fire up the box and you're landed straight into the menu, with the last channel you viewed playing live as a thumbnail. This means that your alternative ways of viewing – catch-up, on-demand, boxsets etc – are served up front and centre.
In doing this, Sky is acknowledging that live TV isn't the be all and end all anymore, and that more people are watching on catch-up.
But if you predominantly watch live TV, it could be a bit annoying, as you have to exit the menu screen each time you start up the box. It's only one button press, but it's one too many. It'd be nice to be able to turn the feature off in the options.
The menu is very easy on the eye, with lots of cover art and background images. The Sky+ menu has recently been updated to have a more image-heavy look too, which is good news. The old version looks pretty drab in comparison.
It's easy to find everything, including on-demand content like Sky Box Sets and catch-up from the likes of BBC iPlayer. But Top Picks take pride of place. This is a selection of current and forthcoming shows. Like the Now TV Smart Box, Sky pushes its own fare ahead of everyone else's. But then we're on Sky's turf, so we suppose it's fair enough.
Still, it'd be nice to have the My Q section served up first. This is a collection of shows you haven't finished watching and what it thinks you'll want to watch next. Start a series, for example, and it'll deliver the next episode without you hunting for it. Magic.
But it's not perfect. For example, it learned that we regularly watch 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver', and so features it in the My Q section.
But the episode it featured was a few weeks old. In order to watch a newer episode or set the next one to record without leaving the My Q section, you have to start the episode playing and do so from within it. Which isn't ideal.
There is a For You section within My Q that should hopefully fix this. But after months of use it only displays a message saying it's still learning what we like to watch and will be updated soon.
Finding something to watch is simple using the search function, and it includes results from catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and All 4. It also includes forthcoming shows, complete with their broadcast times, so you can make sure you don't miss them.
Typing by scrolling to select a letter still feels a bit awkward, and there's no option to use the keyboard on your smartphone, which is a shame. But the search itself is great. Type "Ce" and 'Celebrity MasterChef' is one of the first results. So at least you don't have to do much typing.
Fluid Viewing, the headline feature, works a treat. Start watching on your TV, and you can pick up on your tablet or second telly using a Sky Q Mini Box. It's even proved seamless on our wheezing old iPad, which is no mean feat.
You can also pause something live and resume watching on another device, though you have to start recording the programme before you pause. But it's still very clever.
In our usage, these have proved more novelties than features we couldn't live without. But if you have a busy household with children running around, they could definitely be useful.
One feature we have come to rely on is picture-in-picture. If you're watching a channel and want to see what else is on, you can flick through other channels without interrupting your viewing. The other channel you're browsing plays in picture-in-picture, so you can see what you'd see if you were to switch over.
It's proved invaluable for skipping the advert breaks. And it really came into its own during the BBC's Olympics coverage; at a crucial moment, it switched from covering the action on BBC One to BBC Two, so we were able to make sure we didn't miss a moment.
Sky Q features an Online Video section, which includes content from Funny or Die, Red Bull, GoPro, Jamie Oliver's Food Tube, Vice and Comedy Central, among others. It's a nice distraction rather than a must-visit part of the menu. But most videos are quite short, so it's handy if you don't fancy watching anything too long or demanding.
It also includes access to YouTube and Vevo from your TV, which means you don't have to all hunch around your phone, tablet or laptop. The picture quality varies depending on the video, but it's another useful addition.
The remote control is another big departure for Sky. Its touch-sensitive pad certainly looks more futuristic than the Sky+ remote's rubbery buttons. But the crucial question is, is it easier to use?
Yes and no. It didn't take us long to get used to swiping up and down and side to side on the pad to move through menus. But it can be confusing. While in the menu screen, swiping down to go down makes sense, but it's counter-intuitive when flicking through channels.
Years of pressing the up button to go from BBC One to BBC Two led us to swipe up on the pad every time, meaning that instead of tuning into BBC Two, we'd find ourselves staring at UCB Ireland.
Months in, it's still happening. Looks like old habits die hard.
Again, it would be nice if you could change this in the settings, as you can with the mouse scroll on most computers.
The touchpad could do with a few tweaks too. When using it, we frequently skip past the option we're trying to land on in the menu. Push buttons might lack the wow factor, but they are more precise.
The remote also has play/pause, fast forward and rewind functions above the trackpad, and these are touch-sensitive too.
Drag your finger along the line towards fast forward or rewind, and that function will speed up.
Then you take your finger off when you want to stop. This takes some getting used to, but is preferable to pressing said button three times to speed it up, like on the old Sky+ remote.
Sky bundles a second remote in with Sky Q, and this one has normal buttons instead of the touchpad.
Yet for all its faults, we still prefer the touchpad remote. Pressing buttons feels too old fashioned for a cutting-edge service like Sky Q.
More features will be added soon, including voice control – hence the button on the side of the remote bearing a microphone symbol.
In March 2017, Sky added voice search to Sky Q. This lets you search for a film or TV series just by saying the name.
But it goes much further than that. You can search by actor, director, genre, rating, or a combination of those. For example, "Show me Adam Sandler films rated five stars." Though funnily enough, there aren't any.
It also has the rather cool ability of letting you search for a film by uttering its iconic quote. "Use the Force" brings up 'Star Wars', for example, while 'Do you feel lucky, punk?" shows 'Dirty Harry'.
It's a great addition, and definitely something to show friends when they're round. You don't have to use the full name of the show either – just saying "John Oliver" brings up 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'. And the genre search works very well – "Show me live cricket this weekend" does just that.
It can even prove educational. When we searched for "Steven Spielberg films", it brought up 'The Blues Brothers', which we were sure was a mistake. But it turns out Spielberg has a small cameo in the film that we must've forgotten about. Proof learning can be fun.
Sky Q doesn't sit still. Sky has already pushed out one software update, giving it new features, and we've had a sneak peek at the second, which is set to land soon.
So what new features did the first update add?
First up is Autoplay. When you finish watching an episode of a series, the next episode starts automatically after 30 seconds. (If it sounds familiar, that's because Netflix has the same feature.)
It means that before you've finished discussing the shocking ending to the last episode, the next one is up and running. It's great, if a little dangerous for those with weak willpower who need an early night.
We've already covered Auto Download Next Episode and Top Picks. The update also brought a new Sports homepage that makes it easier to find sporting action, whether you want to watch live or on-demand. Series Record lets you record the whole series from the Mini Guide, while it's also easier to skip to a certain place in a recording or download.
And what's in the next update? The Sports homepage will have selected highlights ready to view, so if you tune into a match halfway through you can see what you've missed. You can also watch these in split-screen, so you don't miss any action as it happens.
It will also add more match stats than ever before.
Already, there's a fair bit of 4K content to watch, including sports, films on Sky Cinema, and Box Sets. (There are no dedicated 4K channels. Instead, each menu has a subsection called Ultra HD.) More content will become available as more films and TV shows are filmed in the resolution (which is four times as sharp as high definition, remember).
Like most TVs in the UK, our TV isn't 4K, so we can't comment on picture quality. But from the demos we've sat through, it looks awesome. 4K TVs are becoming much more affordable too, so soon more people be able to see what all the fuss is about.
Sky has confirmed that HDR (high dynamic range, which shows a greater light range, giving the image more depth) will come to the platform at some point. But it's a nascent technology – the standards haven't even been ratified – so it won't be for a while yet.
Value for money
Sky Q starts at £32 a month for new customers. Though if you want the higher-end box – with more recording options, more storage and 4K capabilities – it starts at £44 a month.
If you then add Sky Cinema and/or Sky Sports, you're looking at an extra £18 a month for Sky Cinema, and £27.50 a month for Sky Sports. Though you can get both for £36 extra a month.
There's also a one-off set-up fee. This is £10 when you take Sky Q with Multiscreen, or £49 with the 1TBV box, £99 with a 2TB box.
So compared to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video is significantly more expensive. But then neither can match its wealth of content across sports, films and entertainment, nor its gorgeous user interface. So you get a lot for your money.
Sky Q is the best way of watching TV at the moment. It's not without its faults, but they're very much minor gripes in the grand scheme of things.
It'll be interesting to see how Virgin Media's V6 stacks up when it lands in the coming weeks. But it'll have its work cut out if it wants to replace Sky Q as the king of TV.