When it comes to actually watching Sky Anytime+ on-demand programming, it’s good to discover that Sky doesn’t insist on making you wait for an entire programme to download into your box’s memory before you can start watching. As soon as you have enough downloaded to support uninterrupted viewing while the rest of the programme downloads in the background, the ‘play’ icon becomes available and you can start viewing.
This ‘viewing point’ is generally reached within just a few seconds of a download starting, even using our bog-standard 6Mbps BT Internet connection.
In terms of file size, this clearly differs radically depending on the running length of what you’re downloading. But as a basic guide, a 90 minute standard def documentary came in at 1.14GB. And you will be pleased to know that none of the on-demand content contains any adverts.
When it comes to the image quality of downloaded material, actually, while it’s a little variable, for the most part it’s not bad at all. Obviously the HD fodder pre-loaded via the standard Anytime+ service looks pretty much pristine. But the standard definition on-demand material also looks less compressed than we’d expected too. There are signs of compression, but they’re generally cleverly hidden away in dark areas or background areas of picture that you’re not really focusing on.
Of course, the quality of on-demand image Sky can deliver is probably helped by the fact that it downloads programmes to hard disk for playback, and so can risk/cope with less compressed data streams than services which have to stream video for viewing completely live.
That the on-demand stuff on Anytime+ is stored to HDD (downloaded programmes appear in your main Planner alongside ‘normal’ recordings made through the EPG) is also beneficial because it means you can watch the download when you like – and pause and restart it when you like.
Given that Sky’s on-demand approach doesn’t require your broadband connection to handle live streaming, though, it’s perhaps a pity that Sky doesn’t provide you with at least the option to download HD versions of its film and TV series if they’re available. Also, none of the standard def downloads appear to ship with Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks when maybe that too could be provided as an option for enthusiasts patient enough to wait for a longer download.
Sky might argue here that it doesn’t have much of a choice where HD and Dolby Digital audio are concerned. After all, there are still some HD receivers out there with pretty puny amounts of memory built-in, and these could quickly completely run out of recording menu if they suddenly find themselves downloading large amounts of on-demand HD content. But for us, at least having the option to downloaded HD versions of suitable programmes would have been appreciated.
As we draw to the end of this review, it occurs to us that you might be thinking that when you already have 200 channels of TV to watch on Sky as it is, it surely isn’t necessary for Sky to add a bounty of on-demand services. But our personal experience is actually that the sheer amount of TV stuff to try and keep up with on Sky means we routinely miss shows. In fact, the lack of any on-demand catch up service on Sky has been a source of irritation for longer than we can remember. So actually Anytime feels like a modern necessity rather than a rarely used luxury.
There’s no doubt that Anytime+ has its faults. It should have been made available to all Sky HD box owners regardless of broadband provider a long time ago. Its interface doesn’t do a great job of streamlining the quest for on-demand content. And the rather hit and miss nature of what’s available to watch will inevitably cause irritation from time to time.
But if our experience is anything to go by, for all its flaws Sky Anytime+ overall delivers one of the better-quality on-demand services around, and has enough content available on it to quickly become a big part of your viewing life.
Let’s not forget, either, that if you’re already a Sky subscriber with a Sky HD receiver, Sky Anytime+ is actually free. And the hefty sums you have to stump up for your Sky subscription each month certainly feel substantially easier to live with once they’re also bagging you the Anytime+ service.
Basically, while we’re not sure the new, ‘universal’ availability of Anytime+ will necessarily lure in millions more subscribers to Sky’s platform, it’s an undeniable fact that if you’re already a Sky user with a Sky HD box and broadband connection and you haven’t yet availed yourself of Anytime , then, well, you’re a bit daft, frankly.