The image of News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch may be at an all time low, but his Sky television service continues to dominate the premium content space. The latest evolution of the broadcaster's service is arguably one of the most important in its history; we take a look at 'Sky Go'.
As the name implies Sky Go is a service for watching television on the move. It is a three pronged strategy aimed at making Sky's programming readily available on computers, mobile phones and tablets. The service launched last month and attempts to evolve the somewhat fragmented nature of previous offerings such as Sky Go!View and Sky Mobile TV. It also makes an important pricing consideration: free (with caveats). So let's break down each service.
Sky Go website
Wisely Sky has made the Go website the hub for its mobile TV offerings. Settings applied here such as parental controls, passwords and registered devices are automatically applied to the Sky Go Desktop software for PCs and Macs and the Go app for iPhones and iPads. Coming back to the website simply to adjust these settings can be frustrating, but it does make the system simple and allows parents to maintain control remotely over what their children watch.
Channel selection on the website is also the widest of the three services. Over 30 channels are currently available including Sky Sports 1-4, EuroSport, ESPN, Sky Premier, Showcase and Action, Sky 1, National Geographic, The History Channel, Disney, Boomerang and the Cartoon Network.
With such a good range (and more being added all the time) simple navigation is crucial and thankfully it is. A smartly redesigned TV guide can be scanned much like Google Maps, with a held left mouse click dragging the schedule in any direction to scroll through channels and times. A compact bar above it makes selecting by day or time of day (morning, afternoon, evening) equally simple. Clicking on a programme provides a brief description, list of other airing times and (if started) the ability to watch it in a small preview window above the guide. For easier viewing this window can be detached and dragged to any size or toggled for a full screen view.
It is a similar experience using the AnyTime functionality, a great addition to the Go website considering Sky's torturous wait to roll out the service to customers not using Sky broadband (currently 10 months and counting). As such there are over 200 current films available (though as yet no TV) and streaming is fast even on a slow connection. Viewing requires sitting through an advert at the start, but that's hardly a hardship (at least without getting into the whole issue of paying twice for Sky content with both subscriptions and adverts).
Unfortunately in getting so much right what the Sky Go website gets wrong is the playback itself. There is no HD option, understandable if disappointing, and no time shifting but the real shock is the poor quality of the standard definition footage. The onscreen UI is similar to that of the Sky digibox and extremely sharp, but most channels are horribly pixelated and when camera angles pan numerous frames are skipped resulting in a horribly jerky experience. This is most obvious when watching sport which is somewhat ironic as the full selection of sports channels suggests this is Sky's principle customer hook.