Sky Q is proof that Sky has laced up its running shoes and done a lot of catching up to keep pace with a world that’s increasingly used to streaming on-demand content whenever it likes, rather than circling stuff in a TV guide with a dried-up Bic biro.
The blockbuster feature is Fluid Viewing. Using the flagship Sky Q Silver box tested here as a base, you can wirelessly connect two Q Mini boxes to watch Sky and all your recordings in other rooms in the house – without the need for a second satellite dish. And you can do the same with two tablets, taking your recordings on the go, thanks to the new Sky Q app.
Sky has also added its new Sky Kids app into the mix, as well as making a huge effort to make the Q menus more helpful for finding child-friendly content.
With its first software update, though, has come the real kicker – the Q Silver box is now capable of outputting in 4K/UHD resolution, with 4K content soon to arrive on the freshly rebranded Sky Cinema.
Is the Sky Q the ultimate TV solution, or is it just trying to do too much?
Video: Trusted explains the Sky Q remote
The Sky Q Silver package has the flagship Q Silver box at its heart. Despite being much smaller than the Sky HD box, it houses a whopping 2TB hard drive for storing 350 hours of recorded HD video, as well as five tuners. This provides the capability of recording four programmes at the same time, while watching a fifth channel.
It’s also now completely ready for 4K/UHD, thanks to Sky Q's first software update. There's been no mention of it ever getting HDR capabilities, though, which puts Sky at a slight disadvantage compared to Netflix and Amazon, who already offer certain content in 4K HDR. I say "slight" because, frankly, the number of people with HDR-ready TVs right now is negligible.
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The Sky Q Mini boxes look like shrunken versions of the main box, and can be used to connect two other TVs to Sky. Unlike Sky multiroom solutions of the past, the Minis don’t need to be connected to the main Sky dish. Instead, when plugged in they wirelessly stream from the Q Silver box.
A setup that includes a Q Silver box and two Q Minis is akin to having three full Sky boxes in the house, all with access to your recordings, and each being able to show the full range of channels.
The Q Mini boxes aren’t 4K ready, though, so you won’t be able to enjoy Sky’s UHD content in your spare room.
The Wi-Fi is run by a new Sky router – the Sky Q Hub. Neatly, the Q Hub shares the same styling as the other boxes.
Sky claims the Q setup will eventually support Powerline to send the broadband signal over your electrical wiring, which will be useful in homes where Wi-Fi signals struggle.
The moment you turn on the Sky Q box, the company's acknowledgment that viewing habits have changed in recent years becomes apparent. Rather than opening onto a broadcast TV channel, the Sky Q box takes you directly into the menu, leaving you to decide whether you want to watch catch-up TV, a recording, on-demand content or live TV.
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The whole UI is light years ahead of Sky’s previous menu system. There’s extensive use of cover art and background images – no more spreadsheet-like recording lists – and a large preview pane for showing the contents of each sub-menu.
The default menu item highlighted when you turn on Sky Q, or press the Home button on the remote, is Top Picks. This is a selection of Sky’s currently featured shows; nothing clever or contextual, just whatever Sky’s pushing. The selection has at least been broadened since launch, though, with live, on-demand and even forthcoming programmes flagged up.
The My Q page is a little more interesting. It works to locate shows that you didn’t finish watching, or what it thinks you’ll want to watch next. If you’re watching a series, it will automatically add the next episode, which is great – no need to hunt around or enter the same search term every time you want to dip back in.
Following the first software update, Sky's taken this even further. If you start watching an episode from an on-demand series, the next episode will automatically begin downloading while you watch. And when you get to the end of an episode, the next one will auto-play after 30 seconds. Your remote-prodding fingers are gonna get so lazy.
Backing this up is the enhanced search function, which not only displays exact matches to your queries, but it also now pulls in related shows and timings for when the next episode of your search topic will air.
One of the cleverest features, and one that’s a real headliner for the Fluid Viewing concept, is the smart pause function. This allows you to pause content you're currently watching on one box and then move to another room, or fire up your tablet, and continue watching the same item from the same point. You can even do it with live TV, as long as you start recording it before you pause. Very neat.
The Online Video option is another attempt to offer as varied a viewing selection as possible, providing access to YouTube and Vevo through your Sky box. There’s also curated content from partners such as Red Bull and GoPro.
Also interesting is Music. In addition to curating various shows from Sky Arts, MTV, VH1 and so on, the sub-menu also contains dedicated options to access Vevo or browse radio stations. There's also Your Music, which flags up that you can play tunes through Sky Q via AirPlay or Bluetooth. If your TV is connected to a soundbar or home cinema system, Sky Q could be your perfect all-in-one entertainment system.
Oddly you actually have to go into Setup to get this working, rather than being able to do it all through Your Music. It's still a nice feature, though.