When Sky rolled out the Sky+ HD box at its last major hardware launch, most of us were still using dumb phones with physical keypads. The PS3 hadn’t launched – and, more importantly, Netflix was still mailing out DVDs.
The world’s moved on at a mighty pace, and Sky Q is proof that Sky has laced up its running shoes and done a lot of catching up.
The blockbuster feature is Fluid Viewing. Using the top-tier Sky Q Silver box tested here as a 4K-ready 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.
Is the Sky Q the ultimate TV solution, or is it just trying to do too much?
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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 ready for 4K/UHD, which might be of no use right now, but it will certainly become a huge deal when Sky starts offering 4K content later in the year. Currently, though, the highest resolution option is 1080p.
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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 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.
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. Best of all is Your Music, from which 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.