Sky Ultra HD review

John Archer

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Updated:

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Sky Ultra HD
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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Stunning picture quality with some content
  • Decent variety of content
  • Broadcast and download combo means no need for superfast broadband

Cons

  • 4K cameras for football seem sluggish to respond to exposure changes
  • Inconsistent look to movies and TV shows due to varied sources
  • Not that much non-football content yet

Key Features

  • Live Premiership broadcasts in UHD
  • Downloadable UHD movies
  • Downloadable UHD TV shows and series
  • 124 Premiership matches to be covered in 2016/2017 season
  • HDR support likely in the future
  • Manufacturer: Sky
  • Review Price: to be confirmed

What is Sky Ultra HD?

Sky Ultra HD is a new service that brings 4K satellite broadcasts and downloads to UK living rooms for the first time.

It’s available to Sky subscribers with Sky Q Silver boxes, and offers a mix of sport, drama, movies and documentaries in the Ultra HD format.

The quantity and excellent quality of the UHD content could be enough in itself to lure 4K TV owners, but the fact that you can enjoy UHD without superfast broadband is also a huge attraction. It's great news for those without an internet connection fast enough for 4K streaming.

Related: What is Ultra HD/4K?

Sky Ultra HD

Sky Ultra HD – How it works

The Sky Ultra HD platform is part of Sky’s wider network of broadcast channels and on-demand content. It can be watched by anyone who has a Sky Q Silver box, the subscription packages for UHD content, and a compatible 4K TV.

By compatible 4K TV, I mean one with an HDMI input that supports the HDCP 2.2 anti-piracy protocol introduced for 4K content.

Sky’s mix of broadcast and downloaded Ultra HD content doesn’t appear on a dedicated UHD channel. Instead you access it via "red button" links, and on-screen prompts that pop up if what you’re watching in HD is also available in UHD. There's also a dedicated Ultra HD menu tucked away inside the Sports, Box Sets, Sky Cinema, and Sky Store headers.

Given the number of messages I’ve received from people struggling to find the new Ultra HD content, it might be worth Sky adding a simple Ultra HD header on the main homescreen menu.Sky Ultra HD

The Ultra HD platform is impressively stable. The only ongoing issue I’m aware of at the time of writing sees all of Sony’s 2015 and 2016 4K TVs suffering serious judder when playing Sky’s Ultra HD content. This is down to a problem with Sony’s TV software. Fortunately, a fix via a firmware update is on its way and may even have happened by the time you read this review.

Sky UHD – Setup

Once you’ve had Sky Q installed, with a Sky Q Silver box attached to your main 4K TV via an HDCP 2.2-enabled HDMI connection, getting a UHD feed to appear is straightforward.

Simply head into the Sky Q Silver’s Settings menu, scroll down to Setup, then to the Audio Visual menu. There’s an option to set Picture Resolution. Naturally, you’ll need to choose the 2160p setting, which outputs native UHD at 50Hz. Your Sky Q Silver box will check that the TV is compatible with this feed, generating an error message if it isn’t.

If you want to limit the likelihood of a compatibility error message appearing, make sure you connect the Sky Q Silver directly to your TV rather than running it through an AV receiver, video sender or other "intermediate" device.Sky Ultra HD

Once you select the 2160p output, everything that comes out of the Sky Q Silver box will be displayed at a 2160p resolution. The receiver uses upscaling processing to turn non-UHD content into UHD.

This might annoy some users who would perhaps rather use the upscaling processing in their TVs. Sky’s argument is that some TVs take a frustratingly long time to switch between their HD and UHD modes.

Another setting to check is the On Demand Default Download Format option, found in the Preferences menu beneath the Audio Visual option. This defaults to HD, but 4K fans will probably want to adjust to UHD, especially if their broadband is fast enough to download UHD content.

Sky Ultra HD – Content

So exactly what content does Sky’s Ultra HD service offer? Well, Sky’s UHD crown jewel is its coverage of English Premier League football. At least 124 games will be broadcast via satellite in UHD over the course of the 2016-2017 season. These games can be recorded as well as watched live, although they're unlikely to be available to download on-demand in Ultra HD.

At the time of writing, 30 films are available in UHD to anyone with a Sky Cinema subscription. These are: Amistad, Angels & Demons, Annie, Captive, Chappie, Everest, Forrest Gump, Fury, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Groundhog Day, The Guns Of Navarone, Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, No Good Deed, The Patriot, Mall Cop 2, Pixels, Project Almanac, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Spectre, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, The Spongebob Movie, Talladega Nights, Terminator Genisys, Think Like A Man Too, Top Five and The Wedding Ringer.Sky Ultra HD

The Sky Store has 11 more films, all available to rent for a week for £3.49. These titles are: The Revenant, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Zoolander 2, Risen, The Night Before, The Big Short, The Amazing Spider-Man, Flight, Battle: Los Angeles, Shutter Island and World War Z.

As for TV shows, 17 series are available, including a mix of drama and documentaries. These shows are: The Blacklist, Fortitude, The Last Panthers, The Enfield Haunting, The Tunnel, The Tunnel Sabotage, David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies, David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive, Galapagos (with, you've guessed it, David Attenborough), Big Cats: An Amazing Animal Family, Richard Hammond’s Jungle Quest, National Geographic Wild’s Giant Sea Serpent: Meet The Myth, River Jaws: Monster Catfish, Secret Life Of Pearls, Wild Namibia, Wild Sri Lanka and four seasons of Strike Back.

Paul

July 29, 2016, 3:58 pm

The bitrate etc will drop once it goes mainstream

Dave

July 29, 2016, 7:10 pm

Wow Sky provides a service that BT has been providing for a year yawn and it is not exactly cheap either.

Shaun Connelly

July 29, 2016, 8:23 pm

It will bomb like a brick as sky haven't a clue , there not innovators, there just slow copiers who never get it right.

Bugblatter

July 30, 2016, 4:21 pm

Yeah I was thinking the same. Their normal HD broadcasts could be very good quality but they don't care about quality, they just jam more and more in to make more money. I can't see their UHD stuff being any different; it might start off great but it'll go downhill.

Also I don't watch football, so meh.

MontyMole

July 31, 2016, 10:55 pm

Their Sky Fibre broadband may (will) be a limiting factor also. I'm signed up with it and only receive a max download speed of 2mbs. They are obviously going to have to do some serious compressing if their fibre service isn't up to the job of streaming UHD content and right now their 'fibre' (fake fibre really as it's on copper wires) isn't up to the job and they show little hope of this changing for years to come with Sky broadband. I imagine this is the problem they [Sky] are most worried about. Having to use BT's crappy infrastructure to provide it's customers internet in an age of UHD. Non compatible.

Mark Vallis

August 1, 2016, 9:56 am

its a heavily flawed product that isn't ready for the mass market. Sky refuse to enable the power line networking that would fix the Wi-Fi issues that are plaguing many existing customers. The promised content is only just arriving after early adopter were promised content in April. After 3 engineer visit, rebuilding my home network 3 times sky are finally admitting defeat and removing the service and giving me back Sky plus HD, which will at least work reliably in comparison. I would recommend waiting for this until they have finished beta testing with the customers that are willing to put up with the bugs in the system.

Martyn Gray-Horwood

August 5, 2016, 8:19 am

I've got their fibre pro and I consistently get 69Mb with it reaching 76Mb during the day.

MontyMole

August 5, 2016, 12:21 pm

I wasn't even aware Sky did a 'pro' version of their fibre service. That sounds like it is actually on fibre optic cables and not copper at those speeds so i'm guessing it's limited to areas of cities only. How much do they charge for it?

BTW.. 2mbs isn't my connection speed. it's my max download speed in reality. My connection is 16mbs but that results in an actual download speed of 2mbs. (1mb = 125kbps max download for everybody)

Martyn Gray-Horwood

August 6, 2016, 8:48 am

It is on fibre but it's only fttc, no one offers ftth which I find frustrating because I would pay the extra to have it.
It's isn't just a city product, I live in a smallish town in kent (Do you know of Ashford? I live there) and have it. I know quite a few people with it in various places across the country (Bradford, Norwich and Liverpool)
Ithe is an odd product in that I've never seen sky advertise it but when I phoned them to leave (I wanted to leave sky and switch to bt)they offered me this fibre pro.
It's £30 a month but I'm paying £23 a month as an existing character.

Prem Desai

August 25, 2016, 4:21 pm

Sky is normally a bit late to the party, but do usually come up with a very decent offering.

In the case of Sky Q, I don't think this is the case.

The hardware isn't up to scratch. Why can't the mini box do 4k?

Even their contract doesn't make sense - why can't I have 2 4k boxes instead of 1 4k box and 1 HD box?

Also, there's no provision for multiroom control for a box. The bluetooth remote won't reach. The infra red remote has no input at the back (old RF2). The app doesn't support remote control.

Quite useless.

There's no way I'm going through the hassle to downgrade from Sky HD to Sky Q just for 1 4k channel.

Bugblatter

August 25, 2016, 4:37 pm

"The Martian actually looks crisper than the Ultra HD Blu-ray version."

That sounds like they've overdone the sharpening then, because they won't be improving on the UHD bluray bitrate so that suggests they're inventing detail..

It sounds as though Sky has prioritised quality though, which is great to see. I hope it continues that way; they don't have a great history.

I've read that many people have been seeing bright lines around moving objects, and it seems to happen on quite a few models of TV. Not something I've looked into though.

Jordan McClements

August 26, 2016, 12:54 pm

Not impressed with Sky Q. I don't want massive sky Q boxes dangling off every wall mounted TV in my house! (Leaving aside all the WIFI problems etc. people seem to be having).

Mark Stanbrook

August 27, 2016, 5:50 pm

Your example football match in UHD works out around 77Mb/s (assuming 105 minutes for the match plus half time though I guess it's a bit less for pre- and post-rambling) so that's actually pretty impressive.

Assuming the films are of a similar size then you're getting something pretty much identical to the UHD Blu-Rays which run between 50 and 128Mb/s.

A lot of UHD movies weren't filmed in UHD at all and are often upsampled from original stock/data that contains no more than 2k resolution (1080p). 3k resolution is about the best you can get from 35mm film. Therefore I doubt very much if Forrest Gump is truly 4k. It was probably filmed on celluloid, but a high quality sample at 3k would be nearly as good as anything else out there.

Some studios, Disney notably, haven't even moved to 4k mastering yet. Which is why there's no UHD Avengers etc.

Anyway the quality sounds great compared to the likes of Netflix - if you don't mind paying Rupert Murdoch through the nose for the privilege!

Mark Stanbrook

August 27, 2016, 5:52 pm

It's rebranded BT Infinity. i.e. it's available if your cabinet has been upgraded by BT Openworld.

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