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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.