Sky Q Review

Sky Q frees your premium TV from the lounge and lets you watch it from anywhere
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Verdict

Sky Q is the ultimate TV viewing solution. This is TV the way it should be done, and it now comes with the option of Netflix, too.

Pros

  • Every viewing option covered
  • Attractive new UI
  • Watch recordings on the go
  • Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos are both stunning
  • Brilliant Netflix integration

Cons

  • Not cheap

What is Sky Q?

Streaming services have had a huge impact with regards to how we watch content, with services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video drawing in millions of subscribers. The competition in the market is only getting more intense, with Apple recently announcing its own streaming service. Rather than go for a me-too service, Sky Q is something quite different.

Designed to deliver the best premium content in the most flexible way, Sky Q is the ultimate service for those who want access to the best HBO shows, such as Game of Thrones, alongside Premier League action, more 4K channels than anyone other provider and a huge number of movies, too. In addition, thanks to a recent update you can now get Netflix bundled in, offering up the widest choice of content possible.

With the Sky Q Mini boxes extending flexibility so you can watch your subscription channels around your home, there’s nothing out there that compares to Sky Q.

Related: Now TV Smart Box review

Sky Q – The boxes

Sky Q is available in several variants, but I’m focusing here on the top package: the Sky Q 2TB box and Q experience. With this package, you get the full multiroom experience with a central Sky Q box, optional Mini boxes for other rooms and mobile streaming. The lower packages don’t include the option of Mini boxes.

With the top Sky Q package, you get a Sky Q 2GB box that can record up to 350 hours of HD footage. So far, so normal; but it’s the number of tuners that really sets this box apart.

Thanks to its 12 tuners, the Sky Q 2TB set-top box can record up to six channels simultaneously while you watch a seventh on your TV. So, what about the other five tuners? This is where Sky Q gets really clever.

One tuner is reserved for the main box’s interface, showing you a live preview of other channels on the mini-guide. The remaining four channels are reserved for dishing out live TV to other parts of your home via Sky Q Mini boxes or the tablet/mobile apps.

To top it off, the box is fully UHD compatible, delivering 4K content to your connected TV. Sadly, there’s no HDR support right now, although Sky Q HDR is planned for release later in the year. There’s currently no word on whether HDR support can be implemented on the original Sky Q 2TB box, which has an HDMI 1.4 output, or whether you’ll need the newer v2 box, which has an HDMI 2.0 output.

Impressively, all of these features are squeezed into a set-top box that’s smaller, quieter and, in my experience, more reliable than the old Sky+ HD boxes. In fact, I’ve had Sky Q since launch and have suffered only a handful of crashes in that entire time.

The Sky Q box can connect via Wi-Fi to your router, although you’ll most likely get faster downloads if you use the wired Ethernet connection instead.

Related: Sky Soundbox review

Sky Q comes into its own when you start to add in Sky Q Mini boxes. These tiny units let you watch all of your recorded, on-demand and live TV channels on other TVs, albeit at a restricted 1080p resolution. Each Sky Q experience system can support two concurrent Sky Q Mini boxes, although you can have more boxes on your system.

Sky Q 7

Sky Q Mini boxes connect to the main Sky Q box via a dedicated wireless mesh network, although you can hard-wire boxes via the Ethernet connection on the back. At launch, Sky was planning on enabling Powerline networking, although this hasn’t happened yet and seems unlikely.

For wireless installations, Sky can provide an extender box if you’re suffering reliability issues. Since launch, I’ve found the system has become more dependable – I very rarely experience any issues with a Sky Q Mini box being unable to connect to the main box, and streaming is rock-solid.

At launch, the Sky Q system could provide you with a basic mesh Wi-Fi network, too, if you had the Sky Q router and Sky broadband. However, this option is no longer so attractive, given the huge number of faster mesh alternatives, such as the excellent Netgear Orbi system.

Finally, you can stream all of your content to two additional mobile devices via the Sky Q app. With a fully loaded Sky Q system this means you can be recording seven channels while watching five different channels across the main Sky Q box, Sky Q Mini boxes and apps. Recording clash is truly a thing of the past.

Related: Sky Q tips and tricks

Sky Q 9

Sky Q – The interface

Sky is, and remains, a master of the interface. With Sky Q came a new interface that has proven to be better – mostly – than the old Sky+ one. It’s large, bold and colourful, and uses images extensively. Designed for HDTVs, Sky is able to make the most of the resolution available; switching up to 4K doesn’t fit more on screen but it does make everything sharper. The interface is largely the same for the main box and the Sky Q Mini boxes, with a couple of minor exceptions.

On the main homescreen, Sky has effectively used the width of a modern TV. The first column offers a preview of the current content (recording, live TV or on-demand programming). This preview is visible all of the time, with the rest of the interface split into vertical panels.

The default menu option is the Home menu (accessed via the Home button on the remote), which has replaced the older My Q option. Home shows you programme recommendations that should improve with use, recent recordings and the option to continue shows that you’ve been watching. All of this information is pulled both from broadcast TV, downloads, recordings and – if you have it – Netflix.

Sky Q Home menu

The Continue option is particularly useful if you move boxes in the middle of watching something – say, starting off on your main box before moving up to your bedroom TV. However, you can’t pause a live channel on one box then continue watching on another one; you have to remember to press record first.

With clearly labelled menu items, it’s easy to find the section you’re after. Sky cleverly uses sub-menus, too, so you can visit the main TV guide but use the sub-menus to view content by type or just find the HD channels. The TV guide is neatly presented and clear, but it would be nice if there was a bit of onscreen help to let you know about the available shortcuts: pressing fast-forward or rewind will skip forwards/backwards 24 hours.

Sky Q TV Guide

Recordings are neatly organised with large thumbnail images, and you can jump straight to them by hitting the Sky button on the remote. By default, Sky stacks multiple episodes under one menu, so that your main interface doesn’t become cluttered. Cleverly, Sky Q will mix live and on-demand downloaded shows in the same place for the ultimate flexibility.

Sky Q Recordings

It’s neat that Sky has improved its scheduling option, too, so you can see what’s due to record and remove a series link if you no longer want episodes to record.

Sky Q Scheduled Recordings

There are a few minor issues with this part of the interface. First, there’s no shortcut key to delete a recording; you have to select a programme, select Delete and then click OK to remove a show. Using one of the four colour keys as a shortcut would have made more sense.

Also missing is the Sky+ HD’s option to jump straight to a set point in a recording, defined in minutes. This was super-handy in some situations – for example, if you wanted to watch a particular football goal, you could jump to roughly the right place.

There are some minor interface annoyances, too. Recently deleted recordings aren’t gone but are instead hidden in the Recordings, Manage, Deleted menu, which isn’t immediately obvious.

Sky Q Manage Recordings

When watching TV, you get a Mini Guide by pressing the “i” button on the remote control. You can see more information about the programme you’re watching but you can also see what’s coming up, too. With the main Sky Q box, you get a live preview of other channels, which can be handy: you can keep watching your main programme, for example, but keep an eye on the football.

Sky Q Mini Guide

Sky Q – Remotes

There are two new controllers on offer with the Sky Q. Both are far sleeker than the Sky remotes of old, but it’s the Q Touch remote that was the biggest departure from the previous setup. Available with the Sky Q 2TB box, the original Touch remote is a Bluetooth remote that, as the name suggests, is touch-enabled. A circular touchpad replaces the standard D-pad and it also doubles as an OK button when you click down on it. This proved to be the most divisive controller, with many people finding it tricky to use.

Fortunately, Sky has now replaced this with a new touch remote. By default, it uses physical buttons to move through the Sky Q menus, making it easier for most people to get to grips with. I have to say that the physical buttons are a lot easier to use.

Sky Q Touch remote

There’s a secret, though: you can turn on Touch mode via the remote in the Settings menu. Do this and the new remote acts like the old one: swiping up and down through the menus, and left and right to go in and out of sub-menus. For faster scrolling up or down, you can just hold your finger on the top or bottom part of the pad; the further towards the edge you hold it, the faster you’ll scroll.

And, you can swipe on the fast-forward/rewind buttons to scroll through the content you’re watching. When you let go, the show continues to play, making this a great feature for skipping adverts. If you don’t like the touch features, just turn them off.

The standard Sky Q remote – with its usual rubber D-pad – that’s supplied with the Q Mini boxes works in much the same way as a traditional Sky remote.

Something that was improved by Sky’s first software update is navigation through a piece of video content. If you pause a recorded or downloaded programme, you can then swipe on the touchpad to move through minute by minute, or do the swipe-and-hold move to get to a specific time.

Rather intriguingly, the Q Touch remote also has a microphone for voice search. On the old remote, the microphone button had a black image of a microphone on a tiny button on the side, which I always struggled to find. The new remote uses a white icon, making it far easier to locate. Voice search works surprisingly well and is far quicker than using the onscreen keyboard.

Sky Q Touch Remote microphone

Related: Now TV Smart Stick review

Sky Q – Live channels

Sky has a huge range of premium content available, although what you get depends on your subscription. The base level nets you all of the standard free-to-air channels, plus some of Sky’s own channels.

Upping your subscription is where Sky Q really comes into its own. For lovers of premium content, there’s Sky Atlantic, which is only available through Sky. This channel carries all of HBO’s quality programming, including  Game of Thrones. In my opinion, Sky Atlantic is worthy of the subscription price alone.

Sky Q Sky Atlantic

Sports are well covered by Sky Q, too. While BT has nabbed the Champion’s League and some Premier League games, Sky maintains the bulk of the Premier League action and has many games available in glorious Ultra HD. Plus, you get F1, golf, snooker and a whole bunch of other content.

If you’re into films, then Sky Q also has a brilliant range of channels for you. There are live channels showing new releases that aren’t widely available on other platforms, but an even greater range of on-demand content including a huge library of Ultra HD films. Many are part of the film subscriptions, although some newer titles are only available to buy or rent.

Even so, with a subscription to the film channels you’ll find a huge amount of content that isn’t easily available on the other streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Sky Q – On demand

While every other TV services use live streaming, Sky’s on-demand programming is all via a download service. This provides two main advantages. First, your broadband speed doesn’t matter, aside from how long it takes you to download a programme.

Second, all content is downloaded at the original broadcast quality, which means you get a far better picture through Sky Q than you do via an alternative service, such as BBC iPlayer.

All shows downloaded go into the Recordings section of the interface, sitting next to recorded content. That’s quite brilliant, since it means that you can line-up on-demand content to watch and have it all ready when you want to watch; no more having to bookmark or set favourites. Sky’s on-demand and catch-up service is the best you can get and has the best picture quality.

The range of content is excellent, too, with on-demand and catch-up content available for all of the usual suspects (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and so on), plus all of Sky’s channels. And there’s a huge number of boxsets available for shows that you might have missed. As with other on-demand services, content tends to come and go, but there’s always plenty from which to make your choice.

Sky Q On Demand

 

Sky Q – Apps and Netflix

Sky Q has several built-in apps, including Spotify and YouTube– which work exactly as you’d expect. It’s Netflix that’s the biggest recent addition, both in terms of the content it offers and the way in which it’s integrated. The simple way to do things would be to just add in a Netflix app; similar to it’s adoption with BT YouView, for example. This is Sky, though – and credit where it is due: the company is brilliant at UI design. For that reason, Netflix is integrated directly into the Sky Q interface.

Sky Q Netflix home screen

Go to the homescreen, for example, and you’ll see programme recommendations on the front, including your Continue Watching options as part of Fluid Viewing. Dive into On Demand and there’s now a Netflix section showing you the options to Continue Watching, Trending and Popular. In particular, the Continue Watching section is far easier to find than it is inside the Netflix app.

Sky, once again, shows that it’s king of the interface and brilliant at presenting content.

Sky Q Netflix on demand

Selecting any programme opens up the Netflix app on your TV and brings you to the info screen. You can, of course, launch the native Netflix app on Sky Q and start watching all of your favourite shows from within the familiar interface.

Sky Q Netflix playing content

There are different options for getting Netflix on Sky Q. Existing customers with a Sky Q Entertainment package have to pay £10 a month extra to get Netflix and Sky Q Ultimate On Demand content. New customers need to take out the Entertainment package and pay the additional £10 for Sky Q and Netflix. At this level, customers get the standard Netflix account, which includes up to two streams at a maximum resolution of 1080p. For customers with the Sky Q Experience (£12 a month) pack, Netflix Premium comes into force, adding 4K content and up to four streams. Plus, you get Sky Ultra HD content, too.

Existing Netflix customers have two options. Those who don’t have Ultimate On Demand can just sign into their Netflix account, and get the streaming content without Sky’s on-demand content. Those with Ultimate On Demand have to link their Netflix account to their Sky Q account, in which case payment moves to Sky.

Netflix Premium customers who don’t subscribe to the Sky Q Experience will have their accounts downgraded to standard; otherwise, the account stays the same. Linking an existing account maintains the same profiles, and you can still watch on other devices or any Sky Q Mini boxes you have.

This last point could be a bone of contention for some people, with the downgrading option seeing you get a worse Netflix experience. That said, the package still works out as good value, since Netflix Premium costs £9.99 a month alone. Paying an additional £2.01 gets you all of Sky’s Ultra HD content and Netflix.

Related: How to set up Netflix on Sky Q

Sky Q – Smartphone app

The Sky Q app, available for iPad or Android tablets, is a significant leap forward, offering something no other TV solution can: offline viewing.

While the old Sky Go app was excellent, it was a limited Sky experience, with only a handful of available live channels and no access to content recorded on your box.

The Sky Q app, on the other hand, does it all. The interface is near-identical to the UI on your TV, with the same options for TV Guide, Catch Up TV, Recordings, and so on. You can treat your tablet just like a Sky-connected TV. You can even set recordings within the TV Guide by tapping on the Record button.

Sky Q iPad App

The main difference from the full-fat TV menu is an option called On My iPad/On My Phone. From there you can select recordings on your Sky Q box that you’d like to download for on-the-go viewing. And you can also download on-demand programmes directly to your iPad. That’s great for times you’re on the move, as you can take your unwatched programmes with you.

Sky Q iPad App Download

When you’re out and about, the Sky Q app works much like Sky Go, letting you stream live channels. You can have up to four devices signed into your Sky account, which makes the system hugely flexible. Everything about the Sky Q app is slick and smooth. It works beautifully and makes a huge amount of sense.

Related: Best 4K TVs

Sky Q – Ultra HD quality

Although BT Sport managed to bring the first live Ultra HD channel to the UK, it did so with a fairly restrictive streaming service that requires a really fast internet connection. Sky Q is far more flexible, since its Ultra HD content is either downloaded to your box’s hard disk or is broadcast over the high-capacity satellite connection. The upshot is that there are more live channels and on-demand films on Sky Q than you’ll find on any rival TV service in the UK.

Since launching Ultra HD, Sky has upped the range and quality of content. Football now looks absolutely stunning, with a level of detail and rich image quality that makes HD look like the poorer cousin. Being able to clearly see where the ball is and make out individual players is hugely impressive.

Film content has also improved, with many more titles now available in true 4K – rather than being upscaled versions of the 1080p footage. Blade Runner 2049, for example, looks stunning with its rich colour palette. It approaches the Ultra HD Blu-ray release for quality, although the disc currently has two main advantages: HDR and the full Dolby Atmos sound mix.

Sky Q Cinema

In general, both in terms of HD and Ultra HD content, Sky Q usually lags slightly behind the best equivalent disc transfer, but it’s a close call and the picture quality from Sky is the best you can get from a TV service. The addition of HDR later in the year will further improve matters.

Sky Q – Sky Kids

Sky has always been good at bundling together child-friendly content. With Sky Q there’s a dedicated Kids menu, which shows you recommendations, on-demand programming and recordings suitable for the under 12s.

Sky Q Kids

With the most recent Sky Q update there’s now a Kids Safe mode, which can be enabled individually on any box in your home. This option locks the box into the Kids menu, preventing access to any content outside of the Kids menu. Kids Safe mode is active even if the power is cycled on a box. It’s a great option, particularly if you have a Sky Q Mini box in another room that your children mostly use.

Sky Q Kids mode

Sky has also done a fair amount of work making Sky Q as friendly as possible for children. In addition to a dedicated Kids sub-menu that provides direct access to children’s channels, on-demand content and any child-friendly recordings you’ve made, Sky has also introduced the Sky Kids app.

The Sky Kids app is available for iOS and Android, and enables you to stream all of Sky’s on-demand children’s content through a colourful, super-simple UI.

Sky Q Kids

Each child gets to add their own profile, with their name and choice of cartoon avatar. They also need to enter their date of birth and gender, which Sky uses to suggest the most suitable content for them. All of this works pretty flawlessly, with the right recommendations tuned for both of my daughters (10 and seven).

The shows are all displayed in a decent-size frame, with other episodes from the same series selectable below it. You can go full-screen, too. Arrows on either side of the main UI take you through the content available from each of Sky’s kiddy channels, such as Nickelodeon, Milkshake, Disney Junior and many others. There’s a ton of child-friendly stuff in there, although you can’t watch the live broadcast channels.

Sky Q Kids playback
Thankfully, Sky has now added show downloads to the Kids app, so your children can take their favourite shows with them. Only shows available through catch-up or on-demand can be downloaded, and the Kids app can’t download shows recorded to your Sky Q box. Even so, having offline content makes the Kids app far more useful on long journeys.

Sky Q Kids download

Why buy Sky Q?

Rather than trying to ape its streaming competition, Sky has done something quite different and brilliant with Sky Q. Delivering the best in premium TV, with the flexibility to watch where you want makes Sky Q completely different from the competition. If you want premium content, then it’s by far the best system you can buy, easily outstripping the rival Virgin Media V6. With the update to integrate Netflix into the mix, you can now get even more content in one place.

There will always be those people who argue that you can get most of the content here elsewhere for less, either with Now TV or by waiting for episodic rental of shows such as Game of Thrones on alternative platforms. That may be true, but you don’t get the quality that Sky Q delivers and, in many cases, you end up waiting longer for the best TV shows.

Admittedly, Sky Q isn’t for everyone, but it’s for those who want flexibility, the best and freshest content, and a huge range of high-quality Ultra HD films and sports. There’s simply nothing else like Sky Q.

Buy Now: Sky Q at Sky.com from £20 a month

Want to know how much Sky Q will actually cost you? Click on to the next page for pricing.

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