Sky has launched its new set top box, Sky Q, in a major move designed to catch up and compete with Netflix and other VOD services.
The broadcaster, which broke ground by introducing HD to its line-up almost a decade ago, has seen the TV landscape change around it ever since. Netflix and Amazon Prime have brought affordable on-demand content to consumers without the need for pay-TV contracts, while streaming media devices have become commonplace, as customers turn old television sets into Smart TVs so they can use apps such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube. Suddenly, Sky’s ability to record and watch HD video seemed less impressive.
The broadcaster responded in kind with its own over-the-top subscription service, NOW TV, which offers live and on-demand access to a range of Sky TV channels without a contract, as well as Sky Movies and Sky Sports. Sky even released a branded version of a Roku device as a NOW TV Box, which offered NOW TV as well as the complete line-up of Freeview TV catch-up apps.
Now, though, Sky has revealed its secret weapon: Sky Q. The new set top box, designed for its contract customers, is set to bring Sky into the modern streaming age, borrowing a range of features from rival devices to keep up with the market.
“We wanted to re-imagine TV so that it’s flexible and seamless across different screens and to put a huge choice of entertainment at their fingertips,” says Jeremy Darroch, Sky’s Chief Executive.
By “re-imagine TV”, of course, he means ‘re-imagine Sky’, which the company has done with a new array of hardware and a viewing experience it dubs “fluid viewing”. That means that customers can watch shows from a box, whether live, recorded or on-demand, anywhere around the home on another TV or tablet.
The Sky Q box will act as the primary connection to the main TV. A revamped (again) TV guide will bring together live and on-demand content into one place, much like a YouView, Virgin or TiVo interface. A new touchpad remote will let users scroll and swipe to choose what to watch, with an emphasis on images and cover art, like Fire TV, to recognise shows with less text.
As well as the linear schedule, the interface will curate Top Picks on the home page, alongside personalised options found in the new “My Q” section, which are based on what users have watched at different times of day, a la Netflix. In the vein of BBC iPlayer, “My Q” will also let users pause what they’re watching in one room and carry on in another on a TV or tablet. Search results will also display everything related to a show users have searched for – whether from live channels, recordings or on demand – and will suggest similar shows to try.
The box will have up to 2TB of storage, along with 12 tuners, which means that users can watch different programmes on up to five screens simultaneously, while also recording four other channels.
New wireless Sky Q mini boxes will make that possible, using the wireless network to communicate with the main Sky Q box and stream content without needing an additional satellite connection – the same technology that also powers a Sky Q app for tablets.
For the first time, Sky is also making it possible for customers to take recordings with them on their tablets to watch later.
Launching alongside that is a new Sky Q hub for Sky broadband customers, which turns all your Sky boxes into Wi-Fi hotspots and also uses the electric wiring to carry the Sky signal, giving users the best connection possible throughout the home.
Sky is also branching out into third party apps to compete with other boxes, from YouTube and Facebook to Vevo (for music videos). Streaming partners announced today include Condé Nast Entertainment (GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue and WIRED), GoPro, Jukin Media, Kin Community, Red Bull Media House and Whistle Sports.
Finally, Sky will also borrow a leaf from the Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV book to support voice search for titles, with AirPlay also supported for the streaming of music.
While rival devices are available now, though, the platform will be introduced in early 2016 – a sign of just how much Sky needs to catch up with the competition. Once launched, though, Sky will be racing to overtake the other rivals for your living room, with apps for smartphones to be released swiftly afterwards and, later next year, the arrival of Sky’s 4K service – a launch that, as with Sky’s HD upgrade, could prove the turning point in the UK’s take-up of UHD TV. (Netflix and Amazon both offer 4K support, but with only a limited number of titles available.)
Sky Q’s pricing is not yet confirmed, but Sky has previously suggested that it is looking to increase its fees to fund its new wave of products and improved online services, not to mention to climbing cost of content in an increasingly fierce marketplace. The new box, though, will be branded as a premium option, with Sky’s existing Sky+ box still available.