sky q top picks living room_2

Earlier today Sky unveiled “Sky Q” a new, premium product that’s got Twitter and the tech world talking.  Sky describes Sky Q as “a whole new way of watching TV” but, beyond the headlines, what does this actually mean and why should anyone be excited?

What is it?

At its most basic, Sky Q is a next generation Sky+ box with a slick, modern UI and up to 1 to 2TB of storage housed in a sleeker, smaller unit.  However, the real upgrade comes once you think “outside of the box” as it has the ability to stream live, on-demand and recorded content to various other devices (including tablets and the new “Sky Q mini”) around the home, picking things up where you left off in a different room if necessary.  You’ll also be able to download recordings to your tablet and take them with you, a simple but very welcome feature that’s been on my wish list for years and was apparently the “number one requested feature from customers”.

The level of flexibility Sky have built into this system is pretty impressive so the whole family should be able to watch what they want, where they want (especially with the top of the line Sky Q Silver box which adds more storage, more tuners and can stream to more Sky Q mini devices).  Click here to see it yourself:

Sounds good, what else can it do?

A hell of a lot, actually.  Sky appear to have taken a peak at my wish list and tried to deliver it all in one package.  Although the pre-launch teaser was all about #SetTVFree, it’s actually making a wider play to be your home’s “entertainment hub”.  So, as well as the TV streaming, the system will be able to play your music and display photos via Bluetooth and Apple’s Airplay and stream these around the house to your other Sky Q devices.  Those devices will also send your broadband signal through your home power network and act as mini wifi hotspots.   Finally, Sky are promising additional new functionality is coming down the line.  Could this be the one box to rule them all?  If Sky gets this right, Sonos, Netgear and others should be watching this very carefully.

Will it make me breakfast?

Sadly not.  Nor can it be controlled with your mind or beam holograms directly onto your eyeballs (which is actually not as far off as you might think). But beyond that there is very little it won’t do.  The biggest grumble from this morning seems to have been about the failure to announce any 4k/UHD content.  That said, Sky did confirm that Sky Q is UHD ready and that content is coming soon in 2016.  Speaking of “coming soon”, it’s a phrase that came up a lot this morning with voice control, Sky Q apps (for tablet and mobile), and third party apps (that run the platform and can be snapped while watching TV, like on the Xbox One) were also described in this way.  Whether a sign of a rushed announcement or technical difficulties it’s a shame to hear that not everything will be ready for launch but hopefully it won’t be long before these aspects find their way into homes.

Aside from those, the one element I found conspicuous by its absence was games.  Launching a system that acts as your hub for TV, music, photos could put Sky on a collision course with Microsoft, Sony (who have both moved heavily into this area via their consoles) and to a lesser extent Apple.  Against these companies, the lack of gaming is a potential downside but it’s also fight I can’t see Sky winning so I think it’s wise they avoided it.  However, for people like me, that leaves Sky Q in an interesting place where it does nearly but not quite everything I want.  For now, it looks like I’ll still need two boxes under the TV.

What don’t we know?

Well, the first and most crucial thing is price.  This morning’s launch said nothing about price but signalled that it would be expensive, sorry “premium” J  While I’m sure many will baulk at it, I’d still expect the system to offer a good “value proposition” when you take all the functionality into account compared to individual competitors.  Although early adopters will probably be gadget lovers who have some of that kit already, I have no doubt that they will be prepared to pay for the best and to declutter and unify their houses under one system.  The challenge will be for Sky to convince the mainstream that they want and are prepared to pay for all of this new functionality.

Other than price, most of my outstanding questions are on the small but important details.  Although the promise is to “set TV free”, Sky’s recent system of whitelists (on Android), device limits and DRM make me anxious that the reality will be something different.  We don’t currently know what platforms and devices will be compatible (please Sky, we need you to have learnt on this) or how things like taking recorded content with you will work in practice.  Time limits?  Geographical restrictions?  Network validation?  They don’t make for a good announcement but these are all things that could spoil the party down the line.

Last but not least, we are also missing a launch date with Sky only committing to “early 2016” at this point.  I expect we’ll hear more on this and pricing fairly shortly but it leaves potential customers in a strange position going into Christmas and the New Year.  With such a radical improvement around the corner and no word on pricing, I suspect many people will hold off as long as they can before committing to a new contract with Sky or a rival supplier.  Selfishly though, I really hope they get on with it, I move house in January so the clock is most definitely ticking!


Coming soon:  What does this mean for Virgin Media?  Is this the saviour of linear TV?  Head back on Friday for my thoughts on these questions and more

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