The UK broadcaster has debuted a 4K-ready upgrade to its set-top box, which also sports a new interface and the power to watch recorded TV on your tablet.
Editor's note, 29 January: This first take has been updated with prices and hands-on impressions of the Sky Q interface.
Sky has a new weapon in its battle for control of your living room: a luxury service dubbed Sky Q, which is set to launch early this year. Replacing Sky+ HD as Sky's most top-end TV service, Sky Q is an umbrella term that refers to a series of products, including a 2TB, 4K-ready box that comes with a quirky new remote, and a smaller Q Mini box that can be used to relay Sky TV to other rooms in your house. Starting at £42 per month for the most basic package, with a £99 installation fee on top, it's at the very top of the UK's TV price range, so needs to offer a lot to compete with streaming services like Netflix.
Read on for everything you need to know, starting with the main attraction -- an all-new Sky box.
Sky's new box is admirably svelte, but there's some powerful tech lurking inside its skinny frame. A 2TB hard drive means there's plenty of room for hoarding TV shows and movies, while a whopping 12 tuners means you can record up to four channels simultaneously, while still watching a fifth channel live.
With Sky Q, Sky has given its TV interface a sorely needed lick of paint. Alongside a fully fledged TV guide, programming is organised into tabs such as Catch Up TV, Top Picks and Box Sets. A new Continue tab collects programmes that you're halfway through, so you can quickly get back into your shows.
You move through those menus with a brand new Bluetooth-powered remote, called the Sky Q Touch Remote. It sports a touch-sensitive pad on the top, for swiping through menus using your fingers. It's highly reminiscent of the tech used on the latest Apple TV box, which we found to be a great way to navigate TV.
Having gone hands-on with Sky Q, the changes make a big difference. Categories are arranged in columns along the left side of the screen, making the interface intuitive and simple to navigate using the new remote control. Swiping to move through menus feels very smooth, and being able to swipe and keep your finger in place to continue scrolling makes it easier to move quickly through longer menus.
The touch pad itself is reminiscent of the remote that comes with the latest iteration of Apple TV. But my impressions of Sky Q -- having used it for roughly 20 minutes -- are that this pad is actually easier to use than Apple's offering, which can behave erratically when you're scrolling through menus. Have a gander in our hands-on video:
A new addition is an apps menu, which can be triggered by pressing a dedicated button on the remote. The apps I saw during my hands-on time included weather and a Sky Sports app, which show you information in a sidebar along the right of your TV screen -- a nifty feature if you want to check the score without pausing what you're watching.
Sky has also put some work into customisation and recommendations, a field in which the company has struggled to compete with newer Web services such as Netflix. The "For You" tab shows you programmes Sky thinks you'll enjoy based on your viewing history, and a nice touch is that this screen is populated based on the time of day. So if it's a time when the kids are usually watching TV, it'll be packed to the gunwales with Peppa Pig and her ilk, while if you check back later on, you'll get more mature recommendations.
Alongside the main Sky Q Silver box, Sky is also selling a smaller Q Mini box, which sits in a secondary room of your house, and funnels the same live channels and all of Sky's on-demand TV onto another television. This miniature box doesn't require a dish, and acts as the Robin to the Sky Q Silver's Batman, in a bid to bring Sky's service to every room in your house.
Sky calls this concept "Fluid Viewing", and says you can connect as many tablets and Q Mini boxes as you like, for a whole house full of Sky. Sky notes you'll only be able to watch on up to three TVs and two tablets at the same time however.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, Sky Q will let you watch live TV that you've downloaded on a mobile gadget, like a tablet. That means if you've got a hard drive packed with classic episodes of "The Simpsons", for instance, you could download them to a tablet to watch on a plane. This addition -- long-awaited by Sky customers -- is going to be called Sky Q Sync.
As well as a YouTube app, Sky Q will let you play music through your TV. Apple's AirPlay and Spotify will both be supported.
Sky Q will be 4K-ready, which means that -- in theory at least -- its boxes can handle video that plays at the very high 4K resolution. You'll need a 4K TV to take advantage of this, and one big problem to date has been a paucity of ultra high-definition video to actually watch. Sky could alleviate that issue however, having confirmed today that it would be launching 4K services next year, alongside voice commands, and a Sky Q app for smartphones.
Sky is a huge force in the UK's entertainment landscape, with over 20 million customers signed up for its service -- hundreds of channels beamed to high-capacity set-top boxes via satellite. In the UK, Sky pioneered access to both HD television and recording live TV, with Sky HD and Sky+ respectively, but in recent years it has seen its list of rivals expand. As well as other set-top services like BT TV or Virgin Media, Sky today also battles Internet-based foes like Netflix and Amazon Video, which offer on-demand viewing without the need for a satellite bolted to the side of your house.
The introduction of Sky Q is a welcome one, as the existing Sky+ box has been in service for a while now. Recent updates have seen the storage expanded and Wi-Fi added, while the interface has also been recently updated with recommendations and other new features.
Sky Q doesn't compete directly with Netflix, but rather hopes to offer a TV package for your whole house that's so totally comprehensive, it makes paying an extra £7.49 per month for HD Netflix seem redundant. For tech-savvy TV fans who don't mind hopping between apps and services throughout a night of telly-watching, the sure-to-be-expensive Sky Q will hold limited appeal, but could lure the many UK households who don't mind paying a lot more if it means a single, comprehensive service that works across every gadget in the home.
Sky remains aggressive on all fronts, however, competing more directly with Netflix and Amazon by offering its movie, sport and TV channels for a monthly subscription through online service Now TV. You can watch Now TV on your computer or through apps on your phone, tablet or games console. It also works on streaming set-top boxes such as Apple TV or Roku, as well as Sky's own Now TV box that costs just £15.
Sky Q will be available to buy from 9 February, with installations beginning at the end of that month. Getting hold of this luxury telly package will cost you dear, however -- there's a £99 installation fee, and the most basic package costs £42 per month.
That package, dubbed "Sky Q Bundle" gets you Sky in one room, streaming on one tablet, the power to record three shows and watch a fourth, and 1TB of storage. The beefier option is called the "Sky Q Silver Bundle", and gets you Sky TV in two rooms using a Sky Q Silver and Q Mini box, streaming on two tablets, recording four shows at once and watching a fifth, as well as 2TB of storage -- for £54 per month.
On top of that, you'll have to decide whether you want to go in for Sky's movie and sport packages. Movies cost an extra £17 per month, sport costs £25.50 extra, and to get both in a bundle, you'll pay £34.50.
To get both sports and movies on the most basic package, then, you'd be paying £76.50 per month, on top of the £99 installation fee. There's no other broadcaster that offers the sheer range of features and programming that Sky Q nets you, but even so, that high price ensures that Sky's new toy will remain the preserve of well-off families who don't want to fuss around with multiple streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Video. For everyone else, there are many cheaper ways of getting many hours of great, evening-consuming TV and movies.
Sky Q packs plenty of mouth-watering new features. It's an aggressive move from the broadcaster, hoping to beat online competitors such as Netflix with a service so fully featured and comprehensive that it's worth buying into, even though it costs much more than rival offerings. Stay tuned for CNET's full review.