Sky Q sets your TV free.. sort of

The biggest problem with Sky Q is that TV advert.

It took 52 VFX artists at The Mill to create the illusion of your TV show/film escaping your TV like fluid, bouncing down a corridor, and then reassembling itself in another room – giving the suggestion of “fluid viewing” (which Sky have trademarked).  But it’s taken an entire forum of people to shake their fists at this idea, and proclaim that Sky hasn’t fulfilled their promise of fluid viewing with the launch of Sky Q.  I’d imagine that the ASA may get a few complaints.

The biggest problem with fluid viewing at this time is that it’s not a fluid as it could be.  It’s A Bit-Lumpy-Viewing is a better description until Sky iron out the bugs (if you believe the complaints and comments regarding issues surrounding Sky Q, the revised TV advert would probably have the TV image turn into super hard cricket balls that go around smashing up the home).  I can pause / stop an on demand show and carry on my other television, but it requires quite a few clicks of the IR remote control to get things going.

With “fluid viewing” I can pause / stop an on demand show and carry on my other television, but it requires quite a few clicks of the IR remote control to get things moving along.  I selected the wrong option once and accidently started the movie (Big Hero 6) from the beginning rather than where I left off downstairs.

I haven’t tried live TV “fluid viewing”, because – ironically – one thing that Sky Q aims to do is to provide a better non-linear experience so that you, the customer, has a more Netflix/Amazon Prime-like service, but with all that satellite/terrestrial TV has to offer.  And it does that very well.  The new user interface provides a better experience above and beyond that offered by Sky+HD in picking and choosing programmes to watch, record and download.  In fact, I find myself downloading programmes from the On Demand section much more than I am watching live TV or recording up to 4 shows at once (total shows recorded simultaneously so far: two) whilst watching a fifth.  In short: this system is designed for the TV and, in particular, box set junkie.

I have no doubt we’ll see Netflix joining the Sky Q platform at some point.  The Sky Q YouTube is one of my favourite things and if Sky were to do one thing better, it would allow me to add the app to the app sidebar that’s accessible via a single click of the remote control.  But the Sky Q YouTube app proves that the Sky Q boxes (both the Q Silver and Q mini) are both perfectly capable of streaming HD video.

One thing I don’t like at the moment is that it takes too long to get the live TV guide.  There is a shortcut via the touch remote, but I still find myself clicking the home button, scrolling up to the top of the menu option to get to it.  About six moves in total if you go the long way around.  And whenever you come out of standby, you’re taken directly to Top Picks rather than the last live TV channel viewed.  But these are mere quibbles at this point.

What I do like about the new UI is that it’s very visual.  Images for each show are displayed, poster-like, along each menu option.  Navigating the individual catch-up services is much, much better.  Menus opens other menus, and that allows you to drill down to what you want.  Alas, on my system, some images occasionally vanish or don’t display – my recording of Casualty from last Saturday is missing.  I also can’t seem to get rid of The BFG which I started watching on the Sky Q mini box that’s now expired.  It still shows up there but I can’t delete it.  It’s not showing at all on the Sky Q Silver box.

You’ll find little glitches like this along the way with the Sky Q system.  It works, but there are little bugs here and there which lead you to hope that Sky will soon fix them all with frequent firmware updates.

One bugbear of mine is that the claim of “taking recordings with you” through your tablet isn’t true (yet) either.  Not once have I been able to download a recording to either iPad of mine.  On demand, yes, but not recordings. This is no different to Sky Go.  And indeed, one gets Sky Go Extra bundled with the account.

And the Sky Q app (which is tablet only for now) doesn’t allow you to set-up recordings while you’re away from home.  In order to do that, one has to use the old Sky+ app for iOS, or the Sky web site.  The Sky Q app does allow you to set-up records while you’re at home, however.  One good thing going for it is that one can watch live TV through the Sky Q whether you’re at home or not.

I’ve yet to encounter any real issues with Sky Q other than for limited launch features (including the lack of UHD and UHD content).  But even with these limitations, it’s still a good system.  I’m wholly impressed with how well the Sky Q mini works over Wi-Fi using the mesh system (that’s made up of the Sky Q Hub, the Sky Q Silver box and the Sky Q mini).  With my Sky Fibre Broadband Pro Unlimited broadband enabled, I’ve tested streaming from Amazon Prime upstairs, and thanks to the mesh, the Wi-Fi signal is boosted in my bedroom to provide maximum coverage for the Amazon Firebox.   Good quality HD streaming over Wi-Fi without any issues.  Live TV via the Sky Q mini box works really well too – couldn’t tell you’re streaming directly from the Sky Q Silver box downstairs.  The whole thing feels like a wholly separate unit.

So we’re not quite there with fluid-like images bouncing from one TV to another, but with a few tweaks here and there over the coming months I’m sure Sky will get there.  But I do think they may have raised the expectations a bit too high through the TV adverts.  Which is why it’s always a good idea to visit product forums such as the Sky Q Community.  This gives you a good idea of what to expect before you flash the cash.

On the whole I am very happy with my decision to go Sky Q.  And Sky Talk.  And Sky Fibre Broadband Pro Unlimited.  The whole system works extremely well together, and providing that Sky continue to provide high quality support and service, I’m not likely to go anywhere else for a long, long time.

It’ll be interesting to see what Virgin Media have got to offer in retaliation.  There are rumours that they’ll either be bringing forth a box of their own design (Liberty Global, remember, is one – if not the – biggest cable provider in the world), or they’ll be getting a beefed up Super Tivo that can handle UHD with a couple more tuners built in.  Time will tell..