How many viewing cards does it take to determine a Sky Q box has died?

Two.

My Sky Q box has given up the ghost.  It is an ex-Sky Q box.  It has gone to Silicon Heaven.  Or at least I think it has.  Maybe it’s merely pining for decent TV programming.  Whatever has happened, I need a Sky engineer to come out.

I came home from work last week to the message that I needed to insert a valid viewing card into the box.  There was a valid viewing card in the box.  I took it out and put it in several times.  I gave the box a reboot or twelve.  But no, it wasn’t having it.  Having gone through Sky’s horrendous automatic telephone service (which make me very angry), I was put through to an operator who took me through all the steps I’ve already been through and we came to the conclusion it may be the viewing card.  So a new card was dispatched via Special Delivery and arrived on Saturday last week.

ALAS!

It did not work.  The Sky Q box doesn’t want to know.  The big problem is that without a valid viewing card, one cannot view any recordings or watch anything outside of the main terrestrial channels.  But Westworld and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was going to be on – as well as having to catch up with Britain’s Got Talent semi-finals and the final itself!  I had to catch up!  But how?

So the first thing I did was to call Sky and tell them that the new viewing card did not work.  After a while, it was decided an engineer has to come out.  What day of the working week would I like?  None of them.  I work.  Sky charges for weekend visits.  I said I wasn’t particularly keen on their policy, given that it’s just me living here.  Thankfully the operator was kind enough to waive the charge in this instance and also processed a credit for the time that I’d be without Sky Q.

Will Sky Q be available this weekend?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I’ve taken out a month’s worth of NOW TV Entertainment package (I do wish Sky would offer a free week/month  for folk who have smart TVs or smart dongles/boxes that offer NOW TV)  as a backup.  I was able to watch Westworld and John Oliver and all sorts just fine on my Apple TV.  I took out a free trial of ITV Hub+ to catch up on Britain’s Got Talent and all is well.  Channel 4, however, still have not got a tvOS app for All 4.  As a public broadcaster, this is inexcusable.  If the BBC can put iPlayer on as many platforms as wide as possible, so can Channel 4.

Updates!

For my regular readers, I apologise for not updating this blog for a while as I’ve been very busy.  During the past month, I’ve passed my probation in the new job I started back in August and what with just having gone through the recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday, the weeks leading up to it have been extraordinarily busy.

I’ve cancelled Virgin Media and gone back to Sky for TV, phone and broadband (well, the phone not so much – I’ll be using my EE mobile for the most part and just keep the Sky landline for incoming calls).  I can tell you right now, the difference between Sky and Virgin is like night and day.  Sky Q has improved considerably in the 8 months or so since I originally joined Virgin with their Tivo 6 box.  The Tivo has been a massive disappointment what with TV programmes regularly suffering from messed up imagery/artefacts and I’ve not been able to delete all programs I’ve recorded either – they just end up stuck.  The whole Sky Cinema SD/HD thing was just awful.  So Virgin Media has been given the heave-ho permanently this time.

I’m a tiny bit disappointed that Sky has done away with their Sky Fibre Broadband Pro package which offered a static IP.  As I also work from home on a semi-regular basis, having a static IP makes a big difference when configuring access control lists for various endpoints.  But the max package I’m on is nevertheless not shabby in the least, and the lease times on IPv4 seems long enough – plus IPv6 has been re-enabled (took around 12 days after activation), so I’m dual stack here.

Getting back to Sky Q – there’s a new remote!  Instead of giving everybody two remotes for the main Sky Q box, there is just one.  It doubles as a touch-sensitive remote as well as being a regular clicky one – controllable from within the Sky Q menu settings.  I really like this approach and big kudos to Sky for taking on board feedback from customers.  It’s a real pleasure to use now.  But the biggest thing for me is the voice control.  I ask Sky Q to change the channel (and it will automatically select the HD version of that channel if available) as well as fast forwarding and rewinding X seconds or minutes.   It matches up with the Apple 4K TV just nicely.  If only we had a unified remote that could control both!

Sky Q now offers favourite channels – something that was sadly lacking last time.  It still needs a bit of tweaking: ideally, there should be a favourites button on the remote to take you to the TV guide that compliments the (new) existing feature of allocating favourites to the remote buttons.

Sky Cinema is back in full HD, and still offers a not unreasonable number of ultra HD (4K) content.  Unlike the Tivo V6 which didn’t offer anything at all.  And the best part is that Sky Cinema is only £10 a month for the duration of my 18-month contract.  Let’s hope we can do a deal again when it comes to renewing it!

For me, while I have had a massive speed drop from 300Mbs to 76Mbs (on average around 65Mbs), this isn’t a big problem.  Rarely do I achieve speeds above 150Mbs anyway – mainly because many websites simply won’t go above 100Mb due to bandwidth throttling at the hosting company – take a look at a lot of hosting packages and you’ll see what I mean.  But I’d rather Sky’s speeds with their brilliant Sky Q Hub than Virgin Media’s Intel-powered latency inducing SuperHub 3.

(BTW, not being paid by Sky to say these things – just a very happy customer with one exception – I have continually received “please return our equipment” SMSes and emails over the past month with threats to charge me despite the equipment being sent back with evidence of posting.  I think this has finally been resolved by speaking to an operator who got me to upload a scan of the Post Office receipt to a special section of Sky’s website.  So hopefully that’s that.)

Oh, and I’ve also replaced my Oppo 203 UltraHD Blu-Ray player with an Xbox One X – currently the most powerful console yet, with its 6 Teraflops of processing power.  It also has an UltraHD Blu-Ray player in it, and is much, much smaller than the Oppo.  I’ve been very impressed with it, but not so much with Microsoft Store who mucked up the extended warranty necessitating in two phone calls and a bunch of emails.  I’m not entirely sure the issue has been fully resolved as my account has weird XML related code embedded in the page where the warranty info is.  Let’s say that if I were considering a Surface Pro 2 which can cost up to £3k, I’d be very wary of buying it directly from Microsoft.  If they can’t get it right with an Xbox…

So that’s it so far!

New tech at Sainsbury’s

I spent the first part of Saturday returning the Sky Q equipment.  The kit they send you to allow you to return it is okay, but I had to end up taping it up extensively.  The design of the cardboard boxes they send you doesn’t really take into account the three remote controls you get with the kit, so it rattles a bit.

After dropping off the kit at the local post office, I popped along to Sainsbury’s to pick up some sandwiches and a few other bits and bobs.  I tend to buy sandwiches at the weekend rather than buy bread because being single, I find that I don’t make enough sandwiches or eat toast during the week, and I often find that I end up wasting bread.  Yes, I could potentially freeze the rest of it, but there isn’t much left over to be useful. (When I do buy bread, I buy the smallest loaves.)

When I got to Sainsbury’s the first thing I noticed was the usual scanners outside the entrance had gone.  They were placed by a new system called SmartShop, with all new touchscreen scanners.  They’re now inside the store.  I had to register on an Android tablet having scanned by Nectar card.  It’s a bit awkward being prompted for a password in the middle of a supermarket – I’d have preferred to have registered online.  Since I buy the majority of my groceries from Sainsbury’s using their home delivery or buying lunch at work, I’m disappointed they didn’t email to let me know about this new system.   That said, registration in-store was still quick and easy.  Just make sure you take your Nectar card with you.

The old Sainsbury’s scanner has been replaced by a new fancy-pants touchscreen model.

The first advantage of the new SmartShop is the scanners.  They’re now touchscreen.  I also found that the scanning accuracy was better AND faster.  The second advantage is that you don’t need to use the SmartShop scanners at all – you can use your own mobile phone.

I took some time to download and set-up the SmartShop app on my iPhone 8 Plus.  At the expense of having forgotten to pick up the second sandwich(!) – I was too busy concentrating on the new tech!  Typical me.  But as you can see, the app screen reflected exactly what the SmartShop scanner’s list of items in my basket.

SmartShop indeed! But don’t scan using the phone if you’re using the SmartShop scanner – the system doesn’t like it.

The SmartShop iOS app allows you to scan stuff – and it’s even more accurate and faster than the scanner itself – to the detriment that I scanned the same item about 3 or 4 times because of just how fast the app was versus the scanner.  If you do pick up the scanner, don’t try to scan things with the app – as this will cause the shopping basket to get out of sync.   Pick one and stick with it.  Next week I’ll be trying the app only for scanning.

Speaking of the app, you can also create a shopping list for your next trip either by adding items using the search system or by scanning them with your phone.  I guess when you next go shopping, it’ll automatically tick them off as you go around scanning.

I enjoyed the fish pie very much, so now I’ve added it to my shopping list to remind me to buy it again.

Once you’ve done with your shop, you point the scanner (or scan the QR code with your phone, if you’ve been using your phone to scan stuff) and scan your Nectar card.  The system then works as it would any self-checkout.  On my first SmartShop, there was a substantial queue as people were figuring out how it all works.  Me?  Went through the whole process like butter.  Though it did take a little while for the machine to calculate and apply the discount to the meal deal.

It’s always good that bricks and motar shops are continuing to improve technology to make shopping easier (and, hopefully, quicker).  SmartShop is a definite step in the right direction.  I like the choice of using either a scanner or my own phone, and to build up my shopping list from scanning items I already have in my home.

Poll: Can I cancel my Virgin Media package?

This is a letter I’ve received from Virgin Media about a week ago, telling me that the price of my package is about to go up (by £3.99) after my special offer has finished.  Special offers usually apply to new customers, but Virgin do occasionally run special offers for existing customers.  And this is where things become very blurry…

.. I want to leave Virgin Media.  After 7 months use, the Tivo 6 box is pretty rubbish.  Stuck recordings.  Recordings that have failed to record correctly, and so on.  And it’s not just the box – that Virgin doesn’t carry Sky Movies fully in HD is a persistent problem that is not going away anytime soon.  And where is the 4K / UHD content?

Broadband has been fine for the most part, but I question whether I really need the 300Mbs and the contention that I have to fight with on a daily basis to get it.  The telephone service has been okay, but I don’t use it that often. So if Virgin were going to offer a cancellation fee-free way to get out of the contract before the price goes up, I’d take it. I’d look to move to a broadband-only account – no more TV subscriptions. I’ve decided that I’ll stick with the Apple TV 4K and various streaming services. That’s more than good enough for me these days.

ALAS!

As I’ve been told three times now by various phone operatives at Virgin Media, I can’t cancel the entire package without penalty as I’m still within the first 12 months of my contract, plus the fee isn’t going up until my special offers run out next year (they run alongside the minimum contract length).

So have Virgin Media contradicted themselves?  Could I still leave Virgin Media without a penalty fee now?  Could I pay the penalty fee and then pursue them through the courts?  I have no idea.  But when I see a letter like what Virgin Media has sent, it does suggest that I could.

Here’s the letter.  I was testing out the scan document feature in iOS 11, and I didn’t do a very good job of it.  You might need to click on the image to read it properly…

 

Some updates..

Odeon Limitless – I’ve not been to the cinema in months, so this has become a money waster rather than a saver.  I’ve preferred to either watch movies on Sky Cinema, or buy movies on iTunes.

Virgin Media – The HomeWorks 300Mbs package has proven itself a most worthy purchase.  It’s quite amazing to watch things download over 200Mbs.  A 5Gb movie is downloaded in a matter of minutes.  Good Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house.

What’s less impressive is Virgin’s presentation of Sky Cinema.  There are titles that aren’t available in HD, and watching them on the Tivo V6 in SD is probably like watching a very badly pirated movie.  Additionally, Virgin doesn’t update their What’s New This Week movie section daily with each new movie Sky Cinema adds each day.  So I’ve removed Sky Cinema from my package, and upgraded my landline package to Talk More Anytime.

I’ve added Sky Cinema to my NOW TV subscription which costs half of what I’d be paying with Virgin.  The downside is that the LG app only offers 720p resolution, but upscales far better than Virgin’s offerings – and to be honest, you won’t see much difference in quality between 720 and 1080p.  In short – if you want the proper Sky Cinema experience, you’ll really need to take out a Sky satellite package.  But with Sky Q allegedly going broadband only next year, I’d be interested in checking out again then (but keeping the VM broadband).

BT8160 Call Filtering phones – Working like a treat.  VIP numbers won’t be filtered, but everybody else has to announce themselves before the phone even rings.  That’ll stop a lot of automated diallers for starters.   I do find the blue status light on the base station is a bit too bright at night on the handset I have in my bedroom.  Nothing a bit of gaffer tape can’t fix, though.