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.

American Gods: Will it ever be released on UHD Blu-Ray or 4K UHD iTunes?

As much as I loved the first season of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on Amazon Prime Video UK, I’m reluctant to buy it on Blu-Ray or it’s current version on iTunes for one particular reason: while it was shot in Ultra-High Definition (aka 4K), and I can watch it as often as I like on Amazon in UHD, I can’t buy it in any form in UHD – especially UHD Blu-Ray.

It’s a bit ironic that American Gods has a character called Technical Boy who “invites” people into his limousine via virtual reality.  In reality, however, I cannot easily buy a TV series in UHD.

The biggest problem with the TV industry at the moment is that only a subset of it (generally the two largest online streaming services – Netflix & Amazon Prime Video) is producing content in UHD.  It is also still costly to mass produce UHD content on physical media.  In the film industry, for example, not all films are given releases in UHD. Only the really big blockbuster movies are getting the UHD Blu-Ray treatment at the moment, and those cost between £20-£25 each, about £10-15 more than regular Blu-Ray.

Making UHD content available to buy via download or streaming is a different matter.  Though that too introduces some hurdles.   Do you really get to keep the content?  As I found out recently with the BBC Store – if that goes away, so does any content you’ve bought.  But thankfully the BBC refunded me entirely and even gave me a bit of a bonus to use with Amazon – for streaming content (whether to rent or buy – I used it to rent).

Apple is said to be announcing a 4K/UHD capable Apple TV next week.  This is all well and good, but unless Apple has 4K content to go with it, the upgrade won’t be worth it.  The 4th generation Apple TV has been okay for the most part, and practically all my HD content I’ve purchased (or rented) has been excellent (with the exception of Breaking Bad – we need iTunes Extra for TV shows, Apple!).  But the biggest problem with the Apple TV has been the lack of support from UK broadcasters.  I’m still waiting for ITV Hub, Channel 4, Channel 5 and other UK broadcasters to pull their fingers out of their bottoms and develop their catch-up apps for it.

But I still concede that iTunes/Apple TV is still the best method of buying and keeping content.  If Apple can get 4K/UHD on there, it’ll be a start.

I believe it’s about time that at least one broadcasting company steps up to bat and starts to invest in UHD outside of just making content and streaming it as part of a subscription service.  It has taken a very, very long time to get to UHD/4K televisions, and yet support for it outside the streaming ecosystem is still very poor.

Starz – please let me buy American Gods in UHD.  Either in UHD Blu-Ray or via iTunes (in 4K/UHD) when the hardware is available.  Or even both!

Sky Q UHD: It’s here, but we don’t have any content yet..

Sky has enabled UHD (Ultra High Definition) output on the Sky Q Silver boxes, and thankfully it works with my TV.  My biggest gripe with UHD has been that it has taken so long for engineers and their Lord High Muck-a-mucks to agree on a set of standards that make UHD a possibility.  The transition to UHD/4K has been quite the palaver in comparison to say, standard definition to HD.

But anyway, Sky has enabled UHD 2160p at 10 bit colour resolution, and we’re ready for all that lovely 4K content.  Except, ALAS, most TV and film workflows haven’t taken 4K into account either due to budgetary or technical constraints.  For example,  UHD content takes up more disk space, has a higher bitrate, and working with it on most systems is a PITA unless you’ve got decent disk I/O, RAM and CPU – which, trust me, isn’t the case for a lot of TV companies. Plus of course, you’ve got to record video in 4K in the first place – a lot of professional film & TV digital video cameras can do this now, and have been for a while – and at even higher resolutions too – but due to everything I’ve just mentioned, hasn’t developed a full 4K workflow yet.

Then there’s the delivery issue.  You’ve got to generally have fast enough bandwidth to get the data to your TV.  This is helped in part due to the video codec.  With Sky Q, 4K content will be delivered via just one of the 12 tuners in the Sky Q box.  Other content will be delivered via the Sky Q download service which uses broadband.  Since Sky’s VoD system downloads rather than streams, this won’t be a big problem for a vast majority of Sky Q customers with slower connections.

I already watch some 4K content via Netflix streaming.  Amazon Video is still lacking considerable content.  In both cases you can normally see a difference from normal HD – but it depends on the DoP and director as to just how much 4K will matter.  Your camera phone may record 4K video as well, but it makes no difference if you’re just recording people falling over or having amusing accidents.

I’m replacing my Xbox One with the XBox One S next week which will give me the ability to watch UHD Blu-Ray discs.  It will be the cheapest way to watch UHD Blu-Ray content versus expensive (£500+) from the likes of Samsung and Sony.  Also, better integration with Windows 10 makes an Xbox a good companion in the living room.  Well, that’s what I told myself anyway.  Although I do wish Microsoft would have released a better remote control for the Xbox One.  The official one is a PITA.  I’d like something resembling a normal Blu-Ray player remote, and not a cut-down game controller.

The UHD revolution is finally here, but we need Sky to start pushing out content – both live (especially sports – but I don’t subscribe to those channels), and on demand (Sky Cinema movies in 4K – yes please!)

Cradle to Grave: Brilliant TV series, but no Blu-Ray version?

Update: Still no Blu-Ray, but here are a few other options..

I’m not sure whether you’ve all watched the brilliant BBC (ironically produced by ITV Studios) comedy, Cradle to Grave, based on Danny Baker’s autobiography “Going to Sea in a Sieve“.  It’s brilliant and one of the best comedies I’ve recently watched (along with Emma Kennedy’s The Kennedys).

But I’m somewhat taken aback that despite the show being shot in HD, there’s no Blu-Ray!  Just a bog standard definition DVD.

In this day of HD and Ultra HD formats, it’s almost unforgivable that a popular TV show is given a DVD only treatment.  Usually when a TV show or film is release for the home video market, both formats are released simultaneously.  Perhaps the BBC/ITV Studios are planning a later Blu-Ray release, but split distribution dates for different formats is very rare.  It’s an all or nothing approach.

As a sidenote: I still don’t understand Sky’s Buy It and Keep service.  You buy the film in HD, and it’s downloaded to your Sky+ box in HD “forever” (or until you leave Sky, after which you’re snookered), and you get a copy of the DVD through the post.  You’ve bought the HD digital Sky DRMed-to-the-hilt copy, but you get a standard definition DVD?  No thanks.  Never going to use such a service until HD on the Sky box, HD in physical format.

Incidently, I was tickled when searching for the Blu-Ray version of Cradle to Grave to discover that the BBFC still refers to the VHS format for home video content.

I won’t be buying the DVD despite thoroughly enjoying the series.  I’ll wait until I know something about the Blu-Ray release, or I’ll just have to buy the series on some non-physical format.  It’s available via iTunes for £11.99 in HD, for example.  I would, still nevertheless, prefer a physical copy.

But I do recommend to those people that enjoyed the TV series to buy the book (available in all good physical and digital formats).  You will be laughing like a loon.  I certainly am (and as such have already bought the follow-up book).