Don’t want the hassle of a satellite dish on the outside of your home? Sky might have the solution
Sky has confirmed plans to hold an event on October 7. An invite for the upcoming press conference teases “something magical” for customers. Longtime readers will know that Express.co.uk exclusively revealed that Sky is currently testing an all-new set-top box that brings the Sky Q experience into your home without a satellite dish. Could this new event see the new Sky box finally revealed – and available for customers to order?
According to a source speaking to Express.co.uk, who is taking part in one of the trials of the new dish-free service, the experience of using the new Sky Q set-top box is almost indistinguishable from the standard satellite dish-powered option. We’re told the new box is faster to navigate than NOW (formerly NOW TV) streaming boxes or HDMI dongles.
However, quickly swapping between live channels can lead to some low resolution – pixelated in some instances – images as the box tries to buffer the incoming video. According to our source, who has broadband download speeds of between 250-350Mbps, this is a limitation of the hardware …not internet speeds in their home.
Of course, this momentary pixelation is a slight step-down from the Sky Q box, which instantly switches between High Definition channels with no drop in quality. That’s because there’s no buffering needed when the video is beamed via satellite. Sky Q viewers can also watch a small preview of another channel – to check whether the adverts are over, or the show you want to watch has started – in the lower-third of the screen without interrupting another live broadcast. This is possible because of the sheer number of tuners fitted inside the Sky Q box. It’s not clear whether this feature will be possible on the new box as it would require more broadband bandwidth.
Sky has mailed out invitations to its next media event, where it has teased a ‘magical’ announcement
Sky Go can be almost indistinguishable from the on-screen menu found on Sky Q – the recordings page, for example, includes the same grid of artwork with titles listed underneath. Tapping on a series will load a similar landing page to the one that Sky Q viewers will be familiar with, with individual episodes listed beneath high-resolution artwork from the show, coupled with a description of what to expect from your next episode.
That said, the smartphone and tablet app can also be very different. For example, while the TV Guide is visually similar, it lacks a small feed from the channel you’re currently watching. As such, viewers are forced to stop watching their current show, match or movie to browse the TV Guide, which isn’t a great experience. Since we’ve already learned that Sky’s new set-top box allows viewers to jump between channels without jumping back to the TV Guide – a limitation when watching on Sky Go – it’s possible there are other differences too, like the addition of a small preview of a single channel.
On the Sky Go app, there is a dedicated Browse tab, which lets viewers pick between on-demand shows from different channels. On Sky Q, this doesn’t exist. Instead, there is an On Demand menu that brings together boxsets from Sky, shows from popular terrestrial channels, and Netflix.
A Catch Up TV menu brings together shows from the likes of BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub, and other catch-up services. Sky brings together suggestions from all of these individual menus into the main homepage when you switch on the Sky Q, with recommendations based on your viewing history on the box.
It’s unclear whether the new broadband-powered Sky box will also have AI-powered recommendations.
According to our source, viewers will be able to pay extra to stream in Ultra HD quality
The idea of ditching the requirement of a satellite dish is not a new idea. In fact, during the initial reveal of Sky Q back in 2017, then-CEO Jeremy Darroch said that streaming the full Sky experience over a fibre broadband connection would enable over six million households across Europe, including two million in the UK alone, who don’t own – or don’t want to own – a satellite dish to access the critically-acclaimed service. But in the four years since the launch event, we haven’t heard a thing about the satellite-free version of Sky Q.
That changed in August when Sky launched a new set-top box, dubbed Sky Q IP Box, in Germany. With a minimum broadband speed of 6 Mbps, viewers can now access a number of the same terrestrial channels, on-demand boxsets, and streaming apps found on the standard Sky Q box, which relies on both a satellite dish and Wi-Fi connection to bring live and catch-up services together into one menu. For comparison, Netflix recommends a minimum of 5 Mbps to watch in High Definition picture quality.
According to our source, it seems the set-top box currently being trialled in the UK will have more features than the Sky Q IP Box launched in Germany. For example, in Germany, Sky says broadcasts over an internet connection will only be available in HD picture quality …even though Sky Deutschland Director Proposition & Product Max Ehrhardt has confirmed in interviews that the hardware is powerful enough to support 4K streams. We’re told the satellite dish-free service in the UK will arrive with support for Ultra HD quality. The pixel-packed format will cost an additional £5 a month, our source has confirmed. A screenshot from a sample pricing structure confirms the £5 Ultra HD upgrade.
To watch in Ultra HD with the satellite dish-powered Sky Q, you’ll need to spend an extra £11 a month, although this also upgrades the picture quality of your Netflix subscription, allows you to watch on up to four devices simultaneously, and bundles more channels.
…that’s a departure from the satellite dish-less box launched by Sky in Germany earlier this year
In another departure from what we’ve seen from Sky in Germany, our source tells us the new Sky IP Box will include 1,000 hours of cloud recording. Viewers will be able to use features like Series Link, which are staples of Sky Q and Sky+ HD before it. In Germany, it seems Sky will be pushing users to rely on catch-up services available on the set-top box, rather than offering the ability to record. This “cloud recording” will also enable Sky IP viewers to pause and rewind live television – something that’s also missing from the German equivalent.
Following our initial reporting, broadband-focused blog ISPreview confirmed with its own sources that Sky was working on technical trials for a new Sky Q box. However, its sources concluded that “there are no large customer trials ongoing” and therefore that “actual product availability is not imminent.” Our source will end their trial later this month. That’s no indication that a launch date is fast approaching. It’s perfectly possible this is a very early trial with a small number of beta testers.
If that’s the case, what will Sky announce at its “magical” press conference next month?
Either way, Express.co.uk will have all of the gossip from the Sky launch event, as well as more details about the upcoming broadband-powered Sky box as soon as we learn more. As always, it’s worth adding that while we’re pretty confident the information from our source is accurate, nothing is confirmed until there’s an announcement from Sky.