Sky reveal Sky Q set top boxes
SKY have finally revealed details of their much anticipated new set top box, Sky Q, saying it'll become available early next year.
The new box is a direct shot across the bows of both BT and Virgin Media, matching or beating what they can offer with their better set top boxes.
Sky Q will be ultra HD compatible, and able to record up to four different channels while allowing users to watch a fifth.
There'll be three versions of the box available, including a smaller, wireless, version designed to be used rather like a multiroom box - and a new, specially designed, Sky Q hub.
Worth the wait
Sky were beaten to the punch when it came to launching the UK's first ultra HD set top box and channel, when BT started to sell an Ultra HD package and suitable set top box in August this year.
Launched under the name Entertainment Ultra HD, it's recently been re-titled Total Entertainment, possibly because just one of the roughly 130 channels included in the deal broadcasts in ultra HD.
Sky, however, appear to have held off until they can be more certain that they can offer more content.
The boxes won't be available until early 2016, and the Ultra HD service won't be available until even later in the year, but Sky say that when it does arrive it will offer "a range of sports, movies, and entertainment content".
What's Sky Q?
In the meantime, it sounds like there's plenty else to get excited about in regard to the new boxes.
The "standard" Sky Q box will come with a 1TB hard drive for recordings - and eight tuners, allowing viewers to record three while watching a fourth, or record four while watching on demand or previously recorded content.
Sky Q Silver has a slightly ridiculous 12 tuners, with a hard drive of twice the size at 2TB.
Both support streaming to multiple devices or other Sky Q boxes - the Sky Q box will stream to one Sky Q Mini box or tablet, while the Silver version can stream to two Sky Q Mini boxes, or two tablets, at the same time.
SOURCE: Sky. Sky Q Box.
The Mini box doesn't have any tuners. Instead it's designed to act as a conduit for any bigger boxes in the house, streaming their content - whether live or recorded - in another room, without the need for lots more cables connecting them all.
This may sound familiar to people with Virgin Media's multiroom service, as they both make use of the Powerline system to send signals between boxes using our home's electrical wiring.
The Powerline system also allows each Sky Q box to act as a wireless hotspot, so depending on how many we have and where we put them we should get a much more reliable wi-fi signal around our homes.
Like Tivo but...
Another Tivo-like touch is the already mentioned ability to stream content from one box to another - but Sky Q will also allow users to stream that content to a tablet, and to download recordings to the tablet to be watched wherever we go.
US Tivo users have access to a similar feature, but Tivo as we know it in the UK isn't quite this advanced.
Virgin Media customers can use their mobiles and tablets to control their Tivo boxes, or use TV Anywhere to watch a selection of channels live on their devices - but this latter option bypasses Tivo entirely.
There's also what Sky are calling a "powerful new search capability", which will go through everything in the TV guide, the on demand content and our recordings to bring up "everything related to a show" we've searched for, while also suggesting similar programmes.
Whether it's as intelligent as Tivo - in that it can learn what we don't want to watch as well as what we do enjoy watching - isn't clear.
Viewing according to time of day
It'll be interesting to see how useful one of the features of the new TV guide proves to be: Sky Q will offer us personalised suggestions based on what else we've watched at a similar time of day.
So if the box notices that we seem to watch a lot of comedy on weekday evenings, or have a thing for Scandi Noir on a Saturday night, we might expect to get recommendations for more of the same.
Where this could prove really useful is in households with children, who tend to watch very different programmes, at very different times of the day, from the grownups.
But we can also imagine it'll come in handy when the current season of Homeland finishes and we need something similar to fill the void.
How much will Sky Q cost?
How much this will cost is another matter - and one Sky are being coy about for the time being. They say they'll reveal pricing details closer to launch, but given the technology involved we can expect it not to be cheap.
People who don't mind watching in boring old SD and HD and who want to make the most of the older Sky+ technology still have time to get Sky's current best box free of charge - saving up to £249 - as well as getting 33% off the cost of their chosen TV bundle:
And as the box above shows, that's just one of the offers they're running at the moment - so it looks like they're not expecting Sky+ to lose its appeal any time soon.