Sky Q becomes standard box for new customers
FROM today, new Sky TV customers will receive one of the broadcaster's new Sky Q 1TB boxes as standard, whichever channel pack they sign up for.
The switch to the new box comes only eight months after Sky Q first became available, when it was being sold as a rather more expensive premium service.
The good news for new customers is that while is that while the choice of set top boxes has changed, the monthly prices of each of the bundles they're available with hasn't - for now.
However, anyone wanting more than the "basic" version of the new box will face higher setup costs than they did just a few days back - ranging from £15 to £199.
Making Sky Q the "new normal" is something of a surprise move, as when the new boxes first appeared, Sky appeared to suggest on their Community forum that they'd be selling the new boxes alongside Sky+ HD for some time:
on 19-02-2016 11:51 AM:
When we asked Sky why they'd chosen to speed things along, they told us that they'd "had a really great reaction to Sky Q from customers" and were therefore "confident that moving to selling just Sky Q boxes is the right thing to do.
"We know that new customers want the very best TV experience... We're excited to bring Sky Q and everything it offers to even more customers by introducing the box with all Sky TV bundles."
They also say that Sky Q customers are watching 69% more on demand content than Sky+ users - a reflection of both the way our viewing habits are changing and the extra features available with the new boxes.
Considering that Sky still refer occasionally to costs and conditions for customers who don't have a Sky+ or HD capable box, it's possible that Sky+ subscribers will be able to stick with their now legacy package for some time.
That said, there is pressure for some to upgrade: anyone with one of the older boxes who wants to get another set top box for viewing in another room now has no choice but to move across to the new platform.
More storage, more features
So what exactly does the switchover mean for new customers?
Sky+ helped shape the way we interact with our TVs today, introducing a whole range of features that seemed revolutionary at the time, but that soon became obvious necessities for any decent set top box or TV user interface.
Sky Q shakes things up again - but this time it's less about navigating increasing amounts of content, and more about being able to access it easily on a range of screens and devices, reflecting the way TV has become more on demand and on the go.
We look more fully into what Sky Q can do, including how it lends itself to viewing content recorded on the main box in various locations, in our detailed guide, available here.
But in essence, new customers now get a set top box with more storage (Sky say the 1TB box should have room for 500 hours of SD content, and up to 150 hours of HD recordings), the ability to stream to at least one tablet, and a host of exclusive on demand content via the Online Video menu.
On demand competition
This final feature sees Sky finally catching up regarding something other TV and set top box manufacturers - and pay TV providers - have been offering for years now: on demand video via apps such as Youtube and Vevo.
But as this is Sky, the emphasis is on their own curated collection, containing content from the likes of GQ, Red Bull Media House, Funny Or Die, and Comedy Central.
Beyond that, there isn't quite the same range of video apps as there is with other set top boxes: while BT, TalkTalk and Virgin make a virtue out of offering Netflix, it's notable by its absence from Sky's boxes - and probably always will be.
That's because Sky take no chances when it comes to their subscription service rivals.
Their own streaming service, Now TV, is available through both an app (available for both mobile devices and on smart TVs and set top boxes, including most Youview boxes, even those from BT).
The standard Now TV box is a stripped down version of the very well regarded Roku 3 streaming media box, offering around 50 free-to-use on demand apps as well as access to Now TV, for £15.
A fully featured Roku 3 box, by contrast, costs up to £99. For that price, users have access to pretty much all the streaming and on demand video services out there, including the three big paid for services: Now TV, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.
Sky's refusal to allow their rivals space on their kit is a relatively mild course of action considering that last year Amazon effectively banned sales of streaming devices that didn't support Amazon Prime Video.
More to come
Perhaps more odd is the lack of another common feature on Sky Q: the ability to set reminders for programmes.
Customers who've had Sky+ and upgraded, or who have moved from another platform - including Freeview - have commented on the lack of such an apparently simple, yet useful, feature.
Part of the reason for its absence could well be down to the fact that Sky Q isn't an upgrade to an existing product, but an entirely new platform, built from the ground up - so the developers and engineers have had other priorities.
Sky tell us that they are still adding features to the platform - including "a smartphone app and voice search functionality", expected to arrive by the end of the year - so a Reminder function may yet appear.
In the meantime, viewers may want to rely on using one of the many tuners tucked inside the Sky Q boxes to set a recording for anything they'd like to see - just in case they forget to switch over in time.