Sky Q Review: An Installation Story & Real World Impressions

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Sky Q Silver Installed

Right from its launch we reckoned the new Sky Q system sounded like just what we needed at the Automated Home so we placed our order the first day it became available. It’s been 10 days since it was installed, so is this the 21st Century TV experience we were hoping for or is it all a bit of a let down?

The Installation

Our engineer turned up around 9:30am and was perturbed to hear we were a BT Internet house. The next 5 minutes were spent on the trials and tribulations of a Sky installer especially on how it works fine with Sky routers but everything else is a “lottery.”

When I mentioned we wanted to by-pass the whole wireless thing completely and go the hard-wired route with the builtin Ethernet ports he admitted he had no idea how to set that up or even how a LAN worked.

Worst of all he told us he was only allotted 85 mins to do our entire system – fit new dish and LNB, install the main Sky Q Silver box and 3 Sky mini boxes, perform software updates etc. He’s expected to do 7 installs a day!

The engineer was a great guy, he worked super fast replacing our near 20-year-old rusty dish with a new one (normally you only need to change the LNB for Sky Q). The new set up was tested at the LNB and then again at the end of our cables – all green lights.

The Sky Q Silver Box

Our old Sky+ 1TB box was removed and the skinny new Q DVR slid into its place under the Mac mini and Sonos. It looks good in black although you can skin it in a variety of ways. Remember if you are upgrading from an existing Sky system you will no longer have access to the recording or season passes on your old box. Our engineer told us he hadn’t fitted any of the regular (non-Silver) Q systems.

The Silver box is the brains of the whole operation and from what we can find out its 12 tuners are shared out across the home to the other devices something like this:

  • 4 Tuners for Recording
  • 1 Tuner for Live TV on the Silver Box
  • 2 Tuners for Live TV or Recordings on the Minis
  • 2 Tuners for Live TV or Recordings on the Tablet App
  • 1 Tuner for the TV Guide
  • 1 Tuner for PIP on the Silver Box
  • 1 Tuner for future use (4K?)

Sky Q Silver - rear

Its 2TB’s can store up to 350 hours of HD TV (there’s around 300GB reserved by Sky for other uses). Round the back there’s a S/PIDF optical audio out but full Dolby Digital audio is available over the HDMI cable now. There are a couple of USB ports and an HDMI IN for future use.

The Silver box will get a software upgrade to enable Sky’s 4K service coming later this year (50fps 2160p UHD output utilising HDMI 2.0 and HDCP2.2). The non-Silver Q box and the mini boxes will stay at 1080p. I’ve noticed some regular Sky channels have very, shall we say ‘average’ picture quality these days. I don’t know much about how these things work but it makes me wonder is Sky compressing channels even more to squeeze the maximum out of each transponder, making room for the 4K channels?

The UI

Things are very different here, mostly for the better. The UI has a much more contemporary feel and it looks really bright, crisp and sharp. The old Backup button has gone and you mostly need to use the left arrow for equivalent action, plus the new Dismiss button.

Sky Q Progress Bar

The Progress Bar I had on my TiVo 15 Years Ago Makes it to Sky at Last

You can view recent recordings, or list them A-Z. Sky Q - A to ZStupidly though ‘New’ season shows all appear under N rather than the proper letter.

It’s easy to see what’s downloading (box sets, purchases and on-demand) and you can easily pause the queue. Un-deleting items is a breeze too as is picking up from where you left off on your shows from the My Q section. The ‘For You’ section of My Q is supposed to recommend shows but after 10 days it still says it’s learning what I like.

One real annoyance is that the Home button takes you to the ‘Top Picks’ section rather than the TV Guide we all want to see.

Sky Q Scheduled Recordings

Keeping the entire family happy – 4 recordings at 9:00pm

Sky Q Season Pass Icon - TV vs AppThere’s an inconsistency between the apps and the TV UI as to how the season pass is represented that could confuse newcomers. On the app it is represented with a circle around the R, and by a green bar with arrows at each end on the TV.

If you have episodes of a show from several different seasons, helpfully they are now split and shown in separate folders.

After just a few days of use I really like the new UI.

Sky Q Seasons

The Remotes

The main Q box comes with 2 remotes, a regular IR one and a new Bluetooth touch one. I’m usually an advocate for all the latest tech, but I’m still undecided on the swipey bluetooth Sky Q touch remote. It takes a bit of getting used to, for example you may feel you can press the top, bottom and side of the touch pad to navigate screens but there’s only one result of pressing the pad – Select – everything else needs to be a light swipe.

Like the new Apple TV remote, if you touch the swipe pad the wrong way when picking it up you can easily jump away from your place during playback. In addition to having to train your muscle memory to use this new remote you also have to switch back to the old button way when using the other style of remote on all the mini boxes in the bedrooms. Hmm. You can buy the Bluetooth remote for your mini’s too if you like it (£40) but if Sky wanted us to get used to this remote they should have supplied them for all the boxes. On the upside Bluetooth means it works without being pointed directly at the box and even works in adjoining rooms.

Sky Q Touch Remote

There’s a dedicated Search Button to find your shows and recordings, but it’s a bit of a chore to key in text. It will be much easier once the phone apps arrive and a voice search feature is due to be turned on in an upcoming software update (Bluetooth remote only).

Sky Q IR Remote

TIP: Although not immediately obvious, the Sky logo at the top of each remote is actually a button that takes you straight to your recordings which is very useful.

Sky Q Mini

From the main Sky Q box your live channels and recordings are sent via IP either over WiFI or in our case wired Ethernet, to the Sky Mini boxes around the home.

The Silver package comes with a single mini box and we ordered 2 more for a total of three. Currently there’s no self-install option for these minis so you’ll pay a £50 installation fee on top of the £99 cost of each box if you order more after your install.

Sky Q Mini

You can have 4 minis on one Q Silver system, (none on the non-Silver Q box) but you can only use 2 simultaneously. This seems a strange limitation as you are able to use 2 tablets as well as the 2 minis, although presumably they use a lower bit rate. Hopefully this limit will be relaxed in the future as in our house we definitely have times where all 3 boxes could be used at once. For now you get a message when the maximum number are in use and you have to get a family member to switch theirs to standby to let you use yours – or watch on a tablet instead.

Up until now we have always distributed our Sky around the house using the RF modulator built into the old Sky+ Box, so to suddenly see sharp 1080p on our bedroom telly is fantastic.

skyq-mini-bedroom-tv

The Sky Q mini box under the telly – F1 in HD in the Bedroom!

The Mini’s remotes are easily setup to control your TVs volume. Other useful features include pressing the Home button to turn on your TV as well as the box and a long press of the standby button to turn your TV off too.

The UI to choose your channels and recordings on the minis is identical to the main box. A nice enhancement here would be to allow each mini to filter its own recordings.

Fluid Viewing is Sky’s marking moniker for pausing your telly in one room and picking it up in another and this works well.

If you’re a Sky Broadband customer, then each mini box becomes a wireless access point (2.4GHz and 5GHz b/g/n/ac) expanding the coverage of your WiFi using this AirTies mesh network. If (like us) you have a different broadband provider then this feature is disabled.

The system also has builtin Powerline Networking hardware to send your AV packets across your mains wiring, but strangely this is currently disabled.

Tablets & Apps

You can watch live channels and your recordings with the Sky Q app on an iOS or Android tablet. This works great in our house and now it’s easy to take Sky to the bath!

Sky Q Tablet TV Guide

Sky TV Guide on our Lenovo Android Tablet

Rights management issues rear their ugly head here though. Try to watch a BBC on demand show on your tablet and you’ll get a message telling you that you can’t do that. But record the same show yourself instead of downloading it and it plays fine. Wait, what? The BBC only want you to watch on-demand from their own iPlayer app. That’s just nuts Auntie.

Sky Q App - BBC On Demand

You can copy shows to your tablet to view when you are away from home. I was able to confirm from my router traffic that shows sent from my Sky Q box to my tablet were actually downloaded from the Internet instead of coming across my LAN. It looks like your recordings are really sent from the Sky Go platform to your tablet so it’s worth checking you have plenty of data (or and unlimited bundle) with your home broadband contract.

The apps also disable the option to output the tablets display to a TV. So you can’t get round the 2 TV mini limit by hooking up your iPad or Android tablet to your telly.

There’s currently no phone app for Sky Q, although they are confirmed for release sometime later this year. For now you can use the old Sky+ app to schedule recordings and catchup downloads, but you cannot see your planner or watch live TV or recordings like with the tablet app. It seems a pity that Sky couldn’t have had the phone apps ready for the launch of the system, we all carry a phone, not a tablet.  It’s another indication that Sky Q has been launched before being fully baked.

So far there’s no way to watch Sky Q on a PC or Mac (the way you can with Sky Go) and no word if that’s coming later. Personally I’d far rather watch on my MacBook than a tiny tablet screen with a wheezy speaker.

Sky Q

Early Verdict

In the end our engineer spent well over 2 hours on our installation. That’s without any of the wireless pain that many of his other installs entailed. Sky promise Q customers a special experience, but they’re putting far too much pressure on their hard working engineers, due to both lack of training as well as giving them too little time to do a good job.

It’s still very early days for Q and most of the issues discussed on their forums are related to WiFi problems. But we’ve not seen a single issue using Q via the good old CAT5 cables we buried in our walls in 1999.

Like many similar tech products released, Sky Q is a bit of a work in progress at launch.  There are lots of little improvements that need to be made, but I’ve no doubt many of them will come over time.

There are other features here we haven’t even got into like Airplay and Bluetooth music playback.

It’s a shame Sky won’t allow apps like Netflix and Amazon Video on the Q and Mini’s which would make this the only system most of us would ever need.

Pricing is a bit opaque but Sky say the typical ongoing monthly cost for existing Sky+ customers will be around £12 extra (as it was for us), while new customers can get on board from £42. In addition we paid £299 up front costs plus a £50 installation fee. Not cheap then, but we feel you get what you pay for here.

The Sky Q Silver system provides the benefits of an expensive matrix switcher setup and actually gives more functionality in most use cases. Before Sky Q arrived family members in our house would have to check with one another if they were using Sky before they’d be able to watch a live channel or one of their recordings. Now we just watch what we want, when we want to.

Bottom line? Sky Q has changed the way we watch TV for the better and I think it’s fantastic!

+ HD across the house
+ Multiroom with Full Sky Experience in each location
+ 4K UHD Support this year
+ Record 4 shows at once while watching a 5th
+ Watch live channels or recordings on your tablet
+ Huge 1.7 TB Capacity for your recordings
+ 1 Remote to operate TV & Sky

– Currently limited to simultaneous 2 mini boxes
– Waiting for Phone apps to arrive
– Engineers need more time and training

sky.com/skyq

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22 Responses to “Sky Q Review: An Installation Story & Real World Impressions”

  1. Nice review Mark !!

    Good to hear what Sky Q is really like – not just the advertised stuff.

    You mention two remotes – is the other one a more traditional IR buttoned type ?

  2. @Dean – thanks, I’ve updated with pic of the regular IR remote.

  3. Any issues with Sonos streaming? I have an auto-channel changing router and streaming via the Sonos Mesh was subject to occasional breaks. The solution was either to turn off the auto-channel changing or the Mesh. I went for the latter and everything works fine. My Q install is later this week and I will be insisting on a wired solution.

  4. @ David V – No issues noted with Sonos so far.

  5. Nice Review Mark.

    I remember talk of the IP based Sky box many years ago and it’s good to see it come to fruition at last.

    Your CAT5e is still showing how future proof it was, a bit disappointing that the Sky Tech had no knowledge of the benefits or even how to use it.

    But we should remember this is a clever solution designed to work in the majority of homes with little or no complicated variables which would exponentially increase the install time.

    Your point about eliminating the HDMI switcher is an important one and this leverages this functionality well.

    Personally I can’t bring myself to pay Sky £100’s a year for my TV entertainment. Call me old school but I am still with XBMC (now Kodi). It meets all of my needs using Raspberry Pis with a couple of PCs at the back-end. One with unRAID hosting Movies, TV Shows, Music and Photos and another running Linux / TVHeadend with 4 SD DVB-S tuners allowing many many simultaneous recordings / streams only limited in that all the channels have to be from no more than 4 muxes at any one time (we have 6 SD muxes locally).

    The system also allows for streaming services but due to download caps we don’t get the benefit of this.

    We have several TVs running 1080p (RPi) some old XBOX classics connected to CRT (for listening to music loud in my workshop), Kodi on Laptops over WiFi and even have Kodi on my Note4 which is just about usable navigation wise but the picture sound is fine for catching up on radio and TV programmes.

    I doubt its a slick as the Sky product but it does have a very high WAF and I would say is 99% stable….

    All the best

    Nigel
    (more time than money)

  6. @Nigel – Thanks for the great comments. Sounds like you’ve built a great system there, and that is always very satisfying.

    I’m an F1 nut and so Sky is my only option to see every session and race live – and it will be the only place to see *any* race live from 2019 on.

  7. My Q install was back at the beginning of March and I’ve had no major issues at all. Like Mark I wanted my Q Silver and Minis wired via ethernet and to use my Draytek router rather than the new Sky hub. This took a bit of persuading for the installer as they had a very strict and prescriptive set of install instructions to follow which included running the boxes on Sky wifi setting using the Sky hub. We worked around this when I showed him my Node 0 and full wired network and managed wifi – he even took a photo and sent it to his manager who was on the phone sedonds later to make sure the installer did not touch anything in the rack!!

    Install took nearly two hours, mostly sat waiting for firmware updates to complete in each box in turn as the prescriptive instructions said it had to be carried out sequentially.

    My installer also said that the very rigid instructions were due to the number of failed installs that had happend at launch, so Sky were trying to impose some install standards to make managing the problems a bit nore straight forward for them.

    One last nugget of info – my boxes are fitted in my rack as I have full HDBaseT distribution and use the routed IR capabilities of the HDBT matrix to send IR back to the sources in the rack. After a quick call to Sky they sent me an additonal Mini remote for free and I was able to buy another Q Silver/BT remote as I needed 4 remotes in total. The BT remotes struggled with range in my house so they have been reset to IR mode with the help of Sky Q technical department and they all now work fine.

    I’ve had two intances in two months where I’ve had to power cycle the Q Silver box for minor problems but the stability has been very good so far.

    Sorry for the rambling post, but I thought I’d add my experineces to those of Mark and confirm it has been a big step forawrd in my view.

  8. @Neil – thanks for the comments, good to hear.

  9. Thanks to the Sky insider who contacted us with the following comments on our review…

    “The Powerline stuff is disabled because it was originally planned to work in conjunction with the Wi-Fi to form a hybrid network, but it has never been stable and the wi-fi access point part when used with our broadband is seen as a better selling point for the Sky Experience.

    Netflix & Amazon could work on Sky Q with some work, but it is politics on both sides that currently prevent it happening. It’s not been dismissed, but each is trying to make sure that the income stays on their platform (us included!) and the experience isn’t diluted by distractions from other suppliers.”

  10. Thanks so much for this excellent write up. We are about start the construction of our own new home with as much automation and clever gadgetry as possible and I was planning on investing in a HD Anywhere 4K matrix but when I saw the announcement of Sky Q I wondered if it would be a better way to go. If sky would open the platform up to allow Netflix, Plex, Chromecast and other services to run, this would simply be the ultimate media solution and they would dominate for another 20 years and kill off the whole Roku, Kindle Fire Stick, Nexus Player market overnight. Shame it is limited in the number of additional boxes that can stream, I would have thought this should only be limited by the number of tuners available and not I use.

  11. @Neil – Which HDBT matrix brand are you using? I’m using an original HD anywhere one, but will be replacing it soon

  12. Was all ready to pull the trigger on a Sky Q install but might wait until its a little more mature… I do have some questions that hopefully the guys that have it installed can answer??

    1)Are you able to PIN Secure access by the mini’s so kids cannot watch movies with violent content?

    2)If you are not with Sky BB, can you still leverage the 5Ghz spectrum for wifi connectivity of boxes?

    3)Anyone know why you cannot opt for 2 x Sky Q boxes and 1 mini? Mother-in-law can have her own Box with HDisk and episodes of Taggart won’t start appearing on my EPG!!

    One interesting fact I found out regarding the LNB is that you can opt for a Hybrid version – this allows for SkyQ and Freesat. I did think that I could maintain my Sky HD box as well as SkyQ (using this method) however Sky will ‘kill off’ your HD box once the contract cuts over which is a shame 🙁

    Vangelis

  13. makes it very tempting …

    but we’d be starting from scratch (only TV we have at the moment is an EyeTV stick in an old MacBook) … we also have B4RN hyperfast broadband, which it would be nice to use …

    we’d want News, F1, programmes like Grand Designs & Horizon, movies if uncut & without interruption, Olympics & other such …

    installation would have to include a satellite dish so might cost a bit, plus TV & whatever other boxes (eg: HD) and the monthly charge might be £100 – ie: altogether it seems quite expensive …

    OTOH, could be wrong, because Sky’s blurb is incredibly difficult to decipher – for us novices, anyway …

  14. One practical thing to consider before installing Sky Q is how the cables from the new LNB will reach the STB.

    If both LNB feed cables are direct, then all is OK but should you be already using a loftbox to multiplex TV,FM,DAB and SAT onto a single cable that feeds a diplexor plate, then it will not work. This is because the new LNB has a different IF (Intermediate Frequency) that overlaps with the terrestrial TV band.

    Using an existing Stacker/Destacker will also not work with the new LNB.

    If you live in a house that has been pre-wired with a loftbox and aerial distribution system, as I do, then you may have to consider abandoning the loftbox system and use new direct LNB feed cables on the outside of the building instead.

  15. There are loft boxes / multi switches that are being released that are compatible with Sky Q. However I’m guessing that you will not be able to use a diplex faceplate to include the normal TV aerial etc, but hopefully saves changing your lnb and dish set up

  16. Whilst I like the fact that you can make a recording downstairs and watch it in your bedroom what I don’t like is the fact that you can no longer have separate planners. I’m on Virgin at the moment but I’m tempted by Sky….but at the moment my daughter can record her own set of programmes and is then able to record and delete of her own volition. With the new set up all of the recordings will be on one planer – the Sky Silver box….a step backwards surely…?

  17. @Dave – It’s not been a backwards step for us, but then we never had multiroom using two separate Sky boxes before getting Q. Individual planners seems like an obvious future software enhancement although its not been an issue in our house. I’d far rather see Sky add 3rd party apps like Netflix. Thanks,

  18. Given a scenario of comms room with 2x cat6 cabling to each room plus a single coax, the q box must go here because the external feeds from the dish stop here. Picture distribution over cat6 is not a problem but how do we get the remote control to work if it’s bluetooth?

  19. Great review most useful. Thanks

  20. @Tom – Thanks, appreciated.

  21. I would like to extend my internet into a garage from a wired connection from the back of my Sky Q min box and not the Main Sky Q box, is this possible? and if so how do you do it?

  22. Happy New Year!
    Adrian, i’m going to assume some things about your setup. Obviously alter your approach depending on your circumstances.
    1) ‘Main’ Sky Q box wirelessly connected to Sky hub
    2) Mini box wirelessly connected to Sky Q ‘main’ box
    3) As discussed above, Sky Q PowerLine has been disabled. (assuming this was a firmware update).

    You could run cat5 from back of mini box to switch or wireless access point in your garage to distribute internet to your devices.
    However, this is a lot of wireless ‘hops’ (garage device – wap – Sky Mini – Sky Q main – Sky Hub – Outside world!) so it may reduce your internet experience in the garage.

    Best option (again, assuming on use) is to get hold of a pair (or more) of Powerline Adapters, locate one near your Sky Hub/Router and locate the other in the garage. Done.

    Hope that helps.