Hold the celebrations…
Happy Birthday, Sky Q. Today, February 9, marks a year since Sky’s latest pay-TV platform was introduced to the first UK adopters, with Q bringing Sky into the era of connected content and on-demand viewing. Well, sort of…
At launch it was an incomplete platform, but one that promised constant evolution towards the goal of being the only TV service you’d need in your life. A year on, however, there are still a number of features missing. Major features, too – ones that could transform the service from a solid update on the dated Sky+ HD to that all-powerful option Q was claimed to be.
We’re not just talking a bigger, more blockbuster-focused movies library either. Sky Q promised a lot, and while it's evolved greatly overly the past 12 months – among other things we’ve now got 4K content – it’s still coming up short in a number of areas.
So, what are we waiting on? Well, here’s hoping that by the time the platform turns two, this lot will have been added to the mix.
1. More apps
Just like your smartphone or tablet, Sky Q is supposed to be the stomping ground for a whole fleet of entertainment-boosting, content-adding, experience-enhancing apps. When it launched with YouTube and Vevo in tow things looked promising; the trouble is that things haven’t really kicked on since then.
With Sky’s might and well over half a million homes already rocking Sky Q boxes, developers should be queuing up to have their apps added to the service – and not just video-centric options either, but all entertainment.
There’s no reason why your Sky Q box couldn’t mimic your Apple TV box and Amazon Fire TV Stick in supporting all manner of TV-friendly fitness apps and even games. It would give the service a more well-rounded home entertainment feel, and make the whole Sky experience a lot more sticky. There are specific apps that we’re still waiting on too. Which brings us to our next point…
2. Integrated Netflix support
Your Sky Q box should be the only box you need to connect to your TV, and that means it needs to play nice with all of the big content providers out there – even the ones that require a subscription.
At launch Sky hinted that the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime could be brought to the Sky Q box in the future, while remaining non-committal on their arrival. A year on, we’re no closer to their introduction to the Sky Q app roster, and it’s starting to get frustrating.
The foundations are already there, sort of. Sky customers can add BT Sport channels to their available EPG, and that requires paying someone else. It’s time, then, that Sky accepted it’s not the only company to which users are willing to pay money to get content.
Yes, having a Netflix or Amazon Prime app on your Sky Q box might make you a little more sceptical about your Sky Movies subscription, but the convenience of having all your connected content in one place – especially when that place is the biggest screen in the house – would be enough to keep most people on board.
3. Voice search
It’s not unreasonable to expect something that was promised to you, and for early adopters of Sky Q one pledge that remains unfulfilled is the ability to control your Sky set-top box simply by talking to it.
Voice search, much like that found on the Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV boxes, was promised at the start, but things are yet to progress – there’s even a dedicated button on the Sky Q remote that currently acts as nothing more than a nagging reminder on this key missing feature.
Sky has promised (again), that the feature will be introduced at the start of 2017. This loose timeframe is particularly ambiguous, however, and with February already nearing its midway point, asking your Sky Q box to find you Cast Away remains a fruitless task that’ll make you look as mad as Tom Hanks talking to himself.
It’s great that Sky is one of the first major broadcasters to take 4K seriously, with hundreds of movies, box sets and even live sports broadcasts now supporting the visually superior standard. But there’s already TV tech out there that offers a more dramatic, noticeable step up in image quality, and that tech is HDR.
High dynamic range content is already offered by a number of Sky’s rivals, most notably Amazon Prime, but Sky has confirmed that it doesn’t plan to introduce the blacks-deepening, image-enhancing tech anytime soon.
Last summer, the broadcast giant said it was waiting for agreed standards to emerge before it finally took the plunge on HDR.
“We will always aim to offer customers the highest possible picture quality, and we’ll take a view on HDR once the standards are finalised by the industry,” the company stated. “The specifications for HDR in live TV have not been finalised yet.”
5. A broader range of widgets
Just like the platform’s limited apps option, Sky’s promise of a growing widget list designed to enhance your overall viewing experience has failed to materialise.
Intended to enhance your experience by offering up additional content that doesn’t interrupt your primary viewing, Sky Q’s widgets are still limited to few tasks beyond keeping tabs on the weather, following news headlines or checking the footie scores.
And there are real possibilities for growth too. The Sky Sports widget, which is there, is a brilliant, deep addition – albeit one that requires a fair few button presses. If there were more options like this, Sky Q would be a much more well-rounded platform for everyone.
6. A more stable remote
Replacing the iconic Sky remote that had been part of the furniture in many living rooms for the past decade was always going to be a tough ask. With its touch skills and rounded, ergonomic design, the Sky Q flicker offered much promise – but damn, is it frustrating.
For the most part the remote’s touch-sensitive circle is a great addition, and one that lets you speedily skip through lengthy EPGs and movie listings in double-quick fashion. The touch-sensitive play/pause, fast-forward and remind buttons, however, are an absolute nightmare.
It’s almost impossible to place your remote down without sending your movie on a spoiler-filled skitter through the next 12 minutes of action. Did you manage to finally place the remote in a non-reactive manner? Don’t move. Even a slight sofa shuffle will cause your action to pause, or rewind back through those ads you just skipped.
7. A more intelligent My Q
My Q is supposed to be the heart of the new Sky system. Sadly, it still lacks the sort of finesse that makes the likes of Netflix and Amazon’s algorithmic-based show selections a fuss-free way of discovering new content.
The day-one expectation was that My Q would learn what shows and movies you like and make detailed, user-specific recommendations based on your past viewings and show ratings. This has failed to happen, however.
My Q isn’t without its merits – features such as the ability to tee-up the next episode in downloaded series and let you pick up paused content on any other device are brilliant – but it’s all still very much user-dependant. There are no AI-enhanced smart selections or recommendations.
It’s like a fitness tracker with a poor companion app – it’ll help you discover the content you have, but not push you to enhance and expand your viewing horizons.
8. Integrated Alexa support
Okay, so this one’s a long shot, but we can dream can’t we? If Sky’s still stalling on adding its own voice search skills, why not simply build in support for existing services?
Thanks to the Echo smart speaker, Amazon’s Alexa has quickly risen to be the voice-controlled smart assistant of choice for many manufacturers, popping up in everything from smartphones to cars and wearables to fridges. And it could revolutionise how you interact with your Sky Q box too.
Being able to say things like “Alexa, ask Sky to download The Revenant” or “Alexa, ask Sky to record Arsenal vs Everton” would save a dozen or so button presses, and speed up the whole on-demand TV process considerably.