It's no secret that Sky is on a mission to convert a significant number of its customers to Sky HD – not just for the extra £10 a month it brings in, but to put the Sky+HD box in their homes.
It's a significantly more powerful digital TV recorder than previous Sky+ models and the next round of customer figures is expected to reveal a massive increase in Sky homes with access to its abilities.
At the same time, the 10-year-old Sky Guide is being replaced with a new look that's intended to make it easier to navigate, but it's more than a fancy skin; Sky has rewritten the operating system from the ground up to kill off some long-standing bugs and open the door to new features which will take advantage of the network and USB ports, as well as traditional satellite.
Next stop: the Sky Networked Home of 2012. A lengthy promotional video at the IPTV World Forum demonstrated the direction that Sky is focusing on, and although Griff Parry, Sky's Director of Online, was at pains to point out that the video "is very much a concept and not a timeline", many details of the company's plans were laid out in a lengthy animated scenario.
Adding in the internet
Sky's networked home vision is one of multiple boxes connected to the satellite dish, to each other and – most importantly – to the internet, bringing the host of improvements that IPTV (internet protocol TV) can bring.
Currently, the biggest problem of largely being a satellite broadcasting platform is that it is difficult for Sky to provide a truly operational on-demand service. However, in the hybrid, networked home concept, this problem is neatly side-stepped by offering not only an IPTV solution that could feasibly offer a massive library of film and television on demand, but keep the satellite dish that makes bandwidth-hogging HD pictures much easier to bring into the home, without clogging up the broadband connection.
Adding this service is what Parry describes as 'closing the circle', saying: "We have been open in our desire to close the circle and provide this type of functionality."
TV sharing and roaming EPGs
The second key benefit of Sky's network idea is that it would provide a central hub for all recorded programmes, allowing people to watch what they have recorded in the living room in any other room with a set-top box. Currently Sky's multiroom does not offer multiple recording devices, but if you can set and watch your recordings from any box then that becomes less of an issue, with on-demand access helping to fill any gaps caused by the limits to the number of tuners.
Another major part of Sky's network home concept is roaming EPGs, essentially allowing you to customise your programme guide in a number of ways and install family controls to make sure your children can only access the television that you consider suitable.
Along with that, Sky also believes that recommendations based on your viewing habits, or by your friends and customisation of the entire look and feel will be possible. Kids who so desire will be able to have High School Musical backgrounds, and social networking widgets could also feature.
Sky on portable devices
One of the most interesting features aired was that you could be able to download your recorded television quickly and simply to a portable device in order to watch it on the go. "There are rights issues with this, but Sky is always confident of being able to negotiate in these situations," said Parry, when pushed on the age-old problem of legality.
Sky's vision saw a mobile phone being able to access what was on the shared planner and download it – using a wireless connection. The likes of Archos already have docks that allow people to record programmes and watch them back on a portable device, but content providers are suspicious of the idea.
The Sky Networked Home idea would also take advantage of some of Sky's current online tools, such as the ability to set recordings from the Sky website or through an iPhone application, and the on-demand functionality of the Sky Player would be integrated into the home.
Sky is obviously concerned about over-promising on when it can deliver its networked home, and it does have problems like the lack of an Ethernet connection on its non-HD boxes to get around. But the company seems to have settled on a direction, and will presumably now focus on delivering its vision.
First published in What Satellite and Digital TV
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