Sky Q EPG
To go alongside the hardware change, Sky has completely revamped its EPG for Sky Q. It's a massive and welcomed change. Gone is the the basic grid, in its place is a swish new vertical setup, with great animations and a more seamless way to mesh both live TV and on-demand.
Even things like how your recordings are stored have been improved. You can view them alphabetically if that's your thing or dive straight in and see them all with shiny new visual thumbnails.
Multiple recordings of the same show are nested and any recording you have yet to view, has a white dot next to it. Recordings are also ordered from newest first - though you can change to alphabetical if you really want to.
There's no clicking the 'i' button in the EPG anymore, either. Just slide (or click) to the episode you want and all its information is displayed at the top of the EPG grid. The live picture has switched from the top right corner, to the middle of the left panel. This is a sound move, as it means you have around four fifths of the display dedicated to the EPG.
The menu system will be familiar with anyone who has used Sky. There's sections for movies, sport, the Sky Store, kids and music. Music includes content from video-streaming site Vevo. A new section is Sky Boxsets. Again, Sky is blurring the line between on-demand content and live programming and boxsets offers a whole host of television shows ready to be watched.
Giving boxsets their own section makes them easier to find - this is a theme that's consistent with the new Sky setup - it constantly tries to offer up new content for you to watch.
One of the new areas is Top Picks. Here Sky touts its wares - there's a mixture of everything, from things you need to pay for (box office movies were front and centre) to interesting tidbits from other channels. This area isn't contextual, more a general best-of what Sky currently offers. Top Picks is also the default area the box heads to when you hit Home on the remote - it really really wants you to use this area of the service.
One section you won't be using much at the moment is Online Video. Even the name of it sounds like your grandad trying to explain the internet.
It's where you can munch on short-form content from YouTube and the like. It's a little half-baked, though - unless watching funny short video is your thing. The aforementioned linkup with Vevo in the Music section is a much better way to showcase online video.
There's also the ability to have a sidebar of apps where you can keep viewing your current programme, but also have information from apps, such as Sky Sports and Sky News.
It feels a little weird to view this sort of information on your TV rather than just using a smartphone or tablet, but Sky has continued to add functionality since launch such as track previews for Formula 1.
Sky has also recently added a 'goal alert' system, where you can set a notification to appear on the screen whenever someone scores in a game being shown on another channel.
With a single button press you can then switch to the channel in question to watch the event. This functionality is also being widened into other sports such as Formula One.
Another fun function is the ability to Airplay music through the box. The thinking behind this is, er, sound from Sky - your main TV is usually connected to the best sound system in the house, so why not allow users to stream their music through it.
The UI is remarkably simple to use - but there are some minor oddities that will take some getting used to.
An obvious example is the way the box handles hitting the end of a single recording. On the previous system you would hit Sky to go back to live TV or backup to go to your recordings and then to delete the show. The Sky Q just hits the end and, as far as we can tell, makes you go through the whole menu system, unless you swipe right and go to the last viewed channel and deal with the deletion later.
It's remarkable that you have to go this granular to pick fault, however, given the sheer level of complexity in terms of the features this is an intuitive and refined experience.
Welcome to My Q
If you want contextual recommendations and to see the heart of Sky's new system, then My Q is where you need to go. This section is the crux of Sky's new setup. It's here where you should be able to pick up any programme you have been watching and play it from where you left off, whether you are watching from the main box, one of the Sky Q Mini boxes or on the iPad.
Most of the time, this works great. But a word of warning: it only works if a programme has been recorded. So, any of your archived shows you can click on them, pause then watch elsewhere. When it comes to live TV, it won't work if you simply pause it. You have to click record, then pause.
My Q is also the place that tells you (somewhat strangely) what new series are available and gives you contextual programming ideas in the For You section. These are based on other things you are watching but also the time too - so it won't recommend you watch Mad Max: Fury Road before you have had your breakfast.
Strangely, when there was nothing in my My Q our system did say that there were connectivity issues. This does seem to be a teething issue but it does unnerve you a little.
My Q is also where the new Sky Q app comes alive. The app, which is available for both iOS and Android, is an extension of your Sky Q watching, but most of its functionality is limited to when you're in the house.
Setup is really quick. Head into it and, so long as you're connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your box, it'll take just a few seconds to recognise that there's a Sky Q setup ready to latch on to.
Once this happens, you are done. Strangely we didn't actually have to log into the app until we started watching a movie. It looks like the log-in process only actually kicks into gear when you try and view premium content. The log-in is the same as your current Sky account password.
You may have noticed that Sky Go has recently been given a makeover - and its look is very much like the Sky Q app. The design mirrors the new Sky Q setup and is really simple to use.
Unfortunately Fluid Viewing (Sky's marketing bumf for watching your stuff wherever you want) only works when you are within your home setup, so you can't watch things in this way on the go.
Instead, much like Sky Go, you download the show or movie to your iOS or Android device - which is another big feature worthy of a deeper look.
Sky Q 4K performance and content
If you've got a 4K TV, Sky Q is just about the best satellite TV service to show off all those extra pixels your set is packing. While streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been peddling 4K for some time now, Sky Q offers the most comprehensive 4K catalogue from a TV satellite subscription provider.
From the latest blockbuster releases to Sky Atlantic exclusives, Attenborough nature documentaries to Premier League football and the entire 2017 F1 season, there's hundreds of hours of UHD content available to Sky Q subscribers. There's even brand new releases, ready to be rented in 4K.
However, there's no dedicated 4K channels yet – movies and entertainment have to be downloaded before viewing (though the box intelligently lets you watch the beginning of a show quickly after starting a download as the rest of the download completes), while live sports in 4K have to be accessed through a red button menu or by scrolling through the myriad submenus within each genre viewing category.
It's a halfway home, but a sensible compromise for the time being – when watching 4K content on a sometimes patchy broadband connection, it's better to have a fully downloaded show ready to be viewed in all its pin sharp glory rather than juggling with a scaled streaming option that jumps wildly between resolutions. Just make sure you line up the hefty downloads in advance of settling down for them – they often run into the tens of gigabytes in size.
But it's worth the wait. With 10-bit color depth (though sadly lacking HDR visuals), we've been consistently impressed with the quality of the 4K footage we've seen so far from Sky Q.
'Side-loading' to a tablet or phone
Being able to transfer your recordings to your smartdevice is a feature that many have been seeking for years. Catch-up TV and streaming have been around for a long time on multiple services and Sky Go Extra allowed you to go a step further and download an amount of TV and films to your device to watch offline.
But what the Sky Q app does is take this process and make it feel integral to your experience rather than bolted on. It looks and behaves like the main box's functionality, and when you are out of range of your Q boxes and without a connection the offline functionality is clear and obvious.
Sky has done sterling work in securing a huge amount of content that you can side-load onto your phone or tablet for offline or streaming viewing. It's not everything - Channel 4 and BT's content being obvious examples.
When you open the app away from your home you'll see one of two messages - if you have a connection it will look like this:
Or if you are offline:
The streaming is great - you can watch catch-up for a great deal of content, or any content live streamed.
But it is the offline viewing that's the real clincher. If you have downloaded programmes or films to your Sky Q app on your device you can watch this even without a connection.
A minor point of note but you will have 48 hours to complete watching. Unlike Amazon's offline viewing, even if you go back online the licence doesn't renew.
These recordings sit in their own section and the playback is standard def but fine - with the annoying crappy sound quality of Sky Go solved. On a smartdevice the player is the familiar one, with those big old black bars.