Sky Q HDR: what you need to know

Sky Q
(Image credit: Future)

Good news, Sky Q subscribers: the UK streaming box is finally getting HDR support.

Sky had promised HDR support initially by the end of 2019, and it was with a heavy heart that we saw this deadline moved to 2020 instead – but the first batch of HDR content is finally here on Sky Q, as of May 27.

There are a few things still unexplained, though. For one, which Sky Q boxes are HDR compatible – and what support can Sky offer subscribers with older boxes not up to scratch for this new wave of HDR?

We know the first few HDR shows coming to the platform, with a big focus on nature programming – but for everything you need to know about Sky Q HDR, from the format used and shows announced to the confusion over hardware, read on below.

UPDATE: Certain Sky Q subscribers can now upgrade their boxes for HDR models, though not everyone can yet either. You can check exactly how to find out your Sky Q model number, what that means for HDR, and any and all upgrade options in our how to upgrade your Sky Q for HDR. (Note: there is a slight cost involved.)

Sky Q HDR explained

HDR, or ‘high dynamic range’ (to use its full title), designates a wider color palette and increased contrast over SDR (‘standard dynamic range’) TVs.

Most 4K TVs have some form of HDR support these days, even if it’s just the basic HDR10 standard. There are other, more advanced HDR formats, such as Dolby Vision and HDR10+, which include metadata to tweak your TV picture settings dynamically during a movie or episode of TV, but the regular ol’ HDR10 still offers a big boost in the richness and depth of color by itself. There's a reason TV streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus all support some form of HDR: it looks much better on the whole!

However, it seems that Sky Q isn't using any of these formats. The nature programming announced so far will utilize the HLG (hybrid log gamma) HDR format, popularized by the BBC and co-developed with Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK. 

Many BBC nature documentaries now use the HLG-HDR broadcast standard

Many BBC nature documentaries now use the HLG-HDR broadcast standard (Image credit: BBC)

HLG-HDR is a kind of dual-broadcasting format, which can display in an HDR color spectrum on HDR TVs while also converting to SDR for older, less capable televisions.

We've been told explicitly by a Sky representative that you'll need an HLG-compatible television. Many (but not all) HDR TVs support this format, which increasingly comes as standard in new sets, so it’s worth checking that your television is able to play in HLG before you worry about Sky Q HDR.

Sky Q HDR: what you can watch

It’s not a knockout lineup to start, but those of you with a hankering for the glory of the natural world – HDR being almost as good as the real thing – will be able to enjoy three new Sky Nature shows, including Malawi: Wildlife Rescue, Pridelands: Wilderness Reborn, and Gangs of Lemur Island.

In a press release for the announcement, we were told that, “Sky Nature is the very beginning of Sky Q’s HDR content, with much more to come throughout 2020 and into 2021.” Specifically, it sounds like we’re getting more Sky Nature content, as well as tantalizingly teased “Sky originals” and a fleet of “blockbuster movies on Sky Cinema.”

Does my Sky Q box support HDR?

Sky Q

Sky Q box (Image credit: Future)

Hopefully! Part of the reason HDR support took this long, it seems, was that Sky was having trouble getting HDR to work on older Sky Q models.

Ahead of the official announcement, a leaked press release stated that, “Our newer Sky Q 1TB UHD and 2TB boxes support HDR. Some of our older Sky Q boxes do not support HDR.” The official version smooths over this fact, though, and “some” isn’t overly specific about who can and can’t access HDR content. 

An engineer who spoke to Forbes suggests that compatible models will be those that come with an external power supply, while incompatible models will be those that don’t. 

You can check exactly how to find out your model number, what that means for HDR, and upgrade options in our how to upgrade your Sky Q for HDR. (Note: there is a slight cost involved.)

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.