Hands on: Sky Player on Windows Media Center

Windows Media Centre - soon to have Sky Player
Windows Media Centre - soon to have Sky Player

Although a faulty internet connection stopped the full Sky Player over Windows Media Center experience being shown off at the Windows 7 launch conference, TechRadar was given some behind the scenes access to take a longer look at the forthcoming service.

The build is still technically a beta, although it worked flawlessly throughout our testing and certainly can't be a long way from public release.

Griff Parry, Sky's Director of On Demand explained that the final few tweaks were being made and that the product was close to making Windows 7 launch date, but would certainly be ready by the end of 2009.

For those people who have used the current Sky Player app, the more intuitive interface offered by Windows Media Center may well come as a pleasant surprise.

Windows media centre - a nice gui

WMC's interface is slick and effective, offering many entry points to the Sky service and, perhaps as importantly, an easy way to browse through other television services; currently limited to Freeview and Freesat but presumably not for much longer.

This means that the search functionality is extremely useful, allowing not only programme search but also by things like actor and genre.

Back to the Sky Player itself and the first thing that you notice is the simple sign in.

The first display screen is arranged by genre – kids, movies, entertainment, lifestyle and culture, news and documentaries.

Genres in sky player on wmc

Clicking into a category will bring up a 'highlights' page, which, as you may expect, parades the highest profile programmes as images, along with options to see the channels, categories and A-Z listings screens.

Clicking on a programme brings up a summary screen which allows you to launch the player.

Summary page

The quality of the programme is okay but not spectacular, with a maximum streaming rate of 1.8Mbps down to 1.1Mbps for the live channels and 1.4 Mbps for the On Demand catch up television.

The search within the Sky section is as functional as the search offered at the top level, and you can also search through free content and rental programmes.

In terms of payment, for Sky subscribers with multiroom or the top broadband package the Sky Player is part of the package and you can watch the streamed stations and on demand on your computers.

Sky player on wmc

For Sky subscribers without multiroom or the top broadband an extra fee will be payable in order to get access to all of your content. That fee is going to drop to £5 ahead of the launch.

For non-Sky subscribers, you will need to buy a package to access the non-free content – although you need not get a satellite dish installed. The package prices are in line with the equivalent satellite services.

It's a nice looking service, although the lack of an HD option is, of course, a little disappointing at the moment.

Sky insists that it will roll out better quality pictures soon, with changes expected early next year, but expect it to be a little longer before you see the Sky HD brand being attached to the Windows Media Centre.

Windows media centre with sky player

This is just a part of TechRadar's massive Windows 7 week - you can check out even more content on our dedicated Windows 7 Week page.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.