Sky's evolution of the set-top box can't come soon enough

Sky's revolution of the set-top box couldn't come sooner
Sky's set top set for massive changes

Sky isn't one to shy away from embracing new technology. In the quarter of a century it has been selling satellite signals to the UK, it has had a number of firsts.

It brought digital TV to a world wallowing in analogue; it introduced hard drive recording when many were still recorded shows on to VHS; and it currently offers more HD channels than any other platform. Oh, and you can even view things in 3D if you don't like your eyes.

But news this week that Sky may be looking to overhaul its set-top box into something that will embrace the cloud, proves only one thing - reliance on a set-top with a hard drive in a world overrun by internet TV dongles and bargain boxes is becoming an increasingly archaic idea.

One of the best moves Sky made in recent years was bringing Now TV to market. The streaming kit is proving to be a popular way for non Sky subscribers to get premium television for not much money at all. Hook it up to your internet connection and you don't have to worry about setting recordings or worrying your out of hard-drive space. It's all in the cloud, ready for you when you want it.

Apart from a few recent technical niggles - where streaming was unavailable - it's brought Sky to a whole new user base, one that isn't going to sign up to a contract anytime soon but will stick around long enough to devour the many boxsets on offer through the service.

Sky set-top plans

The new set-top is rumoured to use the cloud, which means you have the advantage of programme synching - where you can watch a show on your TV and continue where you left off on, say, a smartphone.

This is a sound idea but Sky won't be the first to offer it - not by a long way. It's something Netflix already offers, as does many of the new broadcasting wave of internet services.

The signs of this cloud technology being revolutionaty aren't great, either. If rumours are correct, users will have to upload their saved programmes to the cloud - instead of doing something simple like ticking a box to allow you to stream a show from your hard drive wherever you want.

Users of Sky's Anytime+ will be familiar with having to download shows to their hard drive to stream them. But having to 'upload' or 'download' anything feels cumbersome and a far cry of the seamless streaming that's currently on offer from Sky's rivals, or even what you get with Sky Go.

Then there's 4K. This is something Sky will want to be part of but, again, it won't be offering it first because Netflix already allows you to stream 4K content, for no extra charge, as long as your internet connection can handle it.

Any major overhaul for Sky will be welcomed by its users but with more and more companies offering premium on-demand shows for not much money, it's got to be clever in how it presents itself.

It feels like the days of relying on hefty subscriber charges are coming to an end, regardless of the amount of movies and sport that's on show.

Sky knows it can no longer rely on being first to technical innovations to sell its platform - with Now TV it sold its box cheap and pushed the fact that for not much money at all anyone could get access to premium TV channels such as HBO.

The new STB, codenamed Ethan, is rumoured to come out in 2016. By this time, Amazon TV will have long launched in the UK. Apple will also no doubt have reimagined its Apple TV, offering a more substantial package. And don't expect Google Chromecast to disappear, that is a service that will grow into a fully fledged Android TV behemoth.

For Sky to compete, it will need to make its service essential again. 4K could well be the answer here - offering up more channels than anyone else - but that's a huge gamble, as it relies on the majority of its subscribers to upgrade their TV sets in just two years.

Whatever Sky does eventually end up doing, it will be hoping its next-gen box cements the company as an broadcast innovator.

Let's just hope two years isn't too long to wait for such a machine makeover.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.