Sky pretty much never stops tinkering with the formula when it comes both to how and what is offered in its market-leading TV packages. That's why at least once a year it's a good idea to stop, take stock and ask: is Sky TV any good?
A couple of years ago, back in 2016, Sky's director of new products, Andrew Olsen, said that Sky Q – Sky's then-new set-top box – was set to deliver the "UK's broadest Ultra HD service". Well, that hasn't happened. Not only have both Netflix and Amazon Prime built far greater momentum when it comes to 4K Ultra HD content, Virgin Media – Sky's number one rival when it comes to subscription TV – has done a great deal of catching up.
Sky TV is under attack from all sides, then. And yet it's just about holding its own through a combination of radical changes to how its packages are offered, and an evolution on the horizon in the form of the ability to have the same service without a satellite dish – on the way in 2019. Let's not worry about that for the moment, though, and instead look at how things are right now.
As of January 2018, Sky has either simplified or overcomplicated the way it offers TV (depending on how you look at it). Previously, it offered different 'named' bundles, such as Sky Variety, Family or Complete. Now it offers only one basic package – The Sky Entertainment Pack – which then allows you to add on just the things you want/need at the checkout.
It's a pretty good system, all in all, but one that still relies on you knowing what channels you're going to get in the Entertainment Pack before you can really decide what else you want added on. Luckily, we have a tool that can show you exactly that.
Sky includes an almost-inconceivable amount of stuff in its Entertainment Pack, but worthy of special mention in how it has changed its basic offering, Sky now offers all its previously subscription-only Indian and Asian channels for nothing, for everyone. So if that's what your household enjoys, or if you've never sat and enjoyed a Bollywood movie before then, well, you're in for a treat.
Sky makes things a lot simpler than Virgin Media when it comes to getting TV on its own. We reckon that some of that is down to the fact Sky comes through a satellite dish, where Virgin Media comes through the same cable they supply your broadband with. There's more 'in it' for Virgin Media to tie the two inextricably together, and therefore they seem to make it more difficult to have them apart.
No such problem with Sky. Not only can you just sign up for TV on its own, but Sky's TV-only packages work in exactly the same ways as the ones that come bundled with broadband: you get the Entertainment Pack, then you add on anything else you want. Simple.
The box you'll get with any Sky TV deal you go for right now comes with the Sky Q 1TB box. The '1TB' stands for one terabyte, referring to how much TV you can record onto it before it runs out of room. In this case, it's about 500 hours of standard definition (SD) content or about 100 hours of high definition (HD) stuff.
Funny, isn't it, how Sky harps on about HD this and HD that in all its marketing, then when it comes to storage space it's all SD, because SD gives you a bigger number? Yes, funny. Anyhow, 1TB should be enough for a while, especially considering the fact that something called 'Sky Catch-up' records all the main channels for you and stores them for 30 days without using any space on your box. You will need an internet connection to watch Sky Catch-up, mind you, so bear that in mind and choose a deal with broadband included.
You can record three programs while watching a fourth, which sounds somewhat unnecessary to us, but it's there nonetheless if you need it. What the basic 1TB Sky Q won't do is deliver content at 4K (ultra-HD) resolution. That won't matter to many. Sky appears to be banking on that not mattering to many, in fact – long gone are those claims we mentioned at the start that Sky would have the most comprehensive 4K offering.
It's not a surprising tack, really, when you consider that back in 2012-2014 Sky was the first to offer a dedicated 3D channel. 3D died and Sky was left burned to some extent. But we don't think you can compare something like 3D, which requires glasses and your full attention, to resolution, which just makes everything look prettier.
Virgin Media's V6 set-top box offers 4K capability and comes with every package Virgin offers. Meanwhile, if you want 4K from Sky, you'll have to plump for the 2TB Sky Q Box, and that will cost you an eye-watering £200 up-front. Yowzers! And to be honest, if you love 4K that much, you'll spend that £200 on a 4K blu-ray player instead.
Of all the bolt-ons offered by Sky, this is the one that verges on 'must-have' status. With the Box Sets add-on, you get 400 so-called 'box-sets'. Apart from arriving digitally as opposed to in a box bursting with discs, that's exactly what they are: every season of every one of 400, mostly excellent, series from Sky, HBO, AMC and more.
You'll only pay a few extra pounds each month to access this, but for that you'll get access to literally thousands of pounds worth of triple-A series. Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones (on and off), Big Little Lies, True Detective, Blacklist, Vinyl, Bounty Hunters, Fortitude, Riviera, Dexter, Grey's Anatomy and, best of all, Ross Kemp's Extreme World. And about 390 others.
Sky Cinema (previously referred to as Sky Movies) is Sky's perennial movie offering. It consists of 11 movie channels showing movies around the clock, plus access to around a thousand movies on-demand (you'll need an internet connection) at any given time.
It's not all new stuff. To keep things fresh, Sky likes to rotate all the classics throughout the year as well as making bunches of films available around certain themes. For example, when a new Bond film is coming out, Sky Cinema will often put out some of the Bond films to date to watch for free. Maybe even all of them. Or in mid-February, you'll find there is invariably a 'Valentine' collection.
Sky Cinema is a worthwhile add-on, but pricier than Box Sets. If you already have a subscription to Netflix and Amazon Prime, there will be a lot of duplication here, too, so think carefully before signing up.
Does this add-on not speak for itself? Football, cricket, golf, Formula 1. You know if you love sport enough to pay the large monthly fee on this one. It costs about twice as much as Sky Cinema thanks to the extortionate licensing fees Sky has to pay, primarily for the Premier League.
For very little, Sky will let you bolt on not only 11 additional kids channels but also on-demand access to over 4,500 episodes of classic and current kids' TV shows. If you do have children in the household, this is a no-brainer.
This is like the exact reverse of when we recently updated our Virgin Media TV review. All the complexity was in their bundles, Sk meanwhile only offers the TV we've already talked about up to this point, while adding various levels of broadband and home phone on top.
There are a few good reasons you might want to bundle up (one bill, less hassle etc.) but the number one reason has to be cost. Bundles are notoriously cheaper compared to what you'd have to pay if you separated out broadband, TV and phone. Best advice we can give is always consider a bundle first.
It's fair to say that Virgin Media has done a lot of catching up over the last couple of years. On the digital side, meanwhile, services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have encroached heavily on what was once Sky TV's prime stomping ground. Even Sky Sports, what would once have been considered Sky's holiest of holies, is having giant, bloody pieces torn out of it by BT Sport.
Nonetheless, Sky's Box Sets, kids TV, free Asian and Indian channels and 30-day catch-up facility keep it ahead of the game in most areas. Next year, Sky will be offering its full services entirely via the internet (no dish), and it will be interesting to see if it can transform its services at that time to somehing leaner and more future-proof than it has right now.
Ultimately, Sky offers a lot for not much – which also happens to be what just about all of us want.
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