What is Sky Stream and how does it work?

Dan Howdle | October 30th, 2023

Sky Stream

Although it's been around for a while now, Sky's alternative to a satellite dish – Sky Stream – continues to leave many baffled when it comes to what it can do, what it can't do, how it works, what you get, and what you don't get, especially when compared to Sky's older Sky Q satellite service.

In answering the question 'What is Sky Stream?' then, we'll be diving into all of those topics. You can read this whole guide through from start finish or, if you have a particular question, use the shortcuts below to jump to the right section. Now, without further ado…

Sky Stream overview

Sky has been delivering satellite TV to UK households since the 1980s. And while we've see a lot of background upgrades across that time, including launching new satellites into space, the idea has always been the same one: stick a dish on your home, use it to receive a signal to a set-top box, via a coaxial cable from the dish.

Sky Stream (and Sky Glass, which is basically just Sky Stream inside an actual 43" or 55" TV) is the first serious switch-up to Sky's basic offering in nearly 35 years. In a nutshell It offers most of Sky's services over the internet rather than via a satellite dish. There are some exceptions, and some important differences between Sky Stream and the satellite service Sky still offers. And we'll get to all of those in this guide.

How Sky Stream works

If you have a basic understanding of how Sky TV works, the answer is simple: It's Sky TV without a satellite dish. The only thing you'll need to watch Sky Stream is a Sky Stream subscription and a moderately fast internet connection. Obviously, if you're getting Sky Stream the best way to do so is with a Sky bundle that comes with broadband, but you can get Sky Stream as a standalone product if you wish.

Apart from not needing a satellite dish, the other major difference is in the set-top box, which goes from a comparatively hulking behemoth of a thing (Sky Q), to a teeny-tiny little 'Puck' small enough to tuck behind your television, even if it's wall-mounted. And that's what it's called too: The Sky Stream Puck.

Overview of the Sky Stream Puck

Here's a quick, straightforward overview of the Sky Stream Puck, its specs and what it's capable of:

Feature Specification
4K HDR support Yes
Dolby Atmos ready Yes
HDMI 2.1 Yes
Ethernet Yes
Wi-Fi Yes
Voice remote Yes
Dimensions 10.8 x 10.8 x 1.8cm
Warranty One-year
Colour Anthracite Black

Pros and cons of Sky Stream

Here's a quick look at the headline pros and cons when it comes to Sky Stream:

Pros

  • No satellite dish, simple installation
  • Sky Stream Puck is great
  • All channels are HD or better

Cons

  • Some channels unavailable
  • No large-scale storage/recording
  • Interface can be a little sluggish

How Sky Stream compares to Sky Q and Sky Glass

As mentioned above, there are a number of important differences between what is essentially three unique types of TV service that are currently offered by Sky. Sky Stream arrives to a small 'Puck' via the internet, Sky Glass comes with a TV which has the guts of said puck built into the television itself (so no set-top box at all), and Sky Q comes via satellite dish, has a huge set-top box and some features the other two don't.

To save you time and energy, here's a side-by-side comparison of the features of each. There's hopefully enough information in this table alone for you to decide which is the best service for you.

Feature Sky Stream Sky Glass Sky Q
Delivery method Internet Internet Satellite
Set-top box Sky Puck Built into TV Sky Q
TV recording/storage No No No
Apps Yes Yes Yes
4K HDR Yes Yes Yes
Dolby Atmos Yes Yes Yes
Channels 150+ 150+ 200+
Broadband speed required 25Mbps+ 25Mbps+ 3Mbps+
Minimum contract 18 months 48 months 18 months

Some important points of interest from this table:

  • Don't take channel counts at face value: Although there appears to be a vast difference in the number of channels you get with Sky Stream/Glass compared to Sky Q, this number is comprised mostly of +1 timeshift and SD (standard definition) channels that you won't find on Sky Stream/Glass
  • No recording on Sky Stream, but: There does exist a system by which you can earmark live TV shows and watch them later
  • Broadband speed matters: Sky Stream requires a minimum of 25Mbps to run smoothly. That won't be a problem for most households. However, if your home is particularly remote or rural and you can only get ADSL or very slow fibre, Sky Q might be your only option. Just something to consider
  • Sky Glass has a crazy-long contract: At 48 months (4 years) a Sky Glass contract sounds a bit nuts at first glance. Unfortunately it's the unavoidable side-effect of getting a TV bundled into your package. The 48 months essentially allows you to pay for that TV over four years in small instalments
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Sky Stream vs NOW TV

The observant among you may at some point have thought: Hang on, Sky already has a streaming service – it already has NOW TV. And yes, you would be right. However, there are a number of important differences between the two both in terms of technology and in terms of what you get. It would be fair to say, in actual fact, that NOW TV could fairly be categorised as a very cut-down version of Sky Stream, though admittedly NOW TV is considerably cheaper.

Let's take a look at the most important differences:

Feature Sky Stream NOW TV
Delivery Method Internet Internet
Set-top Box Sky Puck Various
TV Recording/Storage No No
Live TV Channels 150+ 11
On-Demand Content Yes Yes
Original Content Yes Yes
4K HDR Yes No
Contract length 18 months 30 days

Some important notes on aspects of this comparison:

  • Device count – NOW TV has an app on a plethora of devices, from streaming sticks, boxes like Apple TV, Apple and Android phones, laptops, games consoles, tablets and more. Conversely, Sky Stream is delivered via the Sky Stream Puck or to your mobile devices via the Sky Go app, where it has limited functionality
  • No comparison on channel count – NOW TV's job is to allow you to watch the 11 main Sky entertainment channels, for example Sky Atlantic, Sky Max and so on. Sky Stream is an all-in-one service that provides access to those, to most Freeview channels, and to a plethora of unique ones such as Asian and Indian channels
  • Original and on-demand – Both NOW TV and Sky Stream provide access to 'Sky Box Sets' – which is what Sky calls its catch-up service. There you'll find around 500 current and legacy TV shows including all those big blockbusters from Sky Atlantic and Sky Max you'll likely immediately reach for
  • Video and audio quality differ greatly – NOW TV is delivered in a less than HD (720p resolution), which looks pretty naff on a big telly. You'll have to pay extra for NOW TV Boost to watch in full HD (1080p), and you can't get 4K or 4K HDR content on NOW TV at all. Sky Stream on the other hand offers minimum 1080p, but you'll need to pay a little extra to watch content in 4K where available
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Channels

When you're talking in detail about 150+ channels, that's a huge guide in and of itself. Lucky for you it's one we've already produced, so rather than go into excruciating detail here, you can go and have a more detailed read as you please in our Sky Stream channels guide.

What you get

In broad strokes though, you'll get all of the Sky-branded channels, so Sky Arts, Sky Atlantic, Sky Challenge, Sky Comedy, Sky Crime, Sky Documentaries, Sky History, Sky History 2, Sky Max, Sky Nature, Sky Replay, Sky Sci-Fi, Sky Showcase, Sky Sports Mix, Sky Sports News, Sky Sports Racing and Sky Witness.

You'll also get all the Freeview channels you can think of, a wide selection of Asian and Indian channels and much more. See the page linked above for the full details.

What you don't get

Sky Stream doesn't currently allow channels that require an individual subscription. Apps are fine, we don't mean those. You'll be able to watch Netflix, Disney+ and all the rest on your Sky Stream Puck or Sky Glass TV. No, what we mean is unique channels like MUTV (Manchester United TV). Anything that requires a unique channel subscription doesn't currently work on Sky Stream – you'll need Sky Q for that for the time being.

And as mentioned earlier on in this guide, you'll not be able to watch +1 or SD (standard definition) channels on Sky Stream. Everything is HD or better, and the +1 timeshift channels are simply no longer necessary since you can watch almost anything broadcast recently as and when you please. Again, see our dedicated Sky Stream channels guide for the full details.

What we think

We think that for most people coming to Sky TV for the first time, or rejoining after a hiatus, Sky Stream is the right choice, and if you don't currently have a TV, Sky Glass becomes a great option too (though beware the four-year contract).

The advantages are substantial and the drawbacks small for most people. No dish required is the big one, but the small size of the Sky Stream Puck is also a big step up for those who want to maintain a clean look to their setup.

On the other hand, those with very slow internet and no way to make it faster, or those who absolutely must have a means to record programmes for posterity, Sky Q remains the only choice. Just bear in mind that Sky is already embarking on a 'soft' phase out of the Q technology whereby it stops promoting it actively to new customers, despite continuing to provide it should you be diligent in seeking it out.

Streaming is the future of TV. And those hanging onto 'seeing what's on' and flicking through live channels – that in itself is on its way out, slowly but surely. And believe it or not, watching what you want to watch when you want to watch it has always been what Sky is all about.

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