Dan Howdle | August 10th, 2023
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? Here's our take for 2023, and boy has it been a big year for changes in the Sky TV space. Deep breath!
Here’s a quick look at what you can expect to find in a Sky TV package:
|£19 per month
|Number of channels
|Dolby Digital (surround or stereo), Dolby Atmos (with add-on)
|4K, UHD, HDR, 2160p, 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p
|Up to six channels (Sky Q), No recording options (Sky Stream)
|Up to 2TB (Sky Q), Storage for apps only (Sky Stream)
|Satellite dish (Sky Q), Streaming Puck (Sky Stream)
|TV only, TV and broadband
|Sky Q box, Sky Stream Puck
Sky offers only one basic package – Sky Entertainment – 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 before you can really decide what else you want to add on. Furthermore, the channels you get will vary slightly depending whether you choose Sky Q (being phased out and delivered via a satellite dish to a set-top box), or Sky Stream (where Sky services are delivered via a streaming device, in this case the Sky Stream Puck).
Sky Atlantic – Sky Atlantic is the jewel in the crown when it comes to Sky's offered channels, and you'll get it whether you're on Sky Q or Sky Stream. Until recently you had to subscribe to Sky TV (or NOW TV, Sky's other, less fully-featured streaming service), but it's currently being offered as part of BT's Entertainment and Big Entertainment packages, which is a welcome development. However, you can't get it via Virgin Media or TalkTalk, or indeed, any other provider. In terms of programming, Succession, Yellowjackets, Gangs of London and House of the Dragon are exclusive to Sky Atlantic to name but a few. Sky Atlantic remains the place to watch these and many other triple-A titles first without buying the DVD or the streamable version via something like Apple iTunes or Amazon Prime. Even if you buy the series you like individually in this way (expensive) you'll still have to wait till Sky has finished showing every episode before it's available.
Sky Box Sets – Previously only available as a paid-for add-on, Sky Box Sets is also now included with Sky Entertainment. This collection of over 500, mostly excellent, TV series from Sky, HBO, AMC and more means you’ll never be without something to watch. Watch, for example, Succession, Billions, Fortitude, The Affair, Big Little lies, Dexter and many, many, many more.
Netflix – As a bonus, Sky Entertainment customers also now get free access to Netflix as part of their package, with no additional requirement for a subscription payment. You can watch all Netflix content for free on any device where you watch your Sky service, from your TV to your phone. Do bear in mind that this is the basic tier of Netflix, though. This means you'll only be able to watch on one device, and you won't have access to high-end audiovisual features like 4K, HDR or Dolby Atmos.
It's worth noting though, that if you already have a higher-tier Netflix subscription and you opt for a Sky bundle that includes one, you will be able to knock the cost of your Sky Netflix subscription off of that of your existing one (about five quid last time we looked). So there's some benefit there even for households already subscribed to Netflix.
Indian and Asian channels – Sky includes an almost-inconceivable amount of stuff in its Sky Entertainment package (whether via satellite dish or streaming puck), including 19 previously subscription-only Indian and Asian channels for free. 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.
It should be noted that Sky is steadily phasing out TV via a satellite dish, and therefore it's making it hard and harder for customers to get a Sky Q-based TV deal. They are still about under the guise of Sky Q Lite (same boxes) at the time of writing, but we don't expect they will be this time next year.
Any Sky Q (Lite) deal you go for right now comes with the Sky Q 1TB box as standard. 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 150 hours of high definition (HD) and 500 hours of standard definition (SD) footage. If you want more storage, you can upgrade to the Sky Q 2TB box for an extra fee.
1TB should be enough for most customers, especially considering the fact that you can watch anything on all the main channels from the last 30 days using Sky Catch-up without needing to use any space on your box. You will need an internet connection to watch Sky Catch-up, mind you, so bear that in mind and consider buying a broadband and TV bundle.
You can record three programmes while watching a fourth on the Sky Q 1TB box, which sounds somewhat unnecessary to us, but it's there nonetheless if you need it. And the Sky Q 2TB box offers the ability to record six channels while watching a seventh, which is even more unlikely a requirement, especially with so many options for watching TV via Catch-Up or On Demand. You will also be able to watch TV in Ultra HD for shows and movies available in 4K, as it now comes as standard with both Sky Q 1TB and Sky Q 2TB.
Sky's diminutive (little) streaming Puck has one big advantage right out the gate. It's tiny – about 1cm by 10cm. You can reasonably tuck it behind most wall-mounted TVs, so you'll never need to actually see it or worry about where to store it. If you're using it over wifi, the fact that you don't need a satellite dish for Sky Stream means you're only going to need the included power cable and the included HDMI cable. It's all very neat.
Mainly though, its biggest selling point is that you won't need a satellite dish, just a reasonably competent internet connection – also available from Sky and there's money to be saved by bundling. The little 'Puck' is capable of 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos, but you'll need to pay more to have these added onto your package (in typical, rather cynical Sky style).
Here's a quick look at some of the Sky Stream Puck's specs and features:
We won't go into excruciating detail on this one – not need. Sky Glass is the same as Sky Stream with one important difference. Well, two, but the main one gives rise to the second. It comes with a TV. Yes, and actual physical screen with what is essentially a Sky Stream Puck built into it.
That other difference? The contract length. If you opt for Sky Glass, you're opting for a service that includes a moderately expensive television, and it's going to take Sky quite a long time to recover the cost of that. Which is why Sky Glass contracts are an excruciatingly long 48 months (four years!). Whether this is the right choice for you or not, only you can decide.
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 for movie fans, but with Sky Box Sets and Netflix already included in the Sky Signature Pack, there will be a lot of duplication here, so we’d advise thinking carefully before signing up.
Does this add-on not speak for itself? Football, cricket, rugby, boxing, NFL, golf, Formula 1. You know if you love the 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.
Sky offers the full suite of TNT Sports channels as an add-on for a pretty substantial additional monthly cost. Sport is by far the most expensive type of programming to add to your package. If you haven't heard of TNT Sports it may be because until very recently it was called BT Sport.
For very little, Sky will let you bolt on not only 11 additional kids channels but also on-demand access to over 5,000 episodes of classic and current kids' TV shows. If you do have children in the household, this is a no-brainer.
With Sky Q, multiroom TV can be achieved with the addition of one or more 'Sky Q Minis'. These tiny little boxes plug into your additional TV and use your main Sky Q box to stream your content via wifi. It's all very clever. You'll need to specify the number of Minis you want when you sign up, and bear in mind they do cost extra.
With Sky Stream you'll need to do two things to get multiroom. First, you'll have to add on Sky's 'Whole Home pack' (£12 per month at the time of writing). Second, you'll have to buy additional Sky Stream Pucks at around £40 per puck. Simply enough, but potentially it's going to add up.
If you want these technologies being pumped out of your set-top box or puck, you'll need to pay extra for them. There's a narrow justification for this from Sky's end, we suppose. Higher-end audio and high resolution video requires more download speed (bandwidth) and causes more strain on their servers (the machines sending you the video). That costs money, and it's not entirely unlike competing services which also demand you choose a top-tier package level to get these high-tech features.
Sky offers both standard and fibre broadband packages that you can choose to bundle up with your Sky TV package. 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 between different providers. Best advice we can give is to always consider a bundle first.
Sky is unique in offering TV on its own. This is largely down to the fact Sky’s TV service still comes through a satellite dish. In comparison, Virgin Media TV comes through the same cable as its broadband, which is why you cannot get Virgin Media TV without broadband.
Not only can you just sign up for Sky TV only, but these solo packages work in exactly the same ways as the ones that come bundled with broadband: you get the Entertainment package, then you add on anything else you want, from UHD and Dolby Atmos to Sky Sports. Simple.
Sky continues to lead the pack when it comes to digital TV. With the Entertainment package now including Netflix, Sky Box Sets, and Indian and Asian channels as standard, as well as the 30-day catch-up service. It presents an extremely impressive set of services, whether via a satellite dish (Sky Q) or over the internet (Sky Stream).
Ultimately, Sky offers a lot for not much – which also happens to be what just about all of us want.
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