Sky Stream provides full access to Sky’s premium content without the need for a dish, or the need to buy a Sky Glass TV
- Smaller and less obtrusive than Sky Q
- Flexible contracts on core content
- Uses less electricity
- Rewinding and fast-forwarding isn’t particularly responsive
- Not as many channels as Sky Q
- Some streaming niggles
UPDATE: Sky has announced that its personalisation features are arriving in a big update starting from 1 February 2023. The updates, which make up part of the firm’s Entertainment OS 1.1 update, improve various parts of the the Sky Stream UI, and include the addition of the long-awaited Personalised Playlist feature.
This allows users to create up to five personal playlists, one for each member of the family, and a further universal playlist that everyone can add to.
In addition to the personal playlist, there will be a new “Cast & Crew rail” on Show pages that allow you to see what other movies and TV shows the show’s actors and directors have been involved in.
There’s a new voice command, too. Say “Play The Last of Us” and Sky Stream should pick up where you left off. You can also highlight what you want to watch onscreen, hold the voice button down and say “Play” instead of clicking on the remote.
Our full review of Sky Stream continues below
When Sky Stream finally launched at the back end of 2022 I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I thought, here’s a new Sky TV product I can get behind. Unlike Sky Glass, it isn’t hampered by mediocre TV hardware, nor is it overpriced. It simply delivers what Sky has always done best: premium, UK-focused premium TV content, including Sky Sports, in an easily accessible manner.
In a nutshell, Sky wants Sky Stream to be the Sky Q of the 2020s – the best product on which to experience premium UK TV. Some might say it’s too late to the party, that other manufacturers are doing a better job of this already, that it should have delivered a streaming-only, fully 4K capable product well before now, and that may well be true.
But an integrated approach to streaming that marries cloud recording technology (more on which later) with access to Sky’s flagship TV offerings in full 4K, means it’s unique among its peers.
READ NEXT: Sky Glass review
Sky Stream review: What you need to know
If you’ve already bought into Sky’s streaming service via Sky Glass, you’ll already be clued up on the Sky Stream hardware. The main differences are that you don’t have to own a Sky Glass TV to get one and neither do you have to mount a satellite dish to the outside of your house to access Sky TV. Unlike Virgin’s Stream TV box, you don’t have to have Sky broadband, either; the Sky Stream will work with any TV and any broadband service but it’s best if the TV supports 4K Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, as this is the content that will help you get the most out of the device. In addition, the Stream supports HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, so most of the major HDR standards are covered.
Physically, though, it’s identical: a low-profile plastic box that stands 18mm tall and 110mm square. It has the Sky logo stamped into the top, a small rectangular LED on the bottom front edge to indicate status, a power/reset button set into the base surrounded by a rubber pad to prevent it from slipping around, and a selection of ports on the rear. Here, you’re provided with one HDMI 2 output, an Ethernet socket, a DC power input and a digital terrestrial TV aerial connector that Sky says isn’t usable.
The box the product is delivered in is just as unassuming as the Stream itself. It’s all recycled, brown cardboard and contains the Stream itself plus the same backlit remote control that’s supplied with Sky Glass, an HDMI cable, 5V USB power adapter and cable.
Sky Stream review: Price and competition
Prices for the Sky Stream start at £26 per month for the basic service if you agree to an 18-month contract or, if you’d rather not tie yourself down, it’s £29 per month to access the service on a rolling contract that you can cancel at any time. This gives you access to the basic package, which includes Sky Ultimate TV and a subscription to Netflix Basic – that’s the basic 720p, ad-supported package, by the way, so don’t get too excited.
Upgrading to standard Netflix HD costs an additional £4 per month and Netflix Premium adds £8 per month. If you already have a Netflix subscription you can keep paying that separately if you want but you’re better off transferring the billing over to Sky so you don’t have to pay over the odds for it. If you’re already paying Sky, there’s no sense in also paying Netflix £16 per month when you could halve that.
Of course, there isn’t much point in paying for Sky Stream if you’re not going to make the most of its premium content offerings and these add further to the cost. For many, Sky Sports will be the main pull of Sky Stream and this can be added for £25/mth (at the time of writing it was on offer for £20/mth) on an 18mth contract or £27/mth on a 31-day rolling contract.
BT Sport can be added for £30/mth on a 31-day rolling contract, Sky Cinema is £11 more per month (£13/mth rolling) and Sky Kids is £6/mth on a rolling basis. And if you want to watch all this in 4K, that adds yet another fee: that’s £6 per month on a rolling basis.
It’s worth noting that Sky is also charging a £20 initial setup fee for those on an 18-month contract or £40 for those wanting to pay month by month. And, if you want to go multi-room, it’s £12 per month extra, which allows you to connect up to a further six boxes. The first box is free and additional boxes cost £40 each.
That’s a lot to wrap your head around but it’s worth noting that, in some ways, Sky Stream does work out a little cheaper than the competition. I’ll focus my examples on how much it costs to get Sky Sports, since that’s probably the most common reason for most people to want Sky TV.
Sky Q, for instance, starts at exactly the same £26 per month but costs £7 more for Sky Sports and the 4K upgrade is double the price at £12. Sky Now represents the cheapest, easiest way to get Sky Sports and can be watched on your TV via a variety of different streaming hardware but it’s not available in 4K and is still pretty pricey. It costs £39 per month for Sky Sports versus £52 (with the current discount) for Sky Stream.
Virgin Media’s Stream box, oddly, is the cheapest for sports, bundling Sky Sports and BT Sport for considerably less than Sky Stream and it gives you a 10% monthly credit on all other monthly packages. The downside is that it isn’t in HD and requires you have Virgin broadband.
The long and short of it, though, is that Sky Stream matches its key rivals for value, and is slightly cheaper overall than Sky Q. It also has the bonus that you can pay for its services on a rolling basis, meaning that you could, for example, pay for Sky Sports during the football season, cancel it during the off season and then resume paying in August once the action kicks off again. The only downside is that the rolling fees are a little more expensive than the 18-month contract prices; the fee for Sky Sports, for instance, is £27 per month at the moment, where the 18-month price is £20, reduced from £25.
|£12 (up to 4K)
|Sky Q (1TB storage)
|Sky Now (with HD/boost)
|Up to 3 devices simultaneously
|Virgin Media Stream
|Free (requires Virgin broadband)
Sky Stream review: How it works and ease of use
As you’d expect of any streaming stick or box, the Sky Stream works entirely over Wi-Fi – you don’t need a dish at all. It supports up to Wi-Fi 6 over dual-band connections, too. As with the Sky Glass TV, I initially had problems with the WPA2 passcode for my Devolo Magic 2 WiFi system not being accepted but this was quickly resolved by using the Sky Broadband option and pressing the WPS button on the nearest extender.
After you’ve connected to Wi-Fi it’s simply a case of entering your Sky Credentials and following the prompts onscreen. As long as your account has been set up correctly, you should be connected in a matter of minutes and this is where a period of readjustment – if you’ve previously used Sky Q or Sky+ – will begin. In fact, there’s a fair bit to wrap your head around coming from any streaming service since Sky Stream works in a slightly different way.
The key thing to understand about Sky Stream is that, instead of recording to local storage as Sky Q does (and Sky+ used to), you have a Playlist to add programmes to. This, says Sky, saves the programme to a “cloud DVR” so you can quickly gain access to it at a later date.
It’s a system that works well and the advantage of it is that even live shows that have just finished are instantly available. With a regular streaming stick, you might have to wait half an hour or so for live shows to be processed and uploaded before they can be watched.
Otherwise, the system works exactly as you’d expect it to. You can pause live TV and rewind and fast-forward while you’re watching. This doesn’t behave quite as responsively as it does for recordings on Sky Q but you soon get used to the short wait that’s required before you’re able to skip forwards and backwards quickly.
You can search by voice for programmes, channels and apps, or by keyword. Alternatively, you can browse by category as well via the traditional TV Guide and Sky also includes a number of themed “rails” where it pushes content it thinks you should be watching based on your watching habits.
In general, the ease of use is better than Sky Q. Having used the system as my main TV platform at home for a couple of weeks, I’ve actually found the UI simpler and quicker to navigate and I prefer the remote control, too. As I’ve highlighted above, the remote is precisely the same remote as provided with the Sky Glass TV. It’s backlit, so you can see the buttons more easily when you have the lights dimmed, it’s sensibly laid out and the buttons are soft and tactile and comfortable under the finger.
As with most streaming sticks, the remote can also be used to power on your TV with a long press of the power button, and adjust the volume, too. The only thing I don’t really like about it is that it has the same rounded rear that the Sky Q remote has, which I find occasionally slips out of my hand when I’m using it.
READ NEXT: Sky Glass review
Sky Stream review: Content, performance and image quality
Sky Stream, much like Sky Glass, doesn’t have access to quite the same breadth of content as Sky Q. At the last count, there were 150 channels on Sky Stream versus more than 300 on Sky. Most Freeview channels and big-name streaming apps were present and correct, including all UK terrestrial TV channels, Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV+.
Most of the differences when it comes to content are for channels in the international and shopping categories but there are some significant misses when it comes to sports coverage. For example, there’s currently no MUTV or LFCTV, no Premier Sports 1 or 2 or BT Sports Box Office. This is a somewhat fluid situation, however, so it’s worth keeping tabs on the Sky website for the full list of channels if any of the missing ones are important to you:
- Full list of TV channels on Sky Glass and Sky Stream
- The full list of apps/streaming platforms can be found on the Sky Stream FAQ pages
As far as image quality goes, I can’t say that I’ve had any issue with that at all. All 4K channels and apps look gloriously sharp and packed with detail. And there don’t seem to be any issues with HDR or audio. It’s worth noting that Sky recommends a minimum broadband connection speed of at least 10Mbits/sec for Full HD streaming and 25Mbits/sec for 4K, neither of which is particularly onerous. It’s always worth checking your connection before committing to Sky Stream, just in case, but most modern broadband connections should be able to cope.
One thing I did notice, however, is that the Sky Stream box doesn’t deal with a marginal Wi-Fi or broadband connection particularly elegantly. Often when my Wi-Fi started acting up, the picture on the Stream would freeze while the audio continued, then, when the connection resumed a few seconds later, the video would fast-forward until the action caught up to the audio. On one occasion, the video didn’t quite catch up with the audio and both ended up a few seconds out of sync. A quick power cycle fixed this, however.
As mentioned, the experience of rewinding and fast-forwarding isn’t the slickest, either, in particular when exiting a super fast forward wind (by holding right on the remote control’s D-pad) where you have to wait a few seconds for playback to start. If you get impatient and press the Play button too early, playback pauses, and then you have to press Play again to resume. It’s a little irritating.
Of course the bonus with the “cloud DVR” is that you effectively have unlimited storage, meaning that, for instance, if you let a load of 4K Formula 1 build up in your playlist, it won’t fill up your hard disk as it does with Sky Q, so you never have to spend any time freeing up space.
Another benefit, especially right now as electricity prices are rising so fast, is that the Stream Box uses a lot less electricity than Sky Q: 1W in standby and a mere 3W while watching in 4K, compared with between 9W and 22W for Sky Q. In fact, you can switch off the Sky Stream entirely and it will still record your programmes because everything happens in the cloud so you don’t need to leave it switched on at all times, either.
Those running multiroom setups will prefer Sky Stream over Sky Q as well, and not just because every box is capable of full 4K playback (the Sky Q mini boxes can only do 720p), but because each box operates independently. With Sky Q, all the extra mini boxes link to the main Sky Q box and if that goes down or is turned off, all the rest of the boxes stop working, too.
Sky Stream review: Verdict
Sky Stream does take a bit of getting used to, and it isn’t quite the all-singing, all-dancing system that Sky Q is. But it is possible to work around its quirks and there are enough other positives that it’s a genuine alternative.
Image quality is excellent and the UI in particular is very friendly and slick. There is a bit of a learning curve to the Playlist feature but once you’ve worked it out, it’s very simple to use.
For those who would like access to Sky Sports and Sky’s other exclusive content in 4K but who can’t (or don’t want to) install a satellite dish, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a superior system for those who want and can afford multiroom Sky TV and, if you have already invested in a TV you don’t yet want to replace, means you don’t have to buy Sky Glass, either.
Overall, then, it’s a big thumbs up from me for the Sky Stream box. If you want Sky Sports in 4K and own a TV you don’t want to replace with Sky Glass, it’s a genuinely persuasive alternative to Sky Q.