Sky Q

Sky Q review: The best premium TV system in the UK now comes with Prime Video

Jonathan Bray David Ludlow
14 Dec 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
per month

Sky Q is an impressive achievement and it's made even better with the inclusion of Prime Video

Record up to six channels and watch a seventh
Full system extends your Wi-Fi
Responsive, attractive UI
Sometimes crashes
Touch remote is over-sensitive

NEWS UPDATE:  As of the 14th December 2020 Sky is finally adding Amazon's video streaming services, Prime Video, to the list of apps supported by the platform. We've updated this review to reflect the new changes. Read the full review of the Sky Q system below.

To some, Sky Q is something of a fossil in a world of modern multi-screen streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. After all, who wants one-way satellite broadcasts when you can just connect to the internet, click and watch whatever you desire, whenever you want? However, Sky's so-called limitations are actually its strength, as it has proved time and time again; they now form the basis of the most advanced premium TV platform currently available.

Just as Sky+ brought hard disk recording to the masses, and Sky+ HD popularised HD TV, Sky Q is the next-generation platform, designed to eliminate recording clashes, boost multi-room viewing at home, bring tablets and streaming into the equation, and make the most of the best on-demand TV system available.

If that sounds a little hyperbolic, trust me, it isn't: Sky Q does is capable of doing things that no other TV system does. For TV, sports and movie lovers who love the content mix on Sky (the latest movies, HBO shows and the best sports), Sky Q is something you'll want; if you've previously thought Sky was an expensive luxury, Sky Q might just make you think twice about that decision.

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How much is Sky Q, and what can it do?

Sky Q brings flexibility to your package, letting you watch all of your live channels, recordings, and on-demand programmes where and how you want, both inside your home and out. The easiest way to describe it is that it essentially brings Netflix-style viewing to your premium TV package.

At the heart of the system sits the main Sky Q box, of which there are two models. The best option is the Sky Q 2TB box, which I’m reviewing here. It has a 2TB hard disk and 12 tuners, which allow you to record up to six shows simultaneously while watching a seventh. Plus, it supports 4K programming.

The other box has 1TB of storage and it's offered with Sky's more basic TV packages. It has half the amount of storage available for storing recorded TV programmes and films, and it has fewer tuners (eight), which means you can record on three channels simultaneously while watching a fourth. Worth noting is that the Sky Q 1TB box doesn't support 4K and doesn't come with the radio-frequency Bluetooth remote, just the standard infrared one.

The main box is only part of the Sky Q equation, though. It is, at its heart, a multi-room TV system and to enable you to watch in other rooms, you need to add one or more Sky Q Mini boxes to your package. On the Sky website, this is confusingly called the "Sky Q Experience".

In the multiroom system, Sky Q Mini boxes connect to the main box via a robust 5GHz mesh network, giving you access to all of your live channels, recordings and catch-up TV stored on your main box. On the Sky Q Mini box, you get all the features you’d expect, including the option to pause and rewind TV, and there's also get powerline networking built in, although Sky doesn't recommend users enable it; it's an engineer option only.

Here's where it gets a touch more complicated. In theory, you can add up to four Mini boxes to either the Sky Q 1TB or the 2TB  systems, but the number of these you can watch TV on simultaneously differs. With the Sky Q 1TB box you can only watch on two boxes simultaneously (including the main box); with the 2TB box it's four boxes at the same time.

To add to the complexity, the Sky Q system doesn't end at physical set-top boxes. It's also possible to use a tablet or smartphone with the Sky Q App installed to watch live TV. These devices can even download recorded shows and view channels remotely, letting you take your TV package out of the house. Again, though, there are restrictions to bear in mind: the number of devices you can do this on varies depending on which Sky Q box you have. It's limited to one with the Sky 1TB box and two on the Sky 2TB box. 

Finally, if you opt for Sky broadband, you also get the Sky Q Hub. Using this with the system turns every single Sky Q Mini box into a Wi-Fi hotspot, boosting signal strength across your home for all your other internet-connected devices. Sky Q multiroom doesn't preclude the use of other broadband providers but if you want to boost your signal in this way, you will need Sky Broadband.

So, is Sky Q expensive? It can be, but how much you end up spending depends on the TV packages you go for, how many Mini boxes you want to add and whether you want the 1TB or the 2TB 4K Sky Q box. You can pick and choose what works best for you through Sky's website, but here's a rough idea of how the prices vary. Bear in mind that Sky changes its packages on an almost monthly basis, so these figures are only accurate as of the time of writing (5th September 2018):

Sky Q 1TB

  • From £20 per month
  • £20 setup fee

Sky Q 2TB

  • From £20 per month
  • £75 setup fee

Additional setup fees for Sky Q multiroom (no monthly charge)

  • 1 Sky Q Mini box: £20
  • 2 Sky Q Mini boxes: £119
  • 3 Sky Q Mini boxes: £218
  • 4 Sky Q Mini boxes: £317

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Sky Q review: Installation and wireless setup

If you go for multiroom, installation of Sky Q is a little more involved than a regular Sky setup. For starters, the Low-Noise Block converter (LNB) on the dish needs to be replaced. With the old Sky system, each tuner needed its own cable; with the new system, each cable powers up to six tuners, so you can run the 2TB box with just two cables.

On top of that, Sky has to perform a wireless survey of your house to detect problem areas. If its engineers spot a dead spot in your home, you may also need a Sky Q Booster to amplify the wireless mesh signal. Installation is, therefore, as much about guaranteeing the wireless signal strength around your home, as it is about putting the hardware in place.

That brings me on to an important point: the mesh network that powers the system is extremely reliable, but any changes you might make to any of the devices can destabilise it and cause connection issues. In particular, be wary of forum advice on which options to change, as the advice doesn’t always consider how the mesh network works.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although the mesh network ensures a strong signal across your home, it does so by using a technique known as wireless repeating, which means that the further you get away from the Sky Q Hub router, the lower the peak achievable throughput speed. This means that, although the signal may be as strong in your dining room as it is in your living room because the signal is passed from router to Sky Q 2TB box to Sky Mini box, you might see download rates (internet connection speeds in other words) drop significantly.

The good news is that, in most cases, you don’t need very fast wireless throughput and, even with a Sky booster and Mini box in the signal path I didn’t have any problems with slow downloads. A more reliable signal, it turns out, is far more important than ultra-fast peak wireless speeds and could make the difference between being able to connect your devices in the far reaches of your home or having no internet connectivity there at all.

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Sky Q review: New features since launch

One great thing about Sky Q is that it's a continuously evolving system. Sky has added a hatful of features over the past couple of years and we'll keep adding those features to this section. Since the launch, Sky has added 4K content across films and sport plus a host of new features, including split-screen viewing, which adds the ability to watch highlight clips alongside live action for certain sports events.

The most recent advance is the addition of Amazon Prime, adding to a burgeoning list of apps that includes Disney Plus, Netflix and BBC iPlayer, as well as YouTube, YouTube kids and a number of other, more esoteric offerings.

Other new features added since launch include voice search, a feature that works surprisingly well. Simply hold down the microphone button on the Bluetooth touch remote, speak your search term and, invariably, the system will recognise your words and come up with some useful results.

"Sports Start Over" ensures you'll never miss the start of a Premier League football match again, even if you've forgotten to set it to record. Sky has also added the ability to record extra channels simultaneously on the Sky Q 2TB box, up from the original four while watching a fifth, to six while watching a seventh. This is great for flat/house sharers, all but eradicating the danger of recording clashes. Dolby Atmos support is also now available during Premier League matches.

And, as of the first half of 2020, the Sky Q platform finally supports HDR content, principally via its own Sky Originals TV Shows but also, more recently, via Netflix. There are caveats to this, unfortunately, which we detail below:

  • First, your TV must support HLG: older sets that support only HDR10 won't cut it for this update, unfortunately, and you won't be able to view HDR content
  • Second, you must own one of the newer Sky Q 2TB boxes. The original box doesn't support HDR, and neither do the more basic Sky Q 1TB and Sky Q Mini boxes. You'll also need to ensure that your box is on the latest software for it to work. You can check if you have the requisite hardware and software by following using this page on the official Sky website: How to check which Sky box and software version you have

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Sky Q review: Hardware

For this review, we originally tested the Sky Q Silver box, which is the top-of-the-line model in the range. This box has now been replaced with the newer Sky Q 2TB v2, which we've also tested.

The main physical difference with the Sky Q 2TB v2 box over the v1, aside from the fact that it supports HDR, is that the new box has a separate offboard power brick, where the v1 had the power supply built in. It's also a touch smaller and the Ethernet port supports Gigabit speed.

Otherwise, it does pretty much all the same stuff. It runs the same software and has a similar array of ports and sockets: two satellite cables, one HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 output and that Gigabit Ethernet port.

On the original Sky Q boxes you also got a HDMI In port, which was blocked off. It was never enabled and new boxes don't even have an HDMI input, which is a shame, as this would add to the system's flexibility.

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Sky Q review: Touch Remote

Sky has also updated its remote control offering since launch. Originally, it came with the iffy Touch Remote and that was your only choice. This was improved a couple of years after the system debuted with the touchpad is now discontinued and all new Sky Q systems are supplied with a button-only touch remote. 

We were never big fans of the touch remote, even the "improved" model, so this is definitely a good move on Sky's part, especially since all the other good stuff about the remote stays the same.

It's Bluetooth, so you don't need to point it at the box to control it. In fact, you can hide the box behind a cupboard door if you want to and the remote will still work. Another nice feature is that, if you hit the Q button on the front of the Sky Q box, the remote will play a high-pitched tone, making it easier to find. Also, the voice button allows you to search for channels and even quickly launch channels and apps using voice commands.

It's worth noting that the remotes that ships with the Sky Q Mini boxes are plain old infrared models. They might look like the main remote but they lack the voice button and the Bluetooth facility.

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Sky Q review: Interface

Sky completely revamped its interface when it originally launched Sky Q and, although it has refined it in the time since it still works in largely the same way. (Note, that the screenshots below are from the original Sky Q UI). Everything is organised in vertical panels, with the TV mini guide on the left and menu options open to the right. I found it really easy to get going with the system right from the start, as all of the menu options are clearly labelled, allowing you to quickly find what you want, such as Sports, Sky Store, Sky Movies, Recordings, and so on.

The My Q section is a particularly neat new addition. This shows you recently viewed programmes, so you can quickly get back to what you were watching from any device, as part of Fluid Viewing. The one thing that doesn't appear in My Q is live channels from other boxes, so you can't start watching on one box and continue watching on another if you've paused live TV. There is a little workaround for this: hit record on one box, then the recording appears in My Q for you to carry on watching from another device.

Sky Q Silver My Q

The interface is pretty slick on the whole but it’s not always as clear and as logically laid out as it could be and in some places it's plain confusing. There’s no shortcut button to delete a recording, for instance, so you have to select a recording, then slide over to its menu of options, then select and click Delete. Why not just assign one of the four coloured buttons to this?

You can't delete whole series from here or select multiple shows and delete either. To do that, you have to, rather counterintuively, visit the A-Z section in the Recordings part of the menu. It’s not immediately obvious how to skip forward 24 hours in the EPG (press the fast-forward button, in case you’re wondering). And there's no on-screen help, either, so you'll have to work this all out for yourself or Google it.

Another irritation is that, for shows set to series link, when you go to watch the latest episode, new shows are placed right at the bottom of the list, even when you've clearly watched every one.

Sky Q Mini delete recording

Picture-in-picture mode is used to great effect on the Sky Q 2TB box thanks to its dedicated tuner. So, bring up the channel guide (slide up on the remote) or the previous channel (slide right on the remote) and you can see what's on another channel, complete with a live, soundless preview. It's a small touch, but one that's very neat and really quite handy if you want to keep an eye on the football, for example, while continuing to watch another programme.

Sky Q review: Apps

Sky Q also now supports most of the major third-party streaming apps, plus some games and music streaming services. These can be accessed via the Apps section on the main menu or by holding the voice button down and saying the name of the app.

The Apps supported by Sky Q are listed below: 

  • Netflix
  • YouTube and YouTube Kids
  • Disney+
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Discovery+
  • FiiT
  • Tastemade
  • Roku Channel
  • Spotify
  • ROXi
  • Xite
  • Vevo
  • Highbrow
  • A selection of games: Crossy Road, 2048, Solitair Classic, Beehive Bedlam, Doodle Jump

Some of these streaming services, including Netflix, can be folded into your Sky subscription and some, once integrated, can be searched directly from the Sky UI and voice search.

Sky Q review: AirPlay/Bluetooth

As well as playing content from the box, the Sky Q 2TB has Apple AirPlay (audio) and Bluetooth support, so you can play music directly from your phone through the box. Some people might not use this much, but it’s a nice option to have, particularly since the TV tends to be connected to the best audio system in the house. Your Sky boxes will automatically appear in your phone or tablet's AirPlay settings.

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Sky Q review: Sky Q Mini box

For TV in other rooms in your home, you use a Sky Q Mini box. This connects to the main box via the wireless mesh network and lets you watch any content stored on that box, whether that's live, on-demand or recorded. This box streams at Full HD (1080p) quality from your main box, one-upping any tablets you have connected, which take a slightly reduced stream.

Sky Q Mini hero

Sky Q Mini review: Hardware

The Sky Q Mini has an HDMI output (1080p), as well as headphone and optical S/PDIF outputs and a USB port (future use, again). There’s also an Ethernet port, although it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to use it unless you live in a very large house and can't get a reliable wireless signal.

You can have up to four Sky Q Mini boxes per household but not all can play content concurrently. For example, if you have a Sky Q 2TB box, only two can play content concurrently at the same time as the main Sky Q box.

Sky has styled the Mini after the main Q box but it's a little smaller since it doesn't have a hard disk or tuner inside it. Instead, it only needs to decode and play the stream from the 2TB box. It's a neatly made box and is small enough to tuck out of the way, making it well suited to kitchens or bedrooms.

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Sky Q Mini review: Remote

The Sky Q Mini doesn’t support the fancy touch remote and instead has a regular remote with buttons. You might actually prefer this remote. I certainly do, as the more responsive buttons make it easier to move through the interface and to fast-forward and rewind. The downside is that it isn't Bluetooth and it doesn't support voice search.

Sky Q Mini remote

Sky Q Mini review: Interface

You get exactly the same interface as on the main Sky Q box, with the remote providing exactly the same buttons, except with cursor keys instead of the touchpad. As everything is streamed through your Sky Q box, you get the same access to recordings, on-demand and EPG as you do from the main box. The system is intelligent, too, so you can't delete a show that other people are recording, for example.

Sky Q Mini main interface

The one thing that the Sky Q Mini doesn't have is picture-in-picture mode. Instead, it shows static shots of what's on another channel instead of a full preview, as it only has access to the one live tuner, unlike the main box, which has a dedicated picture-in-picture tuner.

Sky Q Mini review: AirPlay and Bluetooth

As with the main Sky Q 2TB box, each Mini box can be used as an AirPlay or Bluetooth receiver, which can be handy if you want to play music from your phone, particularly if you've got the box hooked up to external speakers.

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Sky Q review: App

For extra flexibility, you can run the Sky Q app on tablets or a smartphone, which lets you watch your recordings and live TV inside the house and stream and play synchronised content when you're away from home. If you choose the Sky Q 2TB box you can have two devices playing content at the same time; the Sky Q 1TB box supports only one device.

Sky Q app review: Interface

Sky has set up its tablet app to replicate the main UI on the TV, so it will be instantly familiar. If anything, the interface is actually better on a mobile device, as you can jump to where you want to go quicker and you can slide your finger to where you want to be in a live show or recording.

Sky Q tablet TV guide

Playback uses a slightly reduced quality stream, although it's a close-run thing compared to the live content. Reducing quality means less bandwidth, which is likely to be a good thing, given that your tablet may not be part of the mesh network, relying on regular Wi-Fi to connect.

There are some minor oddities with the tablet app, though. For example, watch a live programme and you'll find that the stream lags 12 seconds or so behind the live version on your main Sky Q box or a Sky Q Mini. In most cases, this isn't a problem, but if you've got the football on the main TV and on a tablet elsewhere in the house, so you can keep an eye on the action, being behind on your mobile device can be annoying. The only way around this is to start recording the show and then watch the recording via the tablet, reducing the lag to a matter of seconds.

Sky Q tablet remote mode

When you're away from home the Sky Q app switches to remote mode. From here, you can watch any of the recordings that you've synchronised with your tablet, plus you can watch most Sky channels and watch or download anything available on-demand.

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Sky Q app review: Sync

One of the best features of the app is that you can synchronise recordings from your box directly to the tablet and play them wherever you are in the world, offline. All content can be synchronised with the exception of BBC content. This is due to the way that the BBC licence works, rather than a problem with Sky and shouldn't be too much of a problem, as the iPlayer app allows downloads anyway.

Sky Q tablet download to iPad

So far, I've covered all of the features that are unique to each box, but the system as a whole has plenty of shared features, from the excellent on-demand system to the range of content that's available, all of which I'm looking at here.

Sky Q review: On-demand

I can't stress enough how brilliant Sky's on-demand system is. While every other TV provider delivers on-demand content via a lower-quality online stream, Sky lets you download the full broadcast-quality version to your box. Intelligently, the system works out your broadband speed, making a programme available to watch at the first possible moment: if you've got fast broadband this can be a matter of seconds; those on slower connections may have to wait for a few minutes.

However, regardless of how fast your internet is, it means that anyone can enjoy exactly the same quality content, and content at the same quality as when it was broadcast. If you want to watch a box set, Sky Q will download the next episode while you watch the first one, so you can binge your way through a series while watching at a higher quality than other rival services. On-demand extends to movies, too, so you can grab a film in high quality when you want and watch it when you want, too.

Sky Q tablet app download option

Of course, once a piece of on-demand content is on your main box, you can fast-forward and rewind through it in the same way as a regular recorded show (no more re-buffering!) and you can watch from anywhere inside your home.

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Sky Q review: Content

The main thing Sky has going for it is the breadth of its content coverage. It has a better range of sports than any other provider, it has more new films, and it has the best of US TV, including HBO shows such as Game of Thrones and West World on Sky Atlantic, and it has tons of box sets, so you can catch-up with older shows that aren't on anymore.

A lot of this is available elsewhere - on the Now TV Stick, for instance - while the sport is accessible on other TV providers. But Sky provides the best selection of 4K programming overall, has more Premier League football in 4K than anyone else and is also the only place you can watch the Formula 1 in 4K.

Largely, though, the decision as to whether Sky Q is for you or not comes down to one simple question, do you want to watch the content it offers in the best possible quality? If the answer is yes, it's the obvious choice.

Sky Q Mini main interface

Sky Q review: Verdict

If you don't like Sky's mix of content or aren't that fussed about 4K, then Sky Q isn't going to change your mind about signing up and you may be better off with a Now TV subscription for those times you want to watch something on Sky.

However, if you love the Sky channels and are a heavy user today, or you like the idea of Sky but the previous inflexibility put you off, Sky Q is excellent, well-priced and the package for you. It's a triumph of quality and flexibility, and there's simply nothing else like it in the UK or the rest of the world.

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