Expands the Xbox 360's capabilities and is a real bonus for existing Sky subscribers, but lacks some of the PC version's features.
With Sky Player on Xbox 360, Microsoft’s popular console adds on-demand and live TV to its capabilities.
What you get depends on your TV subscription. If you have a Sky subscription you automatically get access to programmes from channels to which you subscribe. Watching live TV requires either Sky Broadband Unlimited (£10 a month) or Sky Multiroom (£10 a month).
Non-Sky subscribers need to take out a Sky subscription for between £15 and £41 a month, depending on which channels you want. This fee includes access to live channels, and none of these subscriptions requires you to have a satellite dish installed. Once you’ve picked your subscription you only need to download the Sky Player Xbox application from the Video Marketplace and sign in using the username and password you created when you registered for the service.
The interface closely mimics the Xbox 360’s dashboard. It’s quick and easy to select a live channel by using the large, friendly icons. You can also browse the Sky episode guide to see what’s on and what’s coming up. Unlike with a Sky+ box, you can’t set a reminder or record a programme.
The choice of live channels is decent, including Sky Movies Screen 1 and 2, MTV, Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3, ESPN, National Geographic and Nickelodeon. Sky One was unavailable as a live channel at the time of writing, but Sky plans to add this soon. Channels are encoded at a resolution of 640×480 for 4:3 content, but only 640×360 for widescreen 16:9 content. This is a step down from the usual PAL resolution of 720×576.
There’s a choice of streaming rates. Live High runs at 1.8Mbit/s, Live Medium at 1.2Mbit/s and Live Low at 600Kbit/s. You’ll need to make sure your broadband account allows you to stream so much data and keep an eye on monthly download limits. All three settings produce surprisingly watchable video that’s close to that of true satellite quality, although text is far easier to read on the higher-quality mode.
A wider choice of programming is available with the on-demand service. Here, you select a programme by selecting a channel, then picking the show you want to watch. It’s streamed to your PC at 1.4Mbit/s and the same resolutions as for live TV. Again, the standard of video is close to broadcast quality. You can fast-forward, rewind and pause programmes, and Sky Player will let you resume viewing even after you turn your console off. You can control Sky Player using an Xbox Universal Media Remote (around £20), but it’s simple enough to do using a standard controller.
The range of on-demand films is fantastic. Here, you can watch pretty much anything that’s being broadcast on the Sky movie channels, bar Box Office or Sky Premiere. Sky One programmes are included, but when we tested the choice was limited to reality and game shows. Using the Sky Player website you can also view popular shows, such as Lie to Me, Bones and Fringe. Sky aims to make these available on the Xbox 360 soon.