Sky Q is a fantastic TV system but it isn’t the automatic choice for sports lovers any more
- Record up to six shows simultaneously
- Responsive, attractive UI
- Frequently updated
- More expensive than Sky Stream
- Needs a dish
- Mini boxes are only 1080p
Once the jewel in the crown of Sky’s TV product offering, Sky Q is now one of three ways to watch Sky content. It still has its place – and does its job brilliantly well – but with Sky Stream now offering 4K streaming and Sky Glass combining streaming with a standalone TV, it can no longer be labelled the best TV system money can buy.
Sky Q does include elements of streaming within the product, but it’s primarily a satellite TV service. That means it may not be for you if you don’t own your home, or you live in an apartment or flat.
Sky Q review: What you need to know
The reason for this is that Sky Q requires the installation of a dish on your roof or an exterior wall. If you decide to sign up for Sky Q, a Sky engineer will visit your home and set this up for you.
They will run a cable from the dish to your TV, which usually requires drilling holes in walls and routing cables over the roof. And that means that once your TV box is in place, it’s tricky to move it. However, you can add Sky Q Mini boxes and stream via your phone or tablet if you want to watch TV in other rooms.
What really sets Sky Q apart from Sky Glass and Sky Stream, though, is its hard disk recording system. This enables the Sky Q box to record any broadcasted content received via the satellite dish and store it locally to the hard disk inside. And this can be kept for you to enjoy later.
There are two different Sky Q boxes, although Sky doesn’t really let you choose which one you get. If you order a package with 4K content you’ll get the Sky Q 2TB box, which comes with a large 2TB hard disk inside and 12 tuners. This allows you to record up to six shows simultaneously while watching a seventh. It supports 4K and HDR TV and movies.
If you go for the cheaper HD package, you’ll get the 1TB box, which is only capable of displaying Full HD, non-HDR programming. It has fewer tuners (eight), which means you can only record on three channels simultaneously while watching a fourth. The Sky Q 1TB box doesn’t come with the Bluetooth remote, either (more on which later), just the standard infrared one.
The main box is only part of the Sky Q equation. Sky Q is, at its heart, a multiroom TV system and, if you want to watch TV in other rooms, you need to add one or more Sky Q Mini boxes to your package.
In the multiroom system, Sky Q Mini boxes connect to the main box via a 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 most of the features you would expect, including the option to pause and rewind TV. The boxes only display content in 1080p resolution, however. If you want to watch Sky in 4K in every room, Sky Stream or Sky Glass are the systems to choose.
The number of these you can watch TV on at the same time differs depending on which model of Sky Q box you have. With the Sky Q 2TB you can watch on two Mini boxes and the main box simultaneously; with the 1TB model you can only watch on one Mini box and the main system at the same time.
To add to the complexity, the Sky Q system doesn’t end at physical set-top boxes. You can also install the accompanying Sky Go mobile app on a tablet or smartphone to watch live TV or even download recorded shows to watch on the hoof.
Finally, if you choose Sky broadband, you also get the Sky Q Hub. Using this with the system turns all your Sky Q Mini boxes into Wi-Fi hotspots, boosting signal strength across your home for all your other internet-connected devices.
This might sound like a major benefit, but do bear in mind that the system is getting old now and isn’t as fast as modern wireless networking hardware. As a result, we don’t recommend using it as your main wireless networking system.
READ NEXT: The best mesh Wi-Fi routers to buy
How much does Sky Q cost?
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 (4th October 2023):
|Sky Q HD + UHD (2TB)
|Sky Q (1TB)
|Multiroom setup fees
|From £43/mth (includes Netflix Premium)
|1 Sky Q Mini box: £15/mth
|£20 setup fee
|£20 setup fee
|Additional Sky Q Mini boxes: £50 one off fee for each (up to a maximum of four)
Sky Q review: New features since launch
One great thing about Sky Q is that even now, years after its initial launch, Sky is still adding new capabilities to the system. Since launch, it has added split-screen viewing for sports channels, voice search and “Sports Start Over”.
The broadcaster has even 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 (on the 2TB box). Dolby Atmos support is also now available during Premier League matches.
Since 2020, the Sky Q platform has also supported HDR content, although your TV must support the HLG HDR standard and you have to 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.
Sky Q review: Hardware
For this review, we originally tested the Sky Q Silver box (32B0), which is the top-of-the-line model in the range. This box has now been replaced with the newer Sky Q 2TB v2 (32B1), which we’ve also tested.
The main physical difference with the Sky Q 2TB v2 box over the original box – aside from the fact that it supports HDR and has double the storage – 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 networking.
Otherwise, it looks the same and does pretty much all the same stuff as the first box. It runs the same software and has a similar array of ports and sockets: two satellite ports, one HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 output and that Gigabit Ethernet port, plus a slot for your viewing card on the right edge.
It still has two buttons on the front: one for pairing new Sky Q Mini boxes and the other in the centre for locating the Bluetooth remote control. Hold this button down for a second or two and the remote will beep; that’s super useful if you’ve buried it under a pile of stuff or lost it down the side of the sofa.
The 1TB Sky Q Box you get with the non-4K packages looks similar to the 2TB box except it lacks the Silver trim surrounding the base.
READ NEXT: Best TV for gaming
Sky Q review: Remote control
Sky has also updated its remote control offering since launch. Originally, it came with the horrible Touch Remote, and that was your only choice. This was improved a couple of years after the system debuted, but we still didn’t like it. All Sky Q systems are now supplied with a buttons-only 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 main Sky Q box behind a cupboard door if you want to and the remote will still work.
Its voice button is now on the front face, rather than positioned awkwardly on the side, and allows you to search for content and even quickly launch channels and apps using voice commands.
It’s worth noting that the remotes that ship with the Sky Q Mini boxes are plain old infrared models. These might look like the main remote but they lack the voice button and the Bluetooth locator facility.
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.
There’s a simple vertical menu to the left that gives access to all the important areas – Home, TV Guide, Recordings, Catch-Up TV, Sky Cinema, Sports, Settings and so on – and selecting one of those options launches content relating to that selection in a larger panel to the right. I found it really easy to get going with the system right from the start, as all the menu options are clearly labelled and the performance of the system is superb.
Picture-in-picture mode, in particular, is used to great effect. Bring up the channel guide or the previous channel – or bring up the browse bar at the bottom of the screen while you’re watching TV – and you’ll see a live thumbnail of what’s on that channel. 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.
The interface is pretty slick but it’s not always as clear and as logically laid out as it could be. In some places, it’s plain confusing, particularly in the management of recordings.
For example, there’s no shortcut button to delete a recording, so you have to select the show, wait for the main page to load and then hit Delete. Why not just assign one of the four coloured buttons to this? You can’t delete entire series from here or select multiple shows and delete, either. To do that, you have to visit the Manage section in the Recordings sub menu.
It isn’t immediately obvious how to skip forward 24 hours in the TV guide (press the fast-forward button, in case you’re wondering) and there’s no onscreen help, so you’ll have to work this all out for yourself or Google it.
Another irritation is that, for series-linked live sports – for example, Formula 1 – Sky Q insists on using the thumbnail and description for the first event recorded in that series, even when viewing it in the Recents sub menu. The latest race might be Qatar but if the first recording in your list was Silverstone, that’s how it will appear on screen. Worse still, once you click through to your list of recordings, the most recent appear right at the end of a long list of recordings when logic dictates they should appear at the top.
READ NEXT: How to clean a TV screen
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:
- YouTube and YouTube Kids
- Prime Video and Amazon Music
- Apple TV+
- STV Player
- Roku Channel
- BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds
- Ninja Kidz TV
- Global Player
- Radio Player
There’s also a selection of games, including Crossy Road, 2048, Solitaire Classic, Beehive Bedlam, Doodle Jump and Tomb Runner.
Some of these streaming services, including Netflix and Paramount+, can be folded into your Sky subscription and some 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 if your TV is connected to the best audio system in the house.
All your Sky boxes, including mini boxes, will automatically appear in your phone’s or tablet’s AirPlay settings.
READ NEXT: Best smart TVs
Sky Q review: Sky Go app
For extra flexibility, you can run the Sky Go app on a tablet 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.
Bear in mind, though, that not all content can be downloaded and synchronised in this way. Some, such as BBC recordings and live sport such as Formula 1 can’t be downloaded for licensing reasons. You can see which you can download easily by tapping the Download to iPad section on the Recordings screen.
There are restrictions on the number of devices you can stream to simultaneously as well. 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.
Also, sports fans beware: Sky Go content lags around four seconds behind live TV, so this may not be the way to watch if England ever get to another international final again.
As for ease of use here, that’s great. Sky has set up its tablet app to look like the main UI on the TV, so it will be instantly familiar. If anything, the interface is better on a mobile device, as you can jump to where you want to go more quickly and you can slide your finger to where you want to be in a live show or recording.
Playback uses a slightly reduced-quality stream, although it’s a close-run thing compared to the live content. There are some oddities with the tablet app, though.
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 or phone, plus you can watch most Sky channels and watch or download anything available on demand.
Sky Q review: On-demand TV
Sky Q’s on-demand system is brilliant. While streaming TV products deliver on-demand content over the internet, which can be adversely affected by slow broadband speeds, 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. That means you might have to wait a few seconds, or possibly a minute or so for 4K content, but once it’s ready you’ll never see the dreaded buffering icon or picture quality drop from sharp 4K to horrible blurry standard definition.
If you want to watch a box set, Sky Q will even 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.
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. This process is typically much more reliable and responsive than on Sky Stream or Glass, and far less frustrating as a result. It also isn’t affected by the restrictions governing skipping ad breaks that Sky’s streaming products are. With those products you have to pay to be able to skip ad breaks. Here, you simply zoom past them.
READ NEXT: Best HDMI cable
Sky Q review: Content
Sky’s biggest draw has always been the breadth of its content offering. If you value having hundreds of channels to choose from and you want live sports such as cricket, golf and Premier League football, this is the TV platform to choose.
It remains the only place in the UK where you can watch Formula 1 in glorious HDR 4K. It also has the best of US TV, including HBO shows on Sky Atlantic, and has tons of box sets, so you can catch-up with older shows that aren’t on any more.
But Sky Q’s content offering is not as compelling as it once was. A lot of the regular TV is available elsewhere – on rival TV platforms such as Virgin Media and BT, countless streaming sticks and services – while a lot of sport is accessible on other TV providers and Now, albeit at lower resolution.
Sky Q review: Verdict
Sky Q remains an exceptional TV system, then, but in the face of increasing competition from streaming apps and hardware, its appeal is somewhat diminished today.
Recording TV programmes to a hard disk definitely has its advantages, as described above, but the flexibility of a streaming platform such as Sky Stream, which has all the core Sky content but doesn’t require a dish, is undeniable.
However, if you love the Sky channels, like the ability to scrub back and forth through programmes without having to wait, and can’t stand your 4K shows dropping into standard definition whenever there’s a broadband issue, you should definitely give Sky Q a look.