Last week, at an event in Greenwich, Sky launched its most innovative product to date: Sky Glass. A new range of QLED TVs, available in 43inch, 55inch and 65inch screen sizes, they enable you to watch satellite channels without a dish, plus a whole lot more. On sale from October 18th, Sky Glass is sure to be popular with TV lovers but should you invest in one? Here Chris Price looks at the pros and cons of the new product line-up.
You don’t need a dish – Since Sky was first launched way back on November 2nd, 1990 you have essentially needed an ugly satellite dish on your roof paired with a set-top box to get the network’s full functionality. Sky Glass changes all this in that for the first time you can have all of the services via a single device connected wirelessly (or wired via the Ethernet) to the broadband network. Also provided is a Freeview (digital terrestrial TV) tuner built in.
It really is beautifully designed – Remember just how ugly satellite equipment used to be especially in the early days of the Amstrad dish and set-top box. Well that’s very much in the past. Designed in conjunction with East London industrial outfit Map Project (who have also worked with Sonos on its amp as well as with Sony, Google and Transport for London), the TV is available in five different colours: Ocean Blue, Ceramic White, Racing Green, Dusky Pink or Anthracite Black. It also comes with magnetic fascias which you can switch over to customise your TV rather like a mobile phone, as well as a flat back so you can mount the TV on the wall.
Sound is surprisingly good – We’ve always been sceptical of surround sound from a TV. After all it’s impossible to get decent sound separation if all the speakers are packed inside one box right? And yet, there is something quite impressive from this Dolby Atmos-certified Sky Glass TV. Several speakers are built in, including a soundbar which sits neatly under the display, integrated left and right speakers that point outwards for wider sound, a centre speaker, a subwoofer and two additional up-firing speakers. Also on board are various sound modes including one for listening to music and a Night Mode that automatically boosts dialogue but reduces loud bangs and explosions so as not to wake up anyone sleeping in the house or next door.
It’s better than Sky Q – In many ways, Sky Glass is a natural successor to Sky Q which many Sky viewers will be familiar with (unfortunately you can’t have both so you will have to choose one or the other). However, it does offer a few improvements over Sky Q. Of particular interest is Playlist. If you find something you’re interested in, press the ‘+’ button on the remote and it will be added to a dedicated Playlist section for viewing at your leisure. If it’s a TV series, every episode will be gathered in one place – even if episodes from different series are hosted on different services from one another. Full functionality – rewind, fast forward – is provided via Sky’s Cloud DVR or the relevant player.
It is energy efficient (sort of) – Sky claims its Glass TVs are the first TVs to be certified as a Carbon Neutral product by Natural Capital partners and are up to 50% more efficient than other models on the market. However, this figure is achieved by comparing the amount of energy used to power three separate devices including TV, soundbar and Q set top box with just one Sky Glass TV. Consumer group Which? says the 43inch has a G energy rating, the 55 incher has an F energy rating and the 65inch is rated E.
Voice control is provided – Not everyone likes voice control but for a TV it can be quite useful, especially if you’re not sure which device is connected to each of the HDMI inputs (three are provided in total). Rather than having to scroll through the inputs manually, you can simply say ‘Hello Sky X Box’ and it will take you the X Box input. And instead of using Alexa or Siri, Sky uses its own voice activation technology. Alternatively, you can turn the TV on using the neatly designed remote control or with the TV’s innovative Glance Motion Technology. This automatically detects a presence in the room and switches on the set. However, it only works in the daytime apparently (from 10.30pm until 6am) and can be disabled in the settings completely if you so wish.
It’s quite expensive – Whichever way you look at it, Sky Glass isn’t cheap. Either you can choose to buy the TV like a mobile phone on a 48-month contract which will cost you £10 upfront followed by £13 a month for the entry-level 43inch TV (or £17 for the 55inch and £21 for the 65inch). Alternatively, you can choose to buy the TV outright from £649 – though strangely this actually works out slightly more expensive than buying on a contract. On top of this, you then have to fork out for the TV packages which cost from £26 a month for Sky Ultimate TV – in other words a minimum of £39 a month. That’s £13 more than the current Sky Q price. On top of this, you also need to pay £5 a month if you want HDR and Dolby Atmos, £25 if you want sports and £11 for cinema. And if you want to have Sky Glass in more than one room you need to pay an extra £10 a month, plus £50 for each Sky Puck – the device that adds it to your standard TV. All of this could leave you with a bill of well over £100 a month!
You will need decent broadband – The whole point about Sky Glass is that it’s TV channels via broadband rather than an ugly satellite dish on your roof. And while you don’t need to have Sky’s own broadband, you do need it to be relatively fast (there is an Ethernet connection on the back of the set so you can connect a cable directly to your router which will help speed). Sky recommends a minimum download speed of 11Mbps for a single device in high definition, but 30 Mbps for a multi-room set-up. And if you want to watch in 4K then you will need a speed of 25 Mbps for a single device.
You can’t record – Unlike Sky Q, Sky Glass doesn’t feature a built-in hard drive for making and storing recordings. Perhaps because this would’ve added greater cost and bulk to the TVs. And while using the play list functionality ensures that finding programmes you want to watch is quite simple, it does mean that if you lose broadband for whatever reason you could find yourself without anything to watch except the channels that you can receive via the integrated Freeview (digital terrestrial TV) tuner. However, this means you will need to connect the TV to an aerial which kind of defeats the object.
Downloading apps is restricted – Although Sky Glass isn’t just about watching Sky programmes, it is still very much a walled garden. You can’t download any more than the 21 apps built into the TV including Netflix, ITV Hub, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, YouTube and Spotify.
The Sky Glass TV isn’t going to be for everyone. It does work out quite expensive compared to the cost of Sky Q, especially if you want to watch channels in several rooms using a Puck connected to your old TVs. Having said that, it looks and sounds great and will almost certainly appeal to people who like to watch a lot of TV but don’t want all the hassle of wires all over the living room connected to various devices. One thing’s for sure, Sky has come a long ways since the days of the ugly satellite dish and set top-box.