Sky details its long-awaited set-top box upgrades
Pay TV provider Sky has been in the streaming app business for years now, but has been slow to follow other providers around the world with an internet-enabled set-top box.
That will change in the coming months with the introduction of the Sky Pod HDMI dongle, an IP-only replacement for the Vodafone TV service which closes at the end of November, and the new Sky Box.
Sky Pod is squarely aimed at the 100,000 or more Vodafone TV users who will see their free-to-air and Sky subscription channels disappear on November 30 as the service is discontinued. Sky said last December that despite the innovative nature of Vodafone TV, the service wasn’t profitable.
Both devices are based on Android TV, with the remote including a hot button to access Google Assistant, allowing for voice commands to control the boxes. The choice of Android TV is a wise one, with strong developer support for the platform meaning a wide range of apps is available. That means it also acts as a Chromecast device, allowing you to cast content to your screen from a computer or smartphone. Both new devices offer access to Sky Go, Sky’s streaming on-demand service.
Sky Pod, which will cost $100 for existing Sky subscribers, will allow access to Sky channels based on a user’s subscription choices, on-demand content and streaming apps. It runs over a broadband internet connection and therefore doesn’t require a satellite dish.
It will feature an electronic programming guide, just as Vodafone TV did, but won’t have recording functionality. Sky says the service will have a “watch from the start” feature meaning users can skip back to the beginning if they are late to a programme. You can scroll back up to 72 hours to watch a show that’s already screened.
For full recording functionality, Sky recommends subscribers opt for its Sky Box, the first internet-centric replacement for the existing set-top box currently sitting in hundreds of thousands of lounges around the country. Content from streaming services available in 4K, the highest current quality, will be supported, as long as you have a 4K-compatible TV screen.
The streaming-only Sky Pod device
Hybrid Sky Box
For $200, existing Sky subscribers will be able to upgrade to the Sky Box, which has a 1TB (terabyte) hard drive for recordings. This box requires a satellite connection but adds on-demand streaming access as well as access to video apps such as Neon, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Sky Sport Now. A Netflix button on the remote that comes with Sky Pod and Sky Box shows the prominence Netflix seeks to maintain in the New Zealand market.
Sky Box will have a personalised home screen, EPG and the ability to record five channels while watching another. My Sky lives on as a way to access recordings on the Sky Box as it is used now with the current generation set-top box.
The Sky Box uses a satellite connection and streams on-demand content too
Sky a late follower
The new boxes have been in the works for years and Sky is late to the game internationally with an all-in-one hybrid, on-demand, streaming app and satellite box, which Foxtel already has across the Tasman in the form of the Foxtel iQ5 box.
That’s a legacy of Sky’s scepticism about the streaming market in the days under long-serving CEO John Fellet.
Sky Pod vs. Sky Box
Staggered roll out
The Sky Pod is initially being made available to Vodafone TV customers facing that looming November 30 cut-off of their existing service, with Sky contacting subscribers ahead of time. Existing Sky subscribers using a conventional set-top box are able to register their interest for Sky Box and Sky says it will make available a range of “special offers” to “loyal customers” who want to migrate to the new box.
“As stocks will be limited in the early stages of our roll-out (which starts before Christmas), we are prioritising existing Sky customers first before making the new Sky Box available to new customers,” Sky said in a statement.
Rather than a “transformational entertainment experience” as Sky claims the Sky Pod and Sky Box represent, they really amount to long-overdue upgrades in functionality to bring Sky’s services up to the standard consumers expect in the streaming era.
The only real losers here are Vodafone TV customers who only used the box to access free-to-air channels. They'll now need to find an alternative, such as a Freeview UHF/satellite set-top box or SmartVu streaming device.
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