Sky Glass represents a dramatic shake-up from the satellite company, but is it any good?
With the arrival of Sky Glass, the company has finally delivered on a promise that it made back in 2017 – to untether its popular television service from the satellite dish. When the broadcaster outlined its ambitions four years ago, we all assumed that it would simply be a case of cutting the cable from the current Sky Q box.
But that’s not what the company has done with Sky Glass. Instead, Sky has devised an entirely new way to own a television, designed an ambient smart home gadget, and reconsidered how we think about recordings and streaming services. Simply dropping the dish from the current – and still very competent – Sky Q box would’ve kept a lot of people happy. Sky Glass isn’t that. It’s more ambitious, exciting… and risky.
Express.co.uk was in the audience at the blockbuster launch in London and got the chance to see Sky Glass in action and get our hands on the redesigned remote. Here are our initial impressions of the all-new Sky Glass…
Sky Glass is available in a choice of five colours to match the décor in your home
For those who missed the announcement, Sky Glass is an all-in-one QLED TV that includes all of the circuitry needed to stream the complete Sky Q experience over Wi-Fi coupled with a soundbar and subwoofer. The 4K telly arrives in a choice of five different colours – Ocean Blue, Ceramic White, Racing Green, Dusky Pink, or Anthracite Black. A separate faceplate that covers the soundbar can be customised with a contrasting colour to the rest of the TV. Sky says it will launch a number of limited edition colours and patterns in the coming months and years.
Connect Sky Glass to Wi-Fi and you’ll only need a single wire – the power cable – plugged into the back of this sleek QLED set. Compared with the spaghetti of cables usually found hanging behind your telly when connected to a Sky Q box, standalone soundbar, and extension cord …there’s no doubt that Sky Glass will look a lot neater. There’s another benefit of this one-stop-shop approach too, with Sky stating that Glass consumes around 50 percent less electricity compared with separate devices.
If you can live with the sight of at least two cables dangling behind your media unit, Sky Glass includes a Freeview tuner inside that acts as a back-up when you’re having issues with your home broadband – leaving you unable to connect to Sky.
Sky Glass arrives in 43-, 55-, and 65-inch screen sizes. Sky says that it has chosen these options because they are the three most popular display sizes in the UK. Named Small, Medium, and Large during the checkout process, the broadcaster wants to make buying its new telly as simple as possible. Sky is also hoping to revolutionise the process of buying a television – no longer is this a one-off purchase every few years. Instead, Sky hopes customers will be happy to pay monthly – like a smartphone contract – over a period of time. And just like its Sky Swap phone contracts, Sky will offer customers the chance to trade-in their existing Sky Glass for a new upgraded model in future, so they never miss out on the latest innovations.
First impressions of Sky Glass hardware are pretty good. Thankfully, Sky has resisted the urge to plaster its logo all over the front of the 4K TV, leaving a pretty minimalist appearance. The Ocean Blue shade looks stunning and is sure to complement a range of features walls and décor in your home. Undoubtedly, the Racing Green option will have its fans… but for our money, that’s definitely the colour to avoid during the checkout process.
Sky has included support for a standard VESA mount, so you will be able to mount this all-in-one telly to the wall. However, the 4K TV looks great supported by the included stand. In fact, with the stand fitted to the television, the Sky TV doesn’t look dissimilar to the recently-redesigned Apple iMac, which also arrived with angular corners and pastel colours. We were big fans of the refreshed iMac design, so this is certainly no bad thing.
Sky Glass uses a QLED display. For those who aren’t au fait with the acronyms, QLED stands for Quantum Light-Emitting Diode, sometimes called a Quantum Dot Display. In a nutshell, QLED works exactly like a bog-standard LED TV – meaning there is a backlight built from hundreds or thousands of LEDs that covers the entire panel and is used to light the individual pixels. QLED improves on standard LED by employing nanoparticles – known as quantum dots – to super-charge the brightness and colour of individual pixels.
As such, brightness and colours are boosted compared to standard LED display, but don’t come close to pricier OLED, which doesn’t rely on a uniform backlight but instead uses individual LED lights for each individual pixel to create colour or total darkness. In our short time with Sky Glass, we watched a clip from the award-winning Britannia. The QLED panel did a solid job at providing cavernous blacks without the greyish tones you usually find with LED TVs.
If you’ve splashed out on a nice OLED TV in recent years, Sky Glass will undoubtedly be a downgrade. But for those with an older LED TV – or who haven’t yet upgraded to a 4K panel – the QLED display on this all-in-one telly will be a solid upgrade on your next movie night.
With Sky Glass, all you need is a single wire and a Wi-Fi connection …that’s it
With Sky Glass, the engineers at Sky have clearly taken the opportunity to rethink what its service can provide for customers.
Sky Q was announced back in November 2015. It was designed for a very different world – for example, Netflix had a mere 70 million subscribers at the time, compared to 209 million at the most recent count. Sky Q didn’t even support the streaming service at launch.
Sky Glass arrives at a very different time. There are more streaming services than ever before, like the recent high-profile launch of Disney+, and US technology giants, including Amazon, Apple and Google, have invested millions into new streaming gadgets with smart home capabilities and voice controls.
To future-proof its next-generation service, the teams at Sky have included a number of interesting new features. For example, Sky has included a new system called Glance Motion Technology, which automatically wakes the screen when it detects a presence in the room. So, if you flop down onto the sofa after a long day, Sky Glass will automatically wake-up the screen and begin cycling through a carousel of recommended shows and movies.
Each recommendation includes the title, channel, and gorgeous fullscreen artwork …a bit like what you’ll see on the screensaver in Netflix. Suggestions will be based on your viewing history and will be tailored to your telly package – so you won’t see a load of Premier League games recommended if you don’t pay for Sky Sports. If you spot something you like, you can pick-up the remote and immediately jump into the listing for the boxset, blockbuster, or sports fixture.
Thankfully, Sky automatically disables the feature between 10.30pm and 6am, so you won’t need to worry about the Sky Glass in your bedroom switching on to recommend Squid Game every time you turn over in the night. We’ll need to spend more time with Sky Glass and its Glance Motion system to really pass judgement, but it seems like an interesting idea and could save us all from the frustration of endlessly scrolling through lists of shows and films hunting for something to watch …until there’s not enough time left to commit to a new boxset.
Walking into the room, Sky Glass will automatically detect your presence and wake the screen
Sky tells us it will refresh the recommendations on Sky Glass around six times a day and tailor these suggestions based on the time of day. So, families can expect to see more children’s shows recommended in the morning, with blood-thirsty horror films relegated to the end of the day when younger viewers are in bed.
While Sky Q arrived without support for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Sky Glass not only has built-in apps for all of these streaming services – but it blends shows and films from these competitors with its own offerings. This is something we’ve seen gradually happen with Sky Q over years of software updates. But Sky Glass takes things a little further.
If you highlight a particular show, Sky Glass will automatically search across Disney+, Prime Video and Netflix to bring together episodes available as part of your subscription with new episodes that air on Sky channels. So, you’ll be able to rewatch older seasons via Netflix and then seamlessly move to a new episode that aired on Sky Comedy last week, for example. Like with Sky Q, you’ll be able to search across Sky, Disney+ and Netflix’s library at the same time – so you won’t accidentally rent a title from Sky Store that’s included in your Disney+ subscription.
With Sky Glass, it doesn’t feel like these services are direct rivals to Sky anymore. Instead, it feels like the satellite company has acknowledged that it’s inevitable that viewers want to watch original series from Netflix and Disney+ …and that it wants to provide a natural way to jump into these shows, rather than leaving them siloed in standalone apps buried in the menu.
The final major shake-up with Sky Glass is the way this QLED TV handles recordings. Since Sky+ launched in 2001, we’ve all become accustomed to recording our favourite shows and movies to watch at a later time. Sky Q is available with either a choice of either 1TB or 2TB hard-drive to store all of your boxsets, movies and sport fixtures. The latter can store around 350 hours of High Definition recordings.
With Sky Glass, that all changes.
Sky has colour-matched its redesigned remote with each of the five colourways
While there is a small amount of memory inside Sky Glass, it’s not used to back-up endless episodes of your favourite show. Instead, the Record button on the redesigned remote has been ditched in favour of a new + symbol. Tapping this button will add a show to your Playlist. And that doesn’t mean your Sky Glass will be recording the show for you to later at a later date. Instead, it acts like a bookmark, with your Playlist bringing together episodes that have aired on terrestrial channels, on-demand boxsets from Sky, as well as new shows and movies from Netflix, Disney+ and others.
When it comes time to watch any of the series, individual episodes, movies or sport saved in your Playlist… Sky won’t whirr a hard-drive up to speed and playback what you’ve physically recorded, but instead will stream the show from the Sky servers over your broadband connection.
There are some advantages to this new approach. First of all, it means you’ll never have to worry about deleting your favourite film to make room for a new series. It also means some of the hiccups that can occur when making a recording at home – power cuts, signal issues, and more – will never impact your recording. Even if you suffer a power cut on the night, you’ll be able to stream a crystal-clear recording the following day, exactly in the same way that watching on BBC iPlayer isn’t impacted by what happened on your Sky Q when the show originally aired.
Ingeniously, the Playlist system also means that, unlike with Sky Q, multi-room devices around the house won’t connect to the main set-top box. Instead, they connect to Wi-Fi and stream episodes from the same servers. Likewise with Sky Go, you won’t need to download the recordings saved on the hard-drive in your Sky Q box onto an iPad before you can take them with you …they’ll be available from the same catalogue in the cloud. That’s much closer to what we’ve seen from the likes of Netflix and Prime Video.
As mentioned above, unlike the Series Link, which automatically records all new episodes of a show when they air, adding something to your Sky Glass’ Playlist will trigger the software to look back in time too. So, if you decide to add Desperate Housewives to your Playlist from your remote, Sky will automatically record new episodes – just like with Series Link on Sky Q and Sky+ HD – but will also scour its on-demand catalogue as well as any streaming services to bring together all episodes. That means you’ll be able to stream previous seasons from subscription services like Disney+, and Prime Video… before seamlessly switching to newer episodes that aired on Sky channels.
It should mean that all of the technicalities – whether something is buried in the Netflix app, Sky’s own on-demand catalogue, or aired last night on a terrestrial channel – are all hidden. All you need to know is that you’re watching the show you’ve picked. It doesn’t matter where it’s streaming from. And you won’t need to constantly juggle between HDMI ports to find the correct device with the streaming service you need to watch that one particular show… if we’re only going to have to deal with an ever-increasing number of streaming services with a few exclusive shows we all want to watch, the Sky Glass approach could be the only way to stay sane.
It’s worth noting that what Sky Glass is doing isn’t exactly new – Apple TV’s Up Next queue is essentially the same approach. But the difference is that Sky Glass supports Netflix (Apple TV’s playlist-like system doesn’t) and it has all of the live channels, sports and movies that you really want to watch.
Gone is the iconic R button to record shows, replaced with a new button
In our brief time with Sky Glass, there were only a few nitpicks that reared their heads. First up, while everything mentioned above is incredibly clever, it does all rely on a strong – and uninterrupted – broadband connection to work. If your broadband provider is suffering an outage, you won’t be able to access your recordings – something that definitely isn’t the case for Sky Q box owners. Of course, comparing Sky Glass with Sky Q might be a little unfair as the all-in-one 4K TV has more in common with the likes of the Roku TV, Apple TV and latest Chromecast with Google TV. And all of those devices also become glossy plastic paperweights as soon as your Wi-Fi connection has a hiccup.
But the new streaming-only approach is also opening up some new revenue streams for Sky. For the first time, Sky will begin charging customers who want to fast-forward through the ad breaks.
Yes, since everything in your Playlist is streamed to your Sky Glass, recordings work in the same way as streaming an episode on All4 or ITV Hub. And exactly like the latter, which offers customers an optional monthly fee to eliminate the ad breaks, Sky Glass will charge viewers to remove all advertisements from the episodes that are streamed from its servers. Dubbed the Ad Skipping Add On, this feature will be included at no extra cost to all Sky Glass customers for the first year. After 12 months, those who want to continue to be able to skip through the adverts in old recordings of the Great British Bake Off, I’m A Celebrity …Get Me Out Of Here, GoggleBox, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Succession, and more, will have to pay an extra £5 a month.
For those who are already paying for ITV Hub+ to remove adverts from its catch-up app and website – at a cost of £3.99 a month – the alternative from Sky, which removes adverts from all channels, will seem like a bargain. But for those who are accustomed to whizzing through the ad breaks with their Sky+ HD or Sky Q boxes… the fact that this core feature will now be locked behind an extra fee will undoubtedly feel like a big step backwards.
Sky Glass is an interesting proposition. If you haven’t got a standalone soundbar or own an ageing LED TV, Sky Glass will seem like a monumental upgrade. Coupled with the fact that this all-in-one approach looks neater in the corner of your living room and uses less energy, Sky Glass starts to look like a truly revolutionary product.
Of course, the all-in-one approach does mean anyone who has invested in a surround sound system or a pricey OLED TV is likely to stick with Sky Q over the new satellite dish-less system. And that’s a shame because Sky Glass also arrives with a brand-new user interface, hands-free voice commands, and some clever software tricks. A small Sky Q-like set-top box that works over Wi-Fi and includes the same software as Sky Glass would’ve kept everyone happy, but there’s no sign of that on the horizon quite yet.
Sky Glass is available in 43-, 55-, and 65-inch sizes
Sky Glass masterfully combines shows and movies from Sky’s own catalogue, optional extras like BT Sport, and popular streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Disney+. Everything is presented side-by-side in the same menu, so you don’t need to remember whether Squid Game is on Netflix or Prime Video and hunt down the correct streaming app. There’s no ego in Sky Glass’ suggestions either, which recommend shows from these streaming services as often as Sky Original shows and films.
The new Playlist feature is a clever reimagining of the Record and Series Link features introduced 20 years ago with the arrival of Sky+, so you’ll never have to worry about deleting old series to make room for a new blockbuster. And while stormy nights won’t threaten your satellite signal and cause hiccups in your recordings any more… you will need to have a stable broadband connection. If your Wi-Fi stumbles, you won’t be able to watch any live Sky channels or any of your recordings.
Sky Glass is a surprisingly ambitious product. It would’ve been easier to simply ditch the satellite cable port from the existing Sky Q box and call it a day. Instead, Sky hopes it can convince customers to pay for their television like a two-year phone contract – and offload their recordings to its servers and pay extra for features that were available as standard with all of its previous set-top boxes.
Sky Glass is an impressive piece of kit, but it definitely won’t be the right option for everyone. That’s not a secret – Sky is still selling its Sky Q box after all.