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Finally I get some information on SKY Q from a the point-of-view of how it effects satellite/TV installers and ultimately CI’s (customer installers) such as myself.

I attended a quick seminar this morning hosted by primary supplier of Satellite and TV distribution infrastructure equipment needed for Satellite and TV signal infrastructure for all markets, from a small studio flat, to a high-rise hotel or block of flats. The gist of the seminar was to primarily discuss the impact and implications of SKY Q on TV/Satellite installers and what could now be viewed as being their ‘legacy’ TV and satellite distribution installations.

The seminar unfortunately did not show an actual SKY Q installation, so I did not get to see it in action, however the seminar did give me a number of valuable insights from a technical perspective of how the system works, and what is required to get new SKY Q customers up and running. I must state off the bat, no matter how compelling the offering from SKY, it does have a number of very negative implications for both the end-user and the installer alike.

So this post will give only a cursory overview of what SKY Q is from a end-user’s point of view, and will focus more on my thoughts of what I like and don’t like about it.

SKY Q Overview

SKY Q will be have two main ‘hubs’, being SKY Q Silver and SKY Q. The Silver offering has a larger hard disk for recording, has more tuners and will be capable of displaying 4K UHD content, which SKY have indicated they will starting broadcasting limited content sometime in summer 2016, this moved up from the end of 2016. Both of these set-top boxes act as both the primary set-top box for you TV, as well as a media server for streaming content to tablet PC’s (they mention iPad, so I do not know if Android is supported) and their SKY Q mini set-top boxes.

SKY Q product line-up

The real change here is that the typical home will only require one set-top box with a connection to the satellite dish, and the rest of the screens in your home will only need a SKY Q mini and a wireless network in order to view SKY content, by virtue that the primary SKY Q box has a lot of tuners (16 on the silver and 8 on the standard box), it is capable of recording and streaming a number of different channels (or on-demand content) simultaneously, and serving the needs of the other screens in your home.

SKY have a number of accessories to help boost Wi-Fi coverage and speeds throughout a home, as wireless network coverage and speed is an essential component in ensuring SKY Q works correctly.

On the surface this does seem to simplify installations considerably, you only need a couple of cables going into one SKY box and in theory, this would make coaxial cables distributed elsewhere in the home fairly redundant. Additionally you need not worry on which SKY HD box you recorded your show, as the one device will now store the home’s recordings on one device rather than across several sky boxes in a multi-room installation.

The streaming to a tablet PC is a definite modern twist that is both worthwhile and something I am sure consumers have been wanting for quite sometime. In addition to this, SKY Q Synch will allow you to copy or synchronise recording onto your tablet device, so you can view your recordings away from home, away from the SKY Q hub.

With 4K content, a consolidated set of TV recordings and the ability to potentially watch SKY on 7 or 8 devices simultaneously from one central hub is clearly a revolutionary and much welcome set of developments that are perhaps long overdue, but finally arrived.

Sky own the equipment

The equipment will always remain the property of SKY, the end user does not purchase or own any of the SKY Q equipment, instead it is rented or leased to the customer, very much in the same manner that Virgin does with their equipment. This is not a bad thing at all, because this means that SKY is ultimately responsible for the equipment, and has to ensure that equipment is either repaired or replaced should it ever become faulty. In the past, if your SKY HD box packed up, it was your responsibility to pay for a replacement (unless the unit was still under warranty), and this has been a bugbear of a lot of SKY customers who have been on the sharp-end of situation such as this. Imagine all of that money spent on the subscription and then you have to pay for a replacement product where you as the consumer have no absolutely no alternative choices to choose from; so if the product is of shoddy quality, and it conveniently packs up outside of warranty, it becomes your problem, and not that of the manufacturer or service provider. So, yes, this is a very good thing – if SKY has a range of products that are reliable, that is good for everyone, and if not, they will have to bear the costs of maintaining said equipment.

SKY will handle SKY Q installations in homes

All home installations, or rather homes that do not make use of commercial or communal TV/Satellite systems (IRS) will be undertaken by SKY’s own appointed installers. You really do not have a choice in the matter. It makes sense that they have adopted this policy, as there is a number of key changes they have to apply, one of which is replacing your satellite dish’s LNB (the pod found on satellite dishes), plus they need to setup a wireless network in order for the SKY services to stream to the various mini and ipad devices. Installations will cost between £100-£300.

SKY will not necessarily be able to handle installations in commercial or communal settings, as a SKY Q installation might require a serious overhaul or changes to some very expensive equipment in multiple-dwelling units (MDU). Working out who is responsible for this equipment, getting landlord’s permission and ensuring that other users in the MDU are not affected by a new SKY Q installation is territory that SKY would rather avoid, thus this is where the tradition Satellite/TV installer has to get involved with a SKY Q installation.

So what are my concerns?

Well my concerns are thus:

  • It is not a true multi-room video distribution system, and I fear consumers might interpret this system as being one. Thus, you would still need a traditional video distribution system if you want other video sources to be distributed around your home, and if you have invested in this infrastructure, then there is really little point in going for SKY Q other than the increased storage space, 4K content (which has yet to appear, and we do not have any details of what this content will be and how much of it there will be) and being able to view on your iPad – although viewing live broadcasts on a tablet PC is possible with devices that the price of a month’s subscription on SKY Q
  • The changes applied to your SKY dish could render other other set-top boxes/receivers useless – for example FreeSAT. You might very well need to install separate infrastructure to support the reception of FreeSAT and potentially you terrestrial TV signal too – so you could potentially have two dishes outside your home, or you will need to invest in new switching hardware. This issue obviously does not faze SKY in the least as this effectively wipes out their competing off-air services quite conveniently. This is not impossible to fix, but it has definite repercussions on end-users who use their satellite dish and TV/Satellite distribution systems for something other than SKY only.
  • This system is seemingly dependant on wireless networking, i.e. Wi-Fi. SKY says that if you use their HUB product, then all of the SKY Q boxes will act as wireless access points, thus boosting the wi-fi coverage in your home – this is a good thing right? On the surface yes, but when you dig deeper you find out that the SKY Hub implies that you need to be a SKY broadband subscriber… so if you want to use a different ISP, you lose this feature – i.e. only the SKY Q box itself will be an access point, with no range extension possible. So here is the first sign of, well, how do I put this delicately, bullying from SKY. It would be possible for you to install a range extender regardless of the broadband provider you user, but SKY have opted to ensure that this is not an option, or rather if you want to use their wireless network system, you have to commit to their Internet service too. I’m afraid this sort of bullying I have seen before, where SKY fight hard to disallow you using your own network router equipment (their modem/routers are rubbish), so they can retain 100% complete control over your network traffic over their internet line. This is not something anyone should be comfortable with – both as a SKY customer being told what network equipment you can and can’t use, and as a non-broadband customer being told that your SKY Q service’s performance will be inferior because you want a better or cheaper broadband service from someone else. I am sure this will be challenged by someone, and OFCOM can then take several years to think about these business practices are truly in the best interests of the public after SKY have taken them to lunch several times whilst they deliberate over the matter. I can’t help but be sceptical (or is it cynically) in thinking that if you do not use SKY’s networking equipment whether SKY Q will deliberately under perform to give end-users an incentive to change their provider?
  • Staying on the subject of Wi-Fi networking, I am someone who firmly believes that if a device is to remain in a static position, such as a TV, then it should exist on a wired rather than a wireless network. It is here where I was given the most perplexing information of all – and that is that SKY wants you to run SKY Q wirelessly, but possibly it can be run over a HomePlug (Ethernet-over-Power), but you can’t run it on a switched Ethernet using high-quality structured cabling. Technically this does not make sense at all, other than to simplify the installation for themselves at the cost of the client. Further it is bonkers to suggest that it will work fine on a HomePlug system, but not a proper network. The sorts of ‘VIP’ customer they are aiming this product at typically have excellent structured cabling systems in their homes, so it beggars belief as to why they are seemingly deliberately designing their system not to take advantage of the best possible method of networking a media streaming product. Does anyone disagree with this point of view?
  • My penultimate thought on SKY Q’s ‘wireless only’ approach means that SKY Q could effectively hog your wireless bandwidth. All bandwidth is finite, especially wireless bandwidth. Further, wireless networking is susceptible to interference from a number of sources, including your neighbours. Interference, SKY Q’s wireless bandwidth requirements and your own collectively could result in you getting less than optimal performance out of your wireless network.
  • The last though, and it is one that is pedantic, the term ‘wireless mesh’ has been used in the marketing literature of the SKY Q. They are implying that mesh network will exist if all of the various SKY Q boxes and the SKY hub are used as wireless access points. As a network engineer, I am a little annoyed that this term is being used, as I doubt very much that it will be a true mesh network, then again, the technical information has been thin on all aspects of the SKY Q system.
  • The new SKY remote control uses bluetooth, which means that there might be range issues if the box is installed some distance away from your screen.The good news however is the SKY Q set-top boxes still do accept infra-red commands.
  • This is a minor issue, but Magic eye, TV link and other IR systems will no longer work

Unanswered questions

There are so many unanswered, but I thought I would put a few down, which I hope in time will be answered:

  • Will 4K only be available on SKY Q silver?Meaning will there be other 4K receivers/set-top boxes in the future?
  • Does SKY Q Silver also imply that there will be a Gold and Platinum product coming sometime soon?
  • Will the traditional SKY HD+ be phased out, and SKY Q will become its replacement?
  • Will SKY make an API available, or IP command set to custom installers and app developers for better integrated control of this system? It is claimed that SKY have never refused to do so, but then again they have never agreed either. As a custom installer and Smarthome programmer I hope to see this change, this one act alone will change my view on SKY and how they conduct business in a big way. I hope that they will be more open with control in the future, if not immediately now.
  • What impact does SKY Q have on Internet and wireless bandwidth? Both for on-demand content streaming as well as usage data and other reporting these devices are likely to feedback to SKY

Time will tell as to what impact SKY Q will have on the TV viewing habits of the UK public, or, indeed, how many people will migrate to this service. One thing is for certain, for good or bad, SKY Q will definitely have an impact on those who choose to subscribe to it, and I am keen to learn from their experiences in choosing to do so.

 


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I have noticed an increase in the press about the recent announcement of high definition (HD) broadcasts that will be made over the UK terrestrial digital TV service known as FreeView; these announcements that HD broadcasts will be broadcast over our airwaves, rather than exclusively over satellite services is a big boon. We are very happy that almost everyone home in the UK will be able to receive HD TV without the need for a satellite dish is good news.

What is perhaps not good news is that the vast majority of FreeView receivers, being both the set-top box variety and those tuners that are built-in to your TV, will not be capable of receiving, or at least, decoding these HD broadcasts over the FreeView service.

The press, not all of the press, but the sort of press that is aimed at the lowest common denominator, and has some ties to BSKYB (like those owned by News International, or those that broadcast their Porn channels on Sky), have decided to call foul on this limitation found within the vast majority FreeView tuners.

The theme that most of these news articles follow is consumers are being deceived, no conned, when they are sold an HD-Ready, or Full HD capable TV without the ability to tune in and decode these HD broadcasts. Not 5 minutes after FreeView made the announcement that they will begin HD broadcasts in 2010, did the alarmist and techno-ignorant press jump on the caveat emptor bandwagon stating that if you buy a TV set today, you will not be able to receieve HD TV. Surely the consumer will expect to be able to receive HD broadcasts out of the box, especially when their TV set has an ‘HD-Ready’ logo sticker on it?

I would agree that it is a realistic expectation for consumers to expect to receive HD TV from their TV set, but the reality is that out-of-the-box, almost all TV sets require some sort of additional hardware to in order to watch HD pictures. Think about it… if you want:

  • High definition films, your DVD player will not cut the mustard; you need to get yourself a blu-ray player; and yes… blu-ray movies to play on the blu-ray player. These players can play DVD’s, so this does not mean you have to chuck away you entire DVD collection, but it does mean that these discs are standard definition, and whilst your player, TV or AV receiver may be able to upscale the standard definition picture to a high-definition picture (like 1080p), the source still remains standard definition
  • HD TV, you need a HD TV service. TV’s that have FreeSAT tuners are capable of receiving HD TV broadcasts through a satellite dish, but more often than not those consumer who are serious about receiving HD TV will subscribe to a pay-TV service like SKY HD or Virgin HD; this will enable them to receive more channels than the standard FreeSAT offerings. This is my biggest suspicion as to who’s agenda is being circulated around the press… the press is stating you will need to buy a new HD FreeView receiver in order to receive the FreeView HD broadcasts, but none of saying that the same applies to existing SKY and Virgin Media subscribers too. If you are a SKY subscriber, and you purchase an HD ready TV, it does not mean you will receive HD TV. Only once you have ordered this service, had a new box installed (which does carry an installation cost) and subscribed to a HD TV package, which costs more than a standard SKY/Virgin subscription, will your HD Ready TV show off its capabilities. The FreeView HD service will incur a once-off cost for the purchase of a HD capable receiver, and these are very modestly priced, some cost as much as the installation costs of the pay-TV services, or a modest £140 will get you a HD capable PVR.
  • Games consoles: Nintendo Wii does not display HD, Xbox 360 and PS3 games consoles do, all you need to purchase is an HDMI cable… the PS3 has the added bonus of being able to play blu-ray movies
  • Audio: Most older AV receivers are not capable of decoding the newer high-definition audio soundtracks found on newer blu-ray moview releases, meaning that for those who really love their home surround sound will likely need to purchase new kit here… again the press has nothing to say about this, this of course is merely the advancement of technology; why is the announcement of FeeView HD any different?

Consumers should not confuse the the ‘HD Ready’ moniker as being description of the capabilities of the TV tuner, no more than you can expect to view HD using a standard SKY receiver, Virgin Media cable box, DVD player, video machine or games console, unless these devices are HD capable themselves.

Quite simply there are no HD channels at the present time being broadcast on terrestrial services, so how on earth can TV manufacturers be realistically be expected to have this capability ready, this is also a very recent announcement by the FreeView group, and thus manufacturers will need to ‘catch-up’ with this announcement to their commitment to the broadcast of HD TV.

A set that is ‘HD ready’ has nothing to do with what TV signals it is capable of receiving and displaying, it merely describes the maximum level of resolution, or detail the TV is capable of displaying; this does not mean the TV set is magically going to be able to take a lower resolution (standard definition) picture and magically convert it into anything better than what it receives in the first place.

What the press are also failing to mention is that the announcement of the FreeView HD services, due for launch in 2010, is actually an outstanding technical achievement. They have developed a technology that was first launched as the doomed ITV Digital service, a service that is well over 10 years old (and its technology equally old) into something that was initially thought to be impossible to achieve. Yes, they have made a technological achievement that means if you want these new features, you will have to upgrade your existing set-top box, or simply be patient and wait for the TV manufacturers to announce when their TV sets will be capable of receiving Terrestrial Digital HD TV. Buy a TV set today, you will most definitely need new hardware only if you want FreeView HD, otherwise you can continue using FreeView unhindered without any changes required to your TV or set-top box. You can even have HD TV today if you opt for FreeSAT (available on Panasonic TV’s), or you can wait for the TV manufacturers to catch-up and develop tuners that will take advantage of this very positive announcement.

Remember, whenever a new innovation and positive announcement is made in the TV broadcast arena, and this is quickly slagged off by the press, always question what the true motives are… more often than not it will be something that threatens someone’s comfortable and unchallenged position in the TV market, and will bring about some healthy competition.

©Tea London 2004 - 2013