Technology

Sky Q TV box gets feature update, as voice control and apps move centre stage

From today your Sky Q TV box will look very different, as Sky drops the biggest update to its premium pay TV platform since launch, and voice control has been promoted to centre stage.

Simultaneously the Pay TV operator has released a new Sky remote with the Voice button positioned in the centre of the wand. It’s more than a symbolic gesture. With improved voice discovery made possible through machine learning techniques, Sky Q can now handle fuzzy searches, and is more intuitive to use.

“Six years ago at (Sky TV owner) Comcast we decided to build our own voice platform,” Fraser Stirling, Sky’s Group Chief Product Officer told us. “We now have a global voice platform that handles over a billion voice commands a month.”

For the first time, the Sky Q box can now make contextual recommendations.  In addition to searching movie titles and actors, you can ask for themes and genres. “Thrillers with Tom Cruise” will bring up relevant suggestions of what to watch. Before the end of the year, we’ll also be able to ask our boxes for entertainment themes too, like specific Halloween or Christmas content.   

Improved voice discovery has been made possible through machine learning techniques…

The all-new Sky remote has a Voice button dead centre

The familiar Sky Q user interface has also been dramatically reworked. A new Expanded View UI reclaims screen estate from the old static left-hand menu bar, allowing more content to be viewed and browsed onscreen.  

This new dynamic collapsible menu means you’ll see more recommendations, for TV shows, movies, podcasts and music..

Every TV series also now gets a Show Centre, which groups together all available seasons, episodes, recordings, broadcast schedules and on-demand links, all gathered within easy scrollable reach.

Sky is also introducing a Smart Button, that encourages you to watch the next episode in a season, or offers to Continue, Delete or Watch from the Start..

Sky Q’s Show Centre makes it easier to browse seasons and episodes

Sky is also upgrading the Disney+ app on the Sky Q box, adding HDR support to 4k images.  Sky’s Stirling says that we can expect dozens of new apps to land on the box over the next few months, as it seeks to offer even greater choice.

There’s a big change to how Sports can be navigated too. New Sports Centres bring together all the latest games and competitions, news, documentaries, fixtures, podcasts and tables. 

The Sky Q Sports Centre tells you what’s on now

Simply saying “football” into the controller will take you directly to a page that brings together live and on demand games content from all channels and apps. It scrapes Sky Sports, Sky Sports App, BT Sport, terrestrial channels, YouTube and Spotify for relevant content. 

In addition to football, there are Sports Centres for F1, cricket, golf, boxing and tennis.

We can also expect to see more HDR (High Dynamic Range) content. Sky introduced HDR via its Sky Nature channel earlier this year. This will roll out to include Sky originals and Sky Cinema movies before the end of the year. However live sport in HDR won’t be available until 2021. We do know that the Olympic Games in 2021 will be broadcast in HDR, but Sky tells us that coverage won’t be universal. “We’re looking at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, specific events” reveals Stirling.

But the new update doesn’t address two of our pet peeves with the platform. 4k content remains a challenge to Series Link or find, often hidden behind the Red Button for live coverage, and there is still no Watchlist or User Profiles. 

“We are looking at Profiles,” Fraser Stirling told The Luxe Review. “It’s certainly something we’re interested in – and Watchlists.” Sky may have its own solution to these popular (Netflix and Prime Video) features. “We know one of the most unloved features on Sky Q is Favourite Channels,” says Stirling. He hints that Sky may be able to develop that technology to address the issues of Profiles and content Watchlists.   

To read the TLR review of the Sky Q TV box, click here

Sky Q is available from £29/month on an 18 month contract, more details over on sky.com/tv.

About Steve May

Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, Steve muses and reviews for Trusted Reviews, T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice, Ideal Home, The Luxe Review, Channel News and the i newspaper. He’s also the editor of professional home cinema website Inside CI, and contributor to industry trade magazine ERT. He's on Twitter and Instagram as @SteveMay_UK

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