04.01.16

HD and Beyond: The Advantages of Sky Q

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Here in the UK, by far the largest provider of subscription TV is Sky. The “Sky Box” has had a long and horrid history with custom installers. They are hard to reliably control and have a reputation for being unreliable. We’ve learned to live with them because they come up at almost every single job. An entire industry has cropped up with accessories to make these things work in a much more expensive whole-home setup. Up until now the boxes have had two tuners and every box needs its own satellite feeds.

Here in the UK, by far the largest provider of subscription TV is Sky. The “Sky Box” has had a long and horrid history with custom installers. They are hard to reliably control and have a reputation for being unreliable. We’ve learned to live with them because they come up at almost every single job. An entire industry has cropped up with accessories to make these things work in a much more expensive whole-home setup. Up until now the boxes have had two tuners and every box needs its own satellite feeds. But just as they changed the game with Sky+, where you could pause live TV and record TV straight to the box itself, Sky  are making another sweeping step set to shake things up once more.

Sky have just released an entirely new ecosystem. They’ve called it Sky Q. The big news for me isn’t how many tuners the new box has (a massive 12) or the fact that (with Sky Broadband) the boxes become wireless access points. It’s not the fact that it doesn’t do 4K yet, or that we don’t know which HDCP version it will employ, it’s how it can deliver content in more ways than one. There’s something I get to see, day in and day out, in my own home that personifies perfectly what Sky Q is all about.

To pick up on a concept I first heard from Peter Aylett of Archimedia, the world is full of two types of people. Digital natives and digital immigrants. There’s a good article at The Technology Source Archives at the University of North Carolina on the subject if you want to read more. Essentially, these two types of people function very differently. Our home is split down the middle: two adults and two young children. My wife and I are “Digital Immigrants”. Our children are “Digital Natives”. I must add that my wife and I are just on the cusp. We aren’t that old! I like watching my TV, well, on a TV. I like having Blu-ray discs and I enjoy the quality of the image and sound over normal DVD. I experienced the joy and suspense as a child of waiting until Friday night at 6 p.m. to watch the next episode of my favourite TV series. Facebook was born when I was at university. Google was something we saw in BETA, taking over from Ask Jeeves. High-speed Internet wasn’t a thing until I was nearly out of my teens. Sky+ was the biggest thing in TV ever.

On the flip side, my children couldn’t care less. They wish to consume any media they want, when they want and where they want, on the device they want. They can and it’s all they know. The Internet at home and on the move is fast enough for YouTube and on demand services (such as BBC iPlayer). They have no concept of being disconnected.

With Sky Q, you can watch what you’ve recorded to your Sky Q system on devices like iPads and Android tablets and take them with you out of the home.

With Sky Q, you can watch what you’ve recorded to your Sky Q system on devices like iPads and Android tablets and take them with you out of the home. Liberating the content they provide you, allowing its consumption in many more ways than simply via the HDMI connection to your TV. You can pause a programme in one room and send it right to another Sky Q box in another room. This is the kind of freedom that taps straight into the Digital Native mindset. This is what they’ve come to expect. The Digital Natives are beginning to grow up, get jobs and have the income to look into having this kind of system in their own homes. Apple haven’t included 4K in the new Apple TV and the new Sky Q setup doesn’t do 4K (yet). They appear to be tapping into the concept that the next generation don’t actually care about the quality of the content, so much as it’s accessibility.

The rise of the digital native is not quite planet of the apes, but Sky Q is perhaps a look at things to come. Are we storing music anymore? We’re streaming it. The death of the iPod classic is a sign of the times. Blu-ray and DVD sales are slowing down. I’m not sure that Blu-ray 4K will be as big a thing as Blu-ray was.

The way the next generation consume their media is not the same as mine. Drastically so. What does that mean for custom installation? What does that mean for HD Video distribution? The remit of what a custom installer does will change. The next generation will want to carry their digital identity with them when they leave the home. The smartphone the centre of it all. Custom install will remain the creation of smart buildings, eco buildings, I’m sure of that. The traditional end of the market will always be there, popping in centralised racks with distributed content. But we’ve got to be ready for the next generation of customers. If you aren’t a digital native, you’ve got to understand them. Or risk shrinking your potential customer base. That’s quite scary, does a father ever truly understand his son? I’m not very good at Call of Duty.

Daniel Adams is the Director of Technical at HDanywhere. www.hdanywhere.co.uk