I’ve been looking at buying Sky HD on and off for over a year now, basically, since I got my Samsung 32″ LCD HDTV. Up until now, I’ve been using an upscaling DVD player to bring my viewing closer to High Definition quality, but now here’s my Sky HD review.
I’ve been waiting for the prices to drop on the initial cost of the Sky High Definition box and the HD additional monthly subscription — in that time the cost of the box has about halved in price to around £150 for existing customers. The £10 additional monthly fee remains for the High Definition subscription, however, I looked at it that you’re getting a much higher quality viewing experience for the sake of £2.50 per week – around the cost of your favourite beverage while you’re out and about – a decent value I think!
Current Sky HD Channels
So what do you get for your money in terms of channels and service? The current Sky HD channels are as follows:
- Sky One HD
- BBC HD
- Channel 4 HD
- FX HD
- Sky Premiere HD
- Sky Screen 1 HD
- Sky Screen 2 HD
- Sky Comedy HD
- Sky Action HD
- Sky Family HD
- Sky Drama HD
- Sky SciFi/Horror HD
- Sky Modern Greats HD
- Sky Sports HD1
- Sky Sports HD2
- Sky Sports HD3
- Eurosport HD
- Discovery HD
- National Geographic Channel HD
- The History Channel HD
- Sky Arts HD
- Luxe TV HD
- Rush HD
- Sky Box Office HD1
- Sky Box Office HD2
With regard to the other standard definition channels, I think that these probably look a little better than a standard Sky box in terms of picture quality — as well as using an HDMI connection, I presume there is a certain amount of upscaling going on as I’m sure the picture quality is slightly better on my LCD TV and doesn’t show up the digital compression as much.
Sky HD Box Features and Storage
Sky HD comes complete with it’s impressive Sky+ functionality built-in, which means that you are released from TV schedules. You can watch your favourite TV shows when it suits you, it frees you from your life being dictated to by a TV schedule! You can “series link” a show so that every episode in the series gets recorded onto your Sky HD hard disk and sits there waiting to be watched at your convenience. Perfect for us busy people to keep up to date with our favourites, especially when you’re away on holiday!
The Sky High Definition box comes with 160GB of hard disk space that we can use, to get an idea of how this gets used up in practice, take a look below:
- 1 hour of HD content takes up to 5-7%
- 1 hour of standard non-HD content takes up to 2%
The Sky HD box comes as standard with Sky Anytime enabled – kind of like a TIVO in that it showcases programmes and movies for you to watch but without the learning what you like aspect. I’m guessing that there’s some guy just picking a bunch of shows to highlight which every single Sky Anytime viewer then gets (assuming they have a subscription to the appropriate channel).
Having said that, I’ve actually found some good, interesting shows from using it, so it’s not a complete waste of time but I so wish Sky would implement some Tivo-style functionality into their TV guide, so that the box actually learns what kinds of programming you like and records things that you might like.
The unfortunate thing is that even if you turn off the Sky Anytime functionality, you can’t then use the reserved space (140GB) on the hard disk to record more programming of your choosing! Therefore, there isn’t a great deal to be gained from not having it turned on – so as basic as Sky Anytime may be, I still find it of some use!
To compare this to my old Sky+ box (after I upgraded the hard disk to a Samsung 250GB), it would use up to 1% for 1 hour of standard content — obviously this is quite a drop in what can be stored, but equally I would record lots and never get round to watching it. I’d say the Sky HD box storage is still plenty for most needs and just encourages you to actually watch what you record!
The Sky HD Experience
The Sky HD box comes with an HDMI port to connect it to your high definition TV as well as a Scart connection – but you won’t be using that if you want to see high definition pictures.
Surround Sound has to go through the optical sound connection and not HDMI which was a little disappointing as it means I need to use an HDMI switcher which I wouldn’t have had to if the HDMI had carried the sound. Not a huge issue once you’ve got it set up, but it takes a little time to get it all working with my set up — however it was worth it, watching TV and movies in surround sound is very satisfying as it really immerses you in what you’re watching.
Sky Movies look so much better than a standard DVD does on your LCD TV. In many ways, it also saves having to spend more money on upgrading your home entertainment centre to a Blu-Ray high definition disc player. After many years of buying lots of DVDs and accumulating quite a collection, I’m really not that interested in replacing all of them again with another shiny physical media disc — I’d much rather wait for high definition movie downloads to appear, but in the meantime, Sky HD works well for me as I’m happy enough to wait until films are shown in high definition, either on the movie channels or Sky Box Office.
In a lot of cases you don’t even have the option of buying a high definition Blu-Ray version of the movie, particularly with older films, for instance, recently I’ve watched Star Wars, The Italian Job, Top Gun, Blade Runner and Braveheart in high definition on Sky. Obviously, there’s less flexibility about when I can see them, but coupled with the Sky+ functionality, I can watch them at my convenience once they have been shown on Sky HD.
Sky Sports is another way in which Sky HD really shows off what an improvement it is over regular Sky Digital. It’s all too easy to notice the blurriness of the pitch and lack of focus on the players when watching things like football games. With Sky HD it shows up all the detail of the action as though you were there pitch-side.
The high definition detail of the documentary channels really helps to get the point across, it certainly makes learning about various subjects a real joy to watch. Whether it’s watching programmes about engineering, history, space, but most of all the biggest difference comes when watching nature shows, the detail and clarity really shows through on animals and long sweeping landscape shots.
Sky HD Review Summary
In terms of costs, yes you are paying for the Sky HD box and an extra £10 a month, but I’m definitely saving money in the long run as I’m no longer buying DVDs (with lower picture quality) which I only end up watching once.
If you can make use of the optional telephone and broadband internet packages then Sky HD is even better value for money, especially if you’re in an area not covered by other services such as Virgin Media.
Overall, I’m a big fan of Sky HD and its Sky+ functionality and would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a quality television service — put simply, it’s like being short-sighted and then having your vision corrected and you don’t quite realise the difference until you see it for yourself! Buy Sky HD today, you won’t regret it!
Simon Barker is the founder and editor of Zath and has over 25 years worth of experience of using computers and technology in general. He can normally be found researching or testing the latest in technology products.
He has provided IT consultancy services to both home and small business users for over 15 years, building PCs, fixing hardware/software problems and providing comprehensive training.
Simon always likes to get the best out of the technology he is using, by both making informed decisions of what products to purchase and also optimising how it is then used to get the most benefits possible.
If you’d like to follow and/or contact him on Twitter, please feel free to do so – @SimonBarker.