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Speculation mounts that Sky will launch new STB platform next week

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Speculation is rife that a news event Sky has scheduled for next week (November 18) will be used to unveil a new set-top box platform and that it is called SkyQ. The Pay TV operator has certainly raised expectations with a promotional video charting key moments in television history, from early transmissions to the advent of colour, multichannel TV (the launch of Sky itself), PVR (Sky+), HDTV and TV Everywhere (Sky Go). The tagline is: ‘See what’s next’ and then, ‘Set your TV free’. 

At the MediaTel Media Playground event in London yesterday, Graham Lovelace, Director at media consultancy Lovelace Consulting, predicted a turbo-charged 4K gateway with multiple tuners that will support streaming of content to four or more devices around the home simultaneously. He said it will be a game-changer. This whole-home hub will remove the need for additional set-top boxes and therefore make the ‘Sky Multiroom’ service redundant, Lovelace suggested. “SkyQ will become the hub around which all your entertainment could be controlled.”

It is expected that a next-generation Sky platform will tick off several of the items on the wish-list that another UK-based media consulting firm, Decipher, published in February. In an open letter to Sky, the company said it wanted a much more personalized user experience and ‘rich media’ graphical presentation, with an EPG, “that has to look, feel and behave cooler than Netflix”. 

The company expected the new box to be more of a ‘media server’ than a PVR, with many more tuners – enough to record five things at once on a Saturday or Sunday evening.  Any content available through the set-top box should be available on multiple devices around the home, which means linear, VOD and personal recordings. This means using transcoders on the hub device to stream IP versions of broadcast channels around the home Wi-Fi network. 

Decipher argued that the whole-home multiscreen viewing should be managed by a single app that combines the Sky+ and Sky Go apps on the Apple iPad and which knows when you are on or off the home network – and therefore presents the correct menu of content that is available to view in each scenario. Smart TVs should be treated as another multiscreen device, offering access to the full Sky service via a ‘Sky platform app’, and it should be possible to connect ‘dumb’ televisions into this whole-home service using streaming boxes and streaming sticks. You should be able to pause viewing on one device and resume on another.

In its wish-list, Decipher asked for a local PVR memory of 3TB or better – or less memory that is complemented with some personal cloud storage; “a form of cloud PVR that would resonate with consumers as a ‘Dropbox’ for TV”. Start-over functionality should be available on multiple channels at the same time. The box should support at least 4K, clearly, and there should be a handful of carefully chosen apps available, like YouTube, Vevo and Curzon. 

This summer The Telegraph, the UK national newspaper, quoted industry insiders saying that the new hardware will offer satellite households an “Apple and Netflix-style” experience. “SkyQ is understood to allow subscribers to watch and record at least four programmes simultaneously on multiple devices throughout the home,” the newspaper said in July.

The newspaper reported that ‘SkyQ’ “will wirelessly beam content to smartphones and tablets around the home, and is ready to receive ultra-high definition broadcasts.”


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