Sky’s 4K service, called ‘Ultra HD’, launches this August, placing live and on-demand 4K content at the fingertips of Sky Q Silver subscribers. We’ve been hands on to see what Sky brings to the UHD party…
Sky Ultra HD has been on the cards ever since the arrival of company’s next-generation Sky Q platform.
Finally it’s here, or at least it will be when Sky’s live and on-demand 4K content launches on Saturday 13th August.
Rather than a Sky 4K channel, all of the Sky Ultra HD movies, dramas, and natural history programmes will be on-demand. Live Sky 4K broadcasts are reserved for Premier League football. Lots of Premier League Football. Sky will broadcast a total of 124 Premier League matches in 4K throughout the 2016/2017 season, starting with Leicester versus Hull on 12th August at 12:30pm.
There are also 4K films. 42 Sky 4K movie titles will hit Sky Cinema at launch, including the premiere of The Martian on Sky in Ultra HD.
Other Ultra HD movies will be a mix of rentals through the Sky Store (available to all Sky Q Silver subscribers) or free downloads from Sky’s extensive catalogue. The list includes The Revenant, the entire Ghostbusters and Men In Black box sets, Minority Report, The Godfather, Jerry Maguire and the Spider-Man trilogy.
You can take your pick from five different Sky 4K TV series, including The Blacklist.
Before we get stuck into how the Sky 4K content looked, a couple of things need to be brought to the attention of any potential or current Sky Q Silver subscribers.
Sky Ultra HD comes with no additional charge, but you still need to subscribe to the relevant entertainment and/or sports packages to take advantage of 4K programmes. You can also rent 4K movies through the Sky Store even if you don’t subscribe to these packages. New releases cost £6.99 while older library titles cost £5.99 to rent.
Also, before Sky Ultra HD goes live, Sky Q Silver boxes will receive an automatic firmware update which will enable them to output 2160p resolution. The standard Sky Q box isn’t UHD-compatible, nor is the multi-room Mini box. Sky aims to roll-out this Ultra HD update to all Sky Q Silver boxes by the end of July.
So how do you set your Sky Q Silver box to 2160p? You can either do it manually through the box’s picture settings or you’re prompted to change the resolution the first time you attempt to watch 4K video.
It’s worth noting that once you’ve swapped the resolution to 2160p, this will be the default resolution of your Sky Q Silver box even when you’re not watching Sky UHD content. All standard-definition and high-def programmes will now be upscaled by the box instead of your 4K TV.
Sky’s done this to keep the user experience as consistent as possible and to prevent any loss of picture when your TV recognises a change in resolution.
In addition to enabling 2160p resolution, your Sky Q Silver box will also be able to determine whether your 4K TV supports 8-bit or 10-bit colour and will adjust its output settings accordingly.
Where available, Ultra HD content is one of the options you see in the sub-menus for each relevant category. This option is hard to miss and easy to select using the touchpad remote.
We stumbled across a couple of programmes available in 4K in the menu system, which were flagged up as 4K thanks to a small UHD logo in the preview panel at the top right corner of the screen.
If you punch in the number for the Sky Sports channel showing Premier League Football, you are then prompted to select the UHD broadcast via an on-screen pop-up.
We didn’t have a chance to watch any Sky 4K football, but we did manage to see examples of Sky Ultra HD movies, dramas and natural history programmes. First up was The Revenant, starring Leonardo Di Caprio.
Sky used an LG 4K OLED television as the display so it was tricky to tell how much of the image was the source and how much was down to the display, but the final result is certainly impressive. As the camera makes its way through the opening forest scene, all the ripples and reflections on the water appeared realistic with plenty of detail into the bargain. The sense of depth was also impressive as the camera peered through the trees into the distance.
Switching to Big Cat Diaries and there didn’t seem to be any let-up in detail during the kitty close-ups, with fine detail on tap and fur coats looking realistic.
Finally, we treated ourselves to a quick blast of the opening scene from The Blacklist and the picture was awash with crisply drawn lines and, again, impressive levels of detail.
We’ll be interested to see how older movies will look in 4K and whether any can match the Ultra HD Blu-ray equivalent.
So it appears the initial signs for Sky Ultra HD are very promising. The fear that Sky would charge extra for its UHD content has been unfounded and Sky is now able to give the likes of Amazon Video and Netflix a run for their money when it comes to the quantity of 4K content on offer.
With Formula 1 scheduled to arrive in UHD on Sky from the 2017 season onwards, eyes will also turn to BT and its next move on the 4K sports front.
Sky Ultra HD is one of the biggest AV developments of 2016, and we can’t wait to take it for a proper spin.