Sky Q with Netflix preview hands-on, just don't ask about Dolby Atmos...yet

posted on Wednesday, 19th September 2018 by Steve May

Sky Q  Netflix  Streaming  Dolby Atmos  4K 

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Sky Q has taken the wraps off its eagerly anticipated partnership with Netflix, and their integration goes a lot further than many anticipated. Rather than simply offer a Netflix app, content from the Netflix service has been woven into the very fabric of the Sky Q user interface, ushering in a number of changes to the Sky Q platform itself.

When viewers subscribe to a new Ultimate On Demand package, they will see Netflix shows alongside Sky content. The likes of Glow and Lost in Space can be accessed directly without any need to fire up a dediacted Netflix app. For users, the content mix is seamless.

Inside CI was invite along for an early hands-on with the service, and left highly impressed.

Coinciding with the Netflix assimilation, Sky is swapping its thumbnail content grid for Netflix style ‘rails’. These will offer Sky and Netflix specific content, as well as blends of the two.

Netflix programmes will also appear in Sky Q’s Top Picks showcase on the main page, and in the new Continued viewing rail, depending on the last Netflix profile to have been used. Netflix programmes can even be searched via the Sky Q text search function.

In use, the mix is wonderfully intuitive, and obviously convenient. It's a fair bet that users will be pleased they don’t have to juggle several devices just to binge their favourite shows. For power watchers who already subscribe to both Sky Q UHD and Netflix, there are even cost savings to be made.

Britannia

Netflix On Demand

Sky has combined Netflix with its Sky Box Sets fee, which is currently £5. The combi-total becomes £10. This gets you the Netflix Standard £7.99 HD tier, representing a £2.99 per month saving when the two services are bought separately.

Any existing Netflix account can be digitally assigned to Sky, which then automatically takes over the billing. If you currently subscribe to the Sky Q Experience (QMS) package (a £12 fee), which includes UHD delivery, as part of a step-up from a Sky Q Entertainment package, then you automatically get the UHD streams from Netflix at no extra cost.

Netflix customers that don’t take the Ultimate On-Demand pack can still sign in via the Netflix app on the Sky Q box. The new combined service is scheduled to begin in November.

While Netflix currently offers HDR on selected shows, this is not available through the Sky Q box, which does not currently support any HDR - although we’re told it’s coming in 2019. Given that, the absence of HDR on this Netflix implementation is entirely understandable. 

More difficult to swallow is the lack of Dolby Atmos support. Netflix currently has a number of programmes with Dolby Atmos audio, available from specific hardware apps. Netflix delivers Dolby Atmos using a Dolby Digital+ stream.

Sky also offers Dolby Atmos on select TV shows and a growing number of UHD movies, again delivered using Dolby Digital+. However, when we looked for known Atmos Netflix shows on the Sky Q platform, they were only available in standard 5.1.

The Sky team at our briefing couldn’t really explain why this was the case, and given that both platforms support Dolby Digital+, it’s not unreasonable to think that a firmware update will eventually sort out this anomaly.

Netflix UI - TV PR Crop (1)

Sky has other service improvements on the cards, beyond Netflix integration.

The broadcaster has confirmed that it will introduce a similar joint billing service for Spotify users, allowing users to fold their Spotify account payments into their Sky bill. As an incentive, the satcaster will offer six months free Spotify for Sky Q Experiences users, and three months for non Sky Q Experience subscribers.

Sky’s autumn firmware release will also enable all apps to be opened using voice command. The trick will work for the weather app ("Show me the weather") to Vevo and YouTube. “The popularity of Spotify has been a little bit surprising to us, but the ability to play out music through the Sky Soundbox shows that Q is more than just TV entertainment,” we were told.

Sky is also adding a recommendation function for its Cinema section. Based on a subscriber’s viewing profile, content will be tailored to fit. This feature will debut on Sky Cinema and Sky Store.

There’s also a Kids filter incoming, with a new all-Kids mode for the Q interface, creating a safe viewing environment for parents that want to  leave the STB with children. All these additional changes will land on boxes before the end of the year.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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