Sky HD Changes Explained: What Can You Get For Free?

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Even though 4K (Ultra HD) and HDR are the big TV buzzwords in recent years, some Sky customers have been unable to even watch content in High Definition (HD), having to either pay to upgrade their boxes, or for the HD pack add-on. Now, a few changes are afoot.

As we reported last month, Sky customers who are still using old SD-only TV boxes, can now upgrade to Sky Q free of charge – or else they’ll lose access to all of the BBC’s channels.

Specifically, Sky said that “there’ll be no change to the Sky TV package or pricing” of customers who upgrade to Sky Q.

This, however, caused some confusion among some customers – as, for many years, Sky charged extra for HD channels on Sky Q – therefore customers were wondering whether some will now be getting it for free, while others won’t.

The short answer is no, but we’re here to quell the confusion, and explain what Sky’s changes (due to the BBC’s upcoming SD shutdowns) mean to existing (and new) customers.

Sky Q BBC News collage

Why Is The BBC Shutting Down SD Channels?

First, some background: From January 2023, the BBC is finally starting to roll out local programming on BBC One and BBC Two in HD.

During the first phase, which is set to be completed by March 2023, SD-only satellite viewers will start to lose their local programming on BBC One and BBC Two, on a region-by-region basis.

At that point, affected users will be automatically switched to a single pan-UK version of each of these channels, and will get special versions of BBC One and BBC Two that won’t feature any local or Nations programmes, such as the regional news programmes on BBC Breakfast or Reporting Scotland on BBC One.

BBC SD notification message

Between March 2023 and April 2024, the BBC will be reminding any remaining SD satellite viewers of the forthcoming closure of their SD channels.

In Phase II – by the end of March 2024, the BBC will be closing all SD channel feeds on satellite – so anybody that hasn’t upgraded to satellite HD by this time will lose access to all BBC TV channels.

If you haven’t upgraded to HD-enabled satellite equipment by this time, you will also lose access to all BBC radio channels on Sky and Freesat.

This means that Sky customers with older boxes (certain Digibox and Sky+ devices – see the full list here) won’t be able to watch any of the BBC’s channels by then – since SD versions won’t exist anymore, and the older boxes are technically capable of showing HD channels.

To solve that, Sky is offering affected customers, with those older boxes – free upgrades to Sky Q.

As mentioned, Sky says there’ll be no change to those customers’ Sky packages or pricing, which is important, since usually customers who wish to upgrade their Sky equipment are also asked to upgrade their plans and contracts – and that won’t be the case here.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll get all of Sky’s HD channels for free.

How Sky’s HD Packs Work

Even though Sky’s new devices (such as Sky Glass and Sky Stream) all display content in HD by default (and 4K/UHD if you pay extra), Sky Q (and the older Sky+HD) are different.

Sky Q official
Sky Q

Some channels on Sky Q are available in HD at no extra cost, to all customers with the box. These include:

  • BBC One / Two / Three HD
  • ITV 1,2,3,4 HD (It used to be just ITV1, but the rest recently went free-to-air)
  • STV HD
  • Channel 4 HD (But not its ‘sister’ channels like E4 HD and Film4 HD)
  • Channel 5 HD
  • BBC News HD
  • … And more

Therefore, customers who upgrade from an old box to Sky Q, will be able to get Sky’s free HD channels at no extra cost – just like existing customers with Sky Q.

However, customers who want to watch 40 other premium Sky channels in HD, will have to keep (or start) paying for the Sky HD add-on, which normally costs £8/month.

Sky Q HD Pack (old list)

Sky HD’s list of premium live channels, which are only available in HD if you pay extra, includes:

  • Sky Atlantic HD
  • Sky Max HD
  • Sky Witness HD
  • Gold HD
  • Comedy Central HD
  • Sky Nature HD
  • Sky History HD
  • National Geographic HD
  • Sky News HD
  • … And more.

Therefore, even those customers who upgrade to Sky Q for free from an old SD-Only Sky box, will have to pay extra if they want to watch the full roster of HD channels – though, of course, that will remain optional.

In order to start the upgrade process, Sky customers can call 0333 759 5121, or upgrade online via this link.

9 thoughts on “Sky HD Changes Explained: What Can You Get For Free?”

  1. I paid a one off fee for a sky card years ago, so only get a few extra channels, and do not have a contract. Will I need to pay for a package to upgrade to HD?

  2. I suppose the SD shutdown means that these channels will not be available on Freeview in SD and all recordings of BBC channels will have to be in HD. This will reduce HDD recording capacity for BBC channels by 50%

  3. I think the £8 for HD is a rip off, I do not mind paying the add on of £5 for UHD but when HD is pretty much the standard these days they really shouldn’t be charging for it. I generally only keep the bare minimum Sky sub for On Demand stuff as I ditched my TV Licenses as I do not watch Live TV or BBC.


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