Sky Stream, the standalone 4K streaming puck from UK TV giant Sky, is a major game-changer for the company – finally, a small, cheap device that lets you subscribe to Sky without long-term contracts and without needing a dish.
Starting at either £26/month (if you sign an 18-months contract) or £29/month with a 31-days rolling contract, Stream is based on streaming and relies on your broadband connection – but is compatible with all broadband providers, and not just Sky’s broadband.
In many ways, Sky Stream is similar to Sky’s first streaming-only device – Sky Glass, which launched last year. In fact, Sky Stream and Sky Glass share an operating system and UI – what Sky is now calling the ‘Entertainment OS‘, and the two will get identical updates (except for obvious differences that are related to picture and audio quality on Glass).
With the Stream officially launching on October 18, I was able to take a closer look at it during Sky’s launch event – so you can read my first hands-on impressions down below. But first, let’s look at what the Stream puck can do.
What Is Sky Stream?
Sky’s standalone streaming box was announced in September, and while its official release date is October 18, some customers have been able to get their hands on it before that date.
Unlike Sky Q and Sky’s older boxes in the UK, Sky Stream doesn’t use a satellite dish – instead, it relies on broadband, and streams all the content to the box, much like other streaming devices and streaming services (Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku, and streaming services like Netflix and Sky’s own NOW).
But unlike Sky Glass, where you have to buy and pay for a whole new TV – Sky Stream can be connected to any TV in your house (and you can get up to six, for different rooms, but you’ll have to pay more).
Unlike competing streaming devices from Virgin Media (the similarly named “Stream) and BT TV – Sky Stream can work with any broadband provider, so you don’t have to subscribe to Sky Broadband or change providers.
As for pricing, unlike Sky’s dish-based solutions (such as Sky Q), Sky Stream doesn’t require a long-term contract, which is a major shift for Sky.
The basic contract is a 31-day rolling contract which you can cancel at any time without any penalty charges.
But you CAN also go for the 18-month contract, and that will lower your monthly subscription costs – although you’re then “stuck” with it for 18 months.
For the device itself, you need to pay a “setup fee” of £39.95 for the rolling contract, or £20 for the 18-month contract – you then install it yourself, and there are no engineers involved.
The basic Sky Stream package is Sky Ultimate, which includes Sky Entertainment (a pack of channels like Sky Atlantic, Sky Max and others), Freeview, and the basic Netflix plan which only has SD content (but will be upgraded to 720p in November).
The rolling-contract version of this package costs £29/month, and the same plan, with the 18-month contract, is £26/month.
On top of the basic package, you can add more packs and channels from Sky and 3rd parties. As of this writing, the costs are:
- Sky Cinema (which includes Paramount+) for £13/month on the rolling contract, and £11/month on the 18-month contract.
- Sky Sports for £27/month on the rolling contract, and £25/month on the 18-month contract.
If you want to add 4K and Dolby Atmos to Sky’s content, that’s another £5/month.
And if you want to be able to fast forward adverts on some apps/channels – it’s free on your first year with Sky Stream, but then goes up to £5/month.
If you want to add more Sky Stream boxes in other rooms, you’ll have to add the “Whole Home” pack for an extra £12 a month.
You then also have to pay the “setup fee” (£39.95 or £20) again for every box you add, although Sky is currently offering the second box for free.
Sky Stream Puck: First Impressions
During Sky Stream’s launch event, I was able to take a close look and get a hands-on feel for the new Stream puck. This is not a full review yet – but a few early thoughts.
That being said, with the Stream sharing an identical interface with Sky Glass – a TV that I’ve been using for almost a year – it’s easy to spot the pros and cons that the TV and the puck share.
Furthermore, some customers will already be familiar with Sky Stream – as it’s the exact same device that was sold as the ‘Sky Puck’ – a streaming box that was offered as a multi-room add-on to owners of Sky Glass.
The device itself is a very small, and very light box, at 10.8 x 1.8 x 10.8 cm. Unlike Sky Glass, it only comes in one colour (at least for now) – “Anthracite black”.
On the back, you’ll find one HDMI 2.1 port (which you use to connect the Stream to your TV), an Ethernet port (so you can connect the Stream to broadband either by WiFi or with an Ethernet cable), the power port, and an aerial port.
Sky Stream supports 4K/HDR (provided your TV supports it as well, of course) as well as Dolby Atmos audio – but for 4K and Dolby Atmos on Sky’s channels, you’ll need to pay an extra £5/month.
Stream comes with the same remote you get with Sky Glass.
The Sky Stream User Interface
If you’re familiar with Sky Glass, then you’ll feel right at home with Sky Stream – as they share the same interface. If you’re used to Sky Q, however – then the basic concept is quite different (even if the look and feel are similar).
Everything is still based around the “rails” of content – either recommendations of content you might like, or content you’ve actually been watching within your “Playlist”.
Although programmes and films from Sky’s own channels often get a more prominent place, Stream does a nice job of giving you content suggestions from all over the place – you will see thumbnails of stuff from Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer and more.
If you want to watch something right now, you will either be sent directly to its player screen – if it’s from a Sky channel – or to a 3rd party app such as Disney+ or Paramount+, with that programme open and ready for you in the app.
There’s also the TV Guide, where “live” channels reside – either from Freeview, or Sky’s own live channels.
The Playlist is where you keep content you want to keep watching. So, for example, if there’s a series you’re interested in, once you see its thumbnail, you can press the “+” button on the remote, and ALL EPISODES from that series will be added to your Playlist, waiting for you to watch later.
This is probably the main difference Sky Q veterans need to understand – Sky Stream doesn’t have its own local storage, and instead, all the content is streamed to you via broadband.
Most of the content is streamed on-demand, either from Sky or one of the 3rd party apps – so you’re taken to BBC iPlayer, All4, Netflix, etc.
Some content can also be recorded to the cloud – mainly sports – but for most of the content, you’re dependent on the show/film still being available online, instead of having it reside on your local hard drive.
With a full year of user feedback (thanks to Glass), Sky has refined certain aspects of the user interface, with some tweaks (that I was able to see today) coming soon – such as the Playlist tile moving up to the top of the screen and the ‘Play Now’ rail, which was a confusing mix of Playlist programmes and a watch history – turning into a standard ‘Continue Watching’ rail.
Another addition that’s coming soon is the “Personalised Playlist” feature – a big name for what is basically user profiles, something that’s been sorely missing from Sky Glass, and now Stream.
Instead of making you choose a profile when you turn on the Stream (or Glass) – there will be a “Shared” interface for the entire family, but specific programmes can then be added to personal playlists – so there’s a playlist for Dad, a playlist for the 5-year-old, etc., and a shared Playlist for things the family watches together.
The interface on Sky Stream feels just as smooth and swift as it does on Sky Glass.
In fact, the Voice Search (which is activated on the remote – Stream doesn’t have microphones on the box itself, unlike Glass) feels even snappier than it currently does on Glass, with the results popping up almost instantly – but I’ll have to test that more thoroughly once I do the full review.
All in all, the interface – which is now much more refined than it was a year ago – is easy to use, once you grasp the streaming idea (which replaced the recording method).
As with Sky Glass, Stream can’t fully replace a streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV – as it only has a limited number of apps (see the full list of Sky Stream apps and channels here).
But if you’re a fan of Sky’s channels and content, and you want a box that’s simple to use, with some nifty content aggregation – Stream presents a compelling case.
Plus, don’t forget it lets you watch Freeview without an aerial – something that’s still an issue for many viewers with bad reception.
Even so, Sky Stream still feels like another stepping stone – with Glass being the first step, and Stream being the second step.
Eventually, we might end up with an upgraded version of what Sky’s NOW is – a streaming service from Sky that works on any streaming device, and doesn’t require a special puck.
I will write further analysis and news on Sky Stream in the coming days, including a full review – so make sure you Subscribe to our free newsletter.