Sky Stream, the first standalone streaming box from Sky, marks a major change for Sky – and for the UK TV market in general. Finally, customers can sign up for Sky without a fixed-term contract and without a satellite dish, with any broadband provider, and get Sky’s channels, 3rd party streaming services and even Freeview – all via broadband.
As a device, Sky Stream is a small “puck” that supports 4K/HDR, with most (but not all) of the major UK streaming services, and a voice remote that lets you control the device with your voice. The interface is innovative (though confusing at times), and while it’s not the fastest out there, with the box feeling a little sluggish at times – it never feels too slow.
As a service, Sky Stream improves on a lot of the reservations I had with Sky over the years – the ability to sign up, change and cancel subscriptions on a 30-day rolling contract basis, the fact you can install it without ever seeing a Sky engineer, and – it’s cheaper than many of Sky’s traditional TV offers.
Yet, of course, not everything is perfect- Sky is still pushing customers towards 18-month contract lock-ins (by making it cheaper to do so), some Freeview channels and streaming apps are still missing, and if price is your main concern – Sky’s own NOW streaming service is still the cheaper option.
But for many UK customers – Sky Stream is the ultimate Sky TV box. Let’s look at the reasons…
Quick Look – Sky Stream
What is it: A small 4K streaming TV box with Sky’s channels, a unique interface, 3rd party streaming apps and Freeview via broadband.
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Sky, Freeview and catch-up without a dish or an aerial
- Most of the major UK streaming apps/services
- Innovative and easy-to-use interface
- Excellent global search
- Can get without a long-term contract
- Works with every broadband provider
- More expensive than most streaming services/bundles, and basic features (like 4K and multi-room) cost extra
- No local-storage recording capabilities (and cloud recording is inconsistent)
- Some Freeview channels and streaming apps missing
- Still a bit buggy at times
Features and Specs
- Device Cost: £39.95 / £20 (depending on contract length)
- Size: 108 x 18 x 108mm
- Video Quality: 4K / HDR – HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Audio: Dolby Digital (Dolby Atmos passthrough)
- Storage: None (only for system use)
- Apps: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Paramount+, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, YouTube and more
- Connectivity: HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, WiFi (And an Aerial port which is deactivated for now)
- Extra Features: Voice remote with basic voice commands and search
More than a streaming stick, Stream is in a category of its own – a ‘Sky Stick’ (puck) perhaps, marking the future of Sky and premium pay-TV companies. The interface is slick (and keeps getting better), if a bit confusing at times, and the pricing is decent. Yet it’s not really a Sky Q upgrade, but rather a Sky Q alternative – and hardcore streaming aficionados can still get better – and cheaper – solutions elsewhere. But if you want Sky’s content, at the highest quality – Stream is the box to get.
Table of Contents
Who Is Sky Stream For?
When Sky Glass (Sky’s streaming TV) launched last year, I said in my review that it was Sky’s stepping stone into a streaming TV future. Sky Stream is the next big step (this time you don’t have to buy a new telly!) – and while it’s a true game changer for Sky, it’s not necessarily the right solution for everyone.
As with Glass, Sky Stream is a great streaming device that puts content from various sources together, with a brilliant global search feature. But it can’t fully replace the likes of Amazon’s Fire TV or Roku, because its library of apps is limited.
Stream is also a Freeview recorder that’s not limited by bad aerial reception or a satellite dish installation – but it can’t fully replace the likes of Manhattan T3-R or Humax Aura, because it doesn’t actually record most of the programmes, and instead relies on streaming from 3rd party apps like BBC iPlayer and All4, each with its own content expiry rules.
And while Stream is a Sky Q replacement for people who can’t install a dish – it doesn’t even fully replace Sky Q, due to some missing features, missing channels, and – again – the lack of local recording, which is still important to some.
But Sky Stream is a reasonable mash-up of all these devices into one.
It’s a Sky device first and foremost – there’s no point in getting it if you don’t plan to subscribe to Sky, at least for some time (it stops working altogether if you unsubscribe), but it gives you more flexibility than Sky Q ever did, in terms of the pricing, plans and contract length.
And 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.
So if you’re already a fan of Sky’s eco-system, and you’re ready to move into streaming TV, Stream will give you a simple, elegant solution that puts a colourful, innovative interface around streaming TV and Sky.
It’s not perfect, it may not be advanced enough for hardcore streamers, and some users will miss the recording function – but this is the way of the future.
Sky Stream Pricing
If there’s one thing that’s very much “Sky” on Sky Stream – it’s the confusing pricing scheme.
Even for the basic plan, there are different types of contract lengths and different pricing levels for each of those contract terms. And when you start looking at the optional add-ons, things get even more complex – and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up paying much more than the headlining “Starting From” price point.
Unlike Sky’s older solutions (such as Sky Q), and similarly to Sky Glass, 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.
However, you CAN also go for the 18-month contract. In fact, Sky is pushing you towards it, because the longer contract will lower your monthly subscription costs (but you’re then “stuck” with it for 18 months).
That’s disappointing, as one of my primary excitements over Sky Glass, and now Stream, was that Sky was finally veering away from long-term contracts, giving you the flexibility that’s expected in today’s streaming-TV world (a la Netflix, Disney+, etc.)
Now Sky is taking a step back by hiking the cost of the 30-day rolling plans, and thus encouraging people to go back to fixed-term contracts. Still, the shorter contract option is at least still there.
When you order Sky Stream, you also need to pay for the device itself – 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 package that you must have for Stream to work is Sky Ultimate, which includes Sky Entertainment (a pack of channels like Sky Atlantic, Sky Max, Eurosport and others), many Freeview channels, and the basic Netflix plan which only has SD content (but will be upgraded to 720p in November).
You can’t pick and choose elements of this bundle – you can’t decide you don’t want Netflix, for example (but you can upgrade to a higher Netflix tier).
The rolling-contract version of this package on Sky Stream costs £29/month, and the same plan, with the 18-month contract, is £26/month.
On top of that, you can add more packs and channels from Sky and 3rd parties. As of this writing, the costs are:
- Sky Cinema (which currently 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.
- Sky Kids for £6/month on the rolling contract, and £5/month on the 18-month contract.
- BT Sport for £30/month (on either contract).
If you want to add 4K and Dolby Atmos, that’s another £6/month.
And if you want to be able to fast forward adverts – that’s £5/month (but free on your 18 months).
Yes, as long-time Sky customers will know, there are adverts on Sky, even though you’re paying a premium. So those £5/month will let you fast-forward them, both on Sky’s own content and on some of the 3rd party apps (like ITV and All4).
And lastly, if you want to be able to watch in other rooms – you need the “Whole Home” add-on, which is £12/month, and you have to pay the setup fee again (£39.95 regardless of contract length) for each additional puck (the second one in your home is currently free as part of a special offer).
There are certainly cheaper options out there. Sky’s own app-based streaming service, NOW, is cheaper (see our Stream VS NOW comparison), and you can get it on almost any streaming device. You can also get BT Sport’s monthly pass for £25/month (instead of Stream’s £30), and even Netflix will soon have a cheaper – with adverts – tier that will cost less.
Also, other streaming devices don’t charge you extra just for the “right” to watch in multiple rooms. You buy as many devices as you want – and connect them wherever you want.
Not so with Stream and its ‘Whole Home’ tax. Furthermore, while you can take normal streaming sticks with you wherever you go, Stream is geo-fenced and will ONLY work at the address of the account holder.
And lastly, keep in mind that even though you own the Sky Stream puck, it will stop working if you unsubscribe from Sky – even the 3rd party apps like BBC iPlayer won’t work anymore.
Setting Up Sky Stream
Since there’s no dish involved, there are also no installation engineers involved with Sky Stream – and you install it yourself once you get it.
That involves connecting the HDMI cable (which comes in the box) to your TV, then connecting the power cord, and that’s about it.
Once you turn on the Stream, you just need to connect it to your broadband (usually via WiFi, but Ethernet is an option), pair the Bluetooth remote – and you’re mostly done, as Stream will usually come with your Sky credentials pre-installed.
When I first activated my Stream, the remote wasn’t paired, and there were no instructions for it on the screen, so I was left just standing there, staring at the TV with an unresponsive remote. A quick check online revealed that I was supposed to press the 1+3 buttons on the remote, and the pairing process began. Not a very friendly start.
Also, remember – as Stream is based on broadband, you need a fast internet connection and strong WiFi – Sky recommends at least 10Mbps, and more if you have multiple Streams, or if you’re streaming video on other devices at home at the same time.
Note that even “live” Freeview channels are streamed to you via broadband, not over the air (Stream does have an aerial port – but it does absolutely nothing for now, and you can’t even use it for “backup” as you do on Sky Glass).
Using Sky Stream
The Sky Stream Remote
The remote (which is identical to the one supplied with Sky Glass) is one of Sky Stream’s high points. Having used tiny streaming stick remotes for years, having a full-size remote is refreshing.
The buttons have a backlight, which turns on automatically when you pick up the remote – a brilliant feature that other manufacturers should learn from (and indeed, a backlight is finally coming to the Amazon Fire TV Pro remote)
The “Home” button always takes you to the main Sky Stream screen, the “Back” button takes you one screen backwards, or out of an app, and the “+” button is used to add programmes to the Playlist (more on that below).
There’s a dedicated Play/Pause button, and the only thing I’m missing here are dedicated Fast Forward / Backward buttons – you can use the control wheel for that, but the implementation is different on every app/service – so buttons would have been easier to use.
The remote also has a “Voice” button, that you can use for Sky Stream’s voice control and search. Unlike Sky Glass, Stream doesn’t have a built-in microphone on the box, so you have to use the remote for that.
Sky Stream’s Interface
When Sky Glass launched, there were quite a few bugs and issues plaguing the operating system.
Glass and Stream share the same “Entertainment OS”, but I’m happy to say many of those early-day bugs and inconsistencies have been fixed, with some more improvements coming soon, and in general, everything feels a lot more stable than it used to on Glass’ early days.
That being said, Stream is certainly not bug-free. Streaming apps get stuck on occasion, the voice control function doesn’t understand what you’re saying at times, and – looking at Sky’s community forums – there are other issues that pop up for various users (though your mileage may vary).
Furthermore, the interface feels a bit sluggish at times – which may mean a somewhat underpowered CPU. Compared to Sky Glass, the interface speed is similar – but compare it to top-end devices like the Fire TV 4K Max or the Roku 4K Stick – and the Stream lags behind.
This is apparent when you roam around Sky Stream’s homepage, but also when you run apps. It’s never too bad, but it’s not as swift as I would have hoped.
Now for the interface itself: while the look and feel are somewhat similar to Sky Q, the way things work is quite different.
As with other streaming services, everything is based around “rails” of content – either recommendations of content you might like, or content you’ve actually been watching within your “Playlist”.
While shows and films from Sky’s own channels usually 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.
The more you watch things (and add them to your Playlist), the more these recommendations will get personalised.
Once you pick what to watch, 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 Netflix.
There’s also the TV Guide, where “live” channels reside – either from Freeview, or Sky’s own live channels.
When you’re watching a live channel, you can always pause and resume the live broadcast. Starting over, however, depends on the channel – some have that function, and some don’t.
And even though the channels come to you via broadband, there was very little buffering and delays during my testing – except for a few hiccups and stutters here and there.
However, there’s a slight delay when compared to Sky Q or aerial-based live channels – so during a big sporting event, for example, there’s still the risk of your screaming neighbours seeing a particular goal before you do…
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.
At the moment, there’s also a confusing Play Now rail which presents a mix of content from your Playlist along with things you’ve started to watch. Thankfully, Sky is planning to change that to a more common “Continue Watching” rail soon, which will simply show series and films you’re in the middle of.
Since some of the content on the Playlist relies on 3rd party services, the synching is sometimes an issue. Sometimes new episodes take time to show up (even though they’re already available on the specific Disney+/Netflix/etc. app), and sometimes Stream can’t seem to find whole shows – or specific episodes – that ARE available on ITV Hub, All4, etc.
Sky Stream’s Recording
As with Glass, Sky Stream’s recording is one of the most controversial and confusing aspects of the device – especially for those coming from Sky Q.
Unlike Sky Q or Freeview Recorders, Sky Stream doesn’t have any built-in storage space for recordings. Instead, you get limited “Cloud Recording” capabilities, with the device supposedly being able to record up to 1,000 hours “to the cloud”, and then stream them back to you on demand.
This feature is built around the aforementioned Playlist – when you see a live or future programme in the TV guide, you can press “+” and mark it for recording. Sort of.
In practice, when you add a programme/film to that Playlist, one of THREE things may happen: in most cases, it will merely create a “shortcut” thumbnail that then takes you to the streaming version of that content, on Sky or 3rd party apps like BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub.
So, you mark the next Strictly episode on the TV guide, and when you come tomorrow to watch it, it won’t be recorded anywhere for you – instead, BBC iPlayer will open up, and the episode will be streamed from there (assuming it’s still available on iPlayer – which isn’t always the case).
Only in some cases – a select few Freeview channels and some sports, mainly – will the content actually get recorded to the cloud, for you to be able to watch again (as well as fast-forward or backwards, and save indefinitely).
And worse yet, for some channels – nothing will happen. Since there’s no deal in place between Sky and that channel – you won’t be able to record it to the cloud, AND it doesn’t have an app, so… you can only watch those particular channels live.
This is primarily true for music channels and news channels at the moment, but also a few Freeview channels. It also happens when that specific programme isn’t available on the channel’s app, without you knowing this in advance – so if Channel 4, for example, doesn’t have on-demand streaming rights for a show – Playlisting it “live” won’t do a thing.
So yes, this is how most streaming devices work – you can only watch what’s available for streaming on any dedicated app. But this isn’t how Sky Q or Freeview recorders work, so it’s going to get confusing for a lot of customers who are used to having actual recording capabilities.
Also, the fact that each programme may play on a separate streaming app (iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4 etc.) means that the interface changes slightly every time you watch something. Good luck finding how to turn the subtitles on every time you’re sent to a separate app, for example…
The last aspect I’m really missing here is Profiles – with a device that focuses so hard on personalisation and recommendations, this was a big misstep on Glass, and now Stream.
However, I’m happy to report that Sky showed me the upcoming implementation of Profiles on Stream (called ‘Personalised Playlists’ here) – and in a few months, each family member will finally be able to add content to their own personal playlist (along with a shared family one).
And one last disheartening technical issue – Sky Stream STILL doesn’t support subtitles on 4K content. At all.
This is also true for Sky Q and Sky Glass, and although Sky has said in the past that a fix is being worked on – it’s been like that for more than a year now. This really shouldn’t be happening in this day and age, when every American streaming service has full support for subtitles.
Sky Stream’s Apps and Channels
The selection of apps and channels on Stream is not bad – but it’s also still far from perfect when compared to dedicated streaming devices.
In terms of streaming, you do get most of the major UK streaming apps and services – from the big hitters like Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube and Disney+, to most of the broadcasters’ catch-up apps like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub (soon to become ITVX) and All4, as well as a few smaller ones like Discovery+, Paramount+ and Vevo.
There are a few essential streaming apps still missing, though – There’s no BritBox app, Apple TV+ is limited to the subscription-based content, you don’t get the full My5 app, no Roku Channel (though it IS available on Sky Q), no Pluto TV, no Plex, and the list goes on.
So while most “casual” customers will find most of the apps they need, Stream can’t be used as a complete streaming device replacement, and those who are heavily invested in the streaming world would definitely still need a 3rd party streamer like the Firestick.
As for channels, one might expect to get the same selection you get on Sky Q, right? Or, at the very least, every Freeview channel? Wrong.
There are quite a few Freeview and Freesat channels still missing from Sky Stream, even though most ARE available on Sky Q. The list includes the NOW music channels, the Great! movie channels (formerly Sony Movies), QVC and more.
Sky Stream’s Voice Search
As is common these days, you can control Stream with your voice, by pressing a button on the remote (and talking to it).
This can be used for running specific apps (“Open Disney+”), specific channels, or searching for a programme/film or even an actor/director.
Mind you, this isn’t an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant replacement, and Sky’s voice engine is pretty, well, dumb. It didn’t even know what to do when I said “Pause”, which should be kind of basic for a TV streaming device.
The global voice search, however – is a beauty.
I’ve been using and testing streaming devices for years – and all have been trying to perfect global searches, ones that bring you results from a variety of sources (Netflix, Prime Video, etc.)
They all work at this point (Fire TV, Roku, Google TV) – but for me, none were very successful, and I rarely use those global searches.
That is, until I tried Sky Glass’ global search, which is now available on Sky Stream. The fact it pulls from so many sources – including Sky’s own channels – is what makes things so useful. Plus, it’s speedy.
So you say “Tom Hanks”, for example, and you immediately get a long list of his films, with each thumbnail sending you directly to that film on the relevant streaming service/app.
Remember a movie you always wanted to watch, but are unsure whether it’s available anywhere? Just say its name, and you’re promptly shown where it’s available to watch.
Granted, this works best when you have several streaming services (AND Sky). I realise most people aren’t subscribed to EVERYTHING like I am – but even if you only have Sky and Netflix, for example, you’re still covered for quite a few titles.
So if you often find yourself saying, “I want to watch X, but I have no idea where to stream it from”, – Sky Stream’s search will change your (TV) life for the better.
Bottom Line: Is Sky Stream Worth It?
At times, it felt like Sky was fighting a losing battle: with more and more customers moving to cheaper, flexible streaming services, by using Smart TVs and streaming sticks – was there even room for Sky’s expensive, bloated dish-based TV services?
It’s hard to say whether Sky Stream can change Sky’s fortunes in the long term (especially with HBO’s content possibly leaving Sky in the UK for HBO Max in 2025), but it’s certainly a noble try.
Stream is everything a standalone Sky streaming device should be, with the main downside being that it’s still too expensive as a streaming service (and the software issues – but those are being constantly ironed out).
Some will say there’s no need for a Sky device at all – just turn NOW, which works on any device, into Sky’s single streaming solution. But many people are still looking for a friendly, all-encompassing TV box that puts their favourite Sky titles and sports front and centre – and Stream does exactly that.
If you’re already a streaming TV expert, with a modern streaming device at home and a selection of streaming services, Stream probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re looking to move on from Sky Q to a cheaper Sky alternative, with a friendly interface and the ability to skip long-term contracts – then Sky Stream may be the box/service you were looking for.