When Sky launched its new Q service, blurring the lines between live TV and on-demand content, it also laid the groundwork to make the leap to 4K. However, while the top-end Sky Q Silver box has supported Ultra HD output from the get-go, we've only been given pretty vague assurances customers would be able to make full use of the hardware sometime this year. Turns out they won't have to wait much longer, as Sky announced today that Ultra HD broadcasts will begin airing on August 13th.
Sky might have pipped Virgin Media to the post, but BT began showing sport in glorious 4K a year ago. If BT swung the first punch, though, then Sky is bouncing off the ropes with a heavy counter. In addition to showing 124 live Premier League games and from 2017, every Formula 1 race in Ultra HD, there will be over 70 4K movies available on Sky Cinema from the outset, including new blockbusters such as The Revenant and The Martian.
On top of that, a selection of documentaries and other factual programming, including some eye-watering Attenborough magic, and dramas such as The Young Pope and The Blacklist, not to mention other material in the realms of comedy and arts. Basically, it's not exactly a lackluster launch lineup -- there will be plenty to watch from day one -- and best of all, it's a free upgrade provided you have a Sky Q Silver box and the appropriate bundles (Sky Store rentals/purchases excluded). And since 4K broadcasts are being received via satellite, it places no additional burden on home broadband.
Customers will have to do one little thing to set themselves up, which amounts to digging through the set-top box video settings and changing the output to 4K. You'll be prompted to do this the first time you try to view an Ultra HD broadcast and sent straight to the appropriate menu, though, so it shouldn't be too much trouble. And if you bung on a footy match or anything else that's showing in 4K, but on a different channel, the box will also prompt you to switch to the clearer broadcast.
To prepare Q Silver boxes for 4K, a UI update will begin rolling out at the end of July. New "Ultra HD" sections will be added to category menus where high-res content is available, but there are a couple of other tweaks that all Sky Q customers will see, even if they don't have a Silver box. Most of these are geared towards bingeing. Once you start watching one episode of a show, the next one will begin downloading automatically in the background (this feature is coming to Sky+ HD boxes soon, too). And when one episode finishes, the next will automatically start after a 30-second countdown -- Netflix style -- during which time you can also tell it to get a move on, or stop it there before your session becomes an all-nighter.
And if there is no next episode, then the guide on the bottom rail will flag when it's due to air so you can schedule a recording in advance. Jumping to specific points within a recording will become a little easier too. You'll be able to swipe and hold on the fancy touchpad remote to quickly move back and forth through the timeline, or skip minute-by-minute with individual drags. Finally, Sky is also making a slight change to the sports content menu. The featured section will start promoting live, upcoming events, instead of simply highlighting past broadcasts to catch-up on. So, you know, you might heed the warning and be on top of a game or two instead of constantly finding out the scoreline from the group message thread.