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The new Sky Box: smaller and whiter than the old Sky Box
The new Sky Box: smaller and whiter than the old Sky Box

MediaSeptember 28, 2022

Sky’s new Sky Box is an improvement, but it still seems stuck in the past

The new Sky Box: smaller and whiter than the old Sky Box
The new Sky Box: smaller and whiter than the old Sky Box

After almost 15 years, Sky is finally bringing out a new decoder. But while the hardware and features are new, the technology and business model feel old, writes Dylan Reeve.

Last week Sky TV announced two new devices to bring their channels to customer’s televisions — more than a decade after the last significant hardware upgrade arrived in the form of the MySky decoder, and two years after a prior plan to bring a new product to market was abandoned. 

While they have technically announced two new set-top boxes, there’s really only one option for most people at the moment: the creatively named Sky Box

The new decoder — apparently available only in a stunning white that will look fine alongside an XBox Series S but blinding alongside almost every other home entertainment device — will still require a dish on the roof, and an aerial cable poking out of the wall, but will also plug (or WiFi) into the internet.

The new box will do all that the old box did (tune into the many channels Sky offers; record shows to watch later; display an interactive electronic program guide). And it’ll even do some of those things better, providing a much larger drive for recordings and allowing up to five programs to be recorded simultaneously. 

This box will cost $200 for new customers (although Sky will offer the ability to pay that off with an additional $10 fee per month). Existing customers will apparently receive discount pricing offers. 

Alongside the dozens of live-to-air linear channels, it will also offer third-party apps. Sky is advertising support for Netflix and Disney+ – but the fact that the box runs Google’s Android TV operating system means it should be able to play host to any suitable app from the Google Play Store. 

Of course, for anyone who has purchased a smart TV in the past few years which already natively supports the very same apps, the opportunity to have them in two places, controlled by two different remotes, probably isn’t that appealing. 

The second offering announced alongside the Sky Box is the new Sky Pod – a small, hockey-puck-style device that can dangle from an available HDMI port and deliver the same Sky broadcast channels to the TV… without the dish!

But, you can’t have it. Unless you were a Vodafone TV customer (and then it’ll cost you $100).

The Sky Pod

Vodafone’s venture into television, in collaboration with Sky TV, delivered a small set-top box which used the magical power of the internet to bring live television to… well, a TV. It was, according to Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive, “the last box you’ll ever buy for your telly” — except, it won’t be, because Vodafone bailed out on the product last year, handing over the customer base to Sky and giving users nine months notice of the impending demise of their streaming service (the end date has since been extended due to the delays in bringing this replacement to market).

So now, with their inherited Vodafone TV customers in need of something new, Sky has delivered the Sky Pod for them, and only them (for now). It promises to do most of what Vodafone TV did (and some things it didn’t) using roughly the same technology. 

The switch to Google’s television operating system is probably good for Sky customers, especially those who’ve steadfastly rejected an upgrade to one of those newfangled smart televisions, as it brings diversity to the box, allowing services like Netflix and Disney+ to sit alongside Sky’s offerings. 

For a company that has struggled with falling revenues and a shrinking subscriber base (the February 2021 report celebrated a slowing of their continuing customer churn, declaring “the 1.8% reduction in the six months to 31 December 2020 [is] a significant improvement from the 3.2% reduction in the same period in 2019”), it seems a bold move to plop a gateway to their biggest competitors right into their customers’ living rooms. 

The remote for the new Sky Box and Pod even features a dedicated Netflix button in pride of place at the top left. There is no similar button to be found for Sky’s own VOD platform, Neon.

For those of us who already have smart televisions, there’s nothing special about yet another way to access Netflix, but for customers who were previously faced with watching Bridgerton on a laptop, or some dusty old desktop PC in the corner, a shiny new box with a dedicated Netflix button on the remote is something that could easily prompt second thoughts about exactly how entertainment could be consumed (and how much it should cost). 

What stands out most for me though, with the introduction of Android TV apps to Sky’s set-top boxes, is the lack of an offering the other way around. I have a smart TV that is more than capable of streaming HD and 4K content across the internet (actually, I have a few), but the only way I can watch what Sky has to offer is by sticking a dish on my roof and running a cable to one of my TVs.

Of course, once I do install that dish, and run that cable to the new shiny white Sky Box, I can install the Sky Go app on my phone or tablet and then “cast” them to some other TV — it’s far from a seamless experience. And, according to Sky’s website, only some channels are even available on that app.

But the Sky Pod is an Android TV device, and it offers Sky’s channels over an internet connection, so it’s clearly possible. It seems baffling that Sky — a broadcaster that is increasingly struggling in a market where viewers are spending more time in TV apps than watching broadcast TV — isn’t taking this opportunity to meet viewers where they are: on the “apps” screen of their smart TV.

The new box is bound to be an improvement on the nearly 15-year-old device it’s replacing. And the Sky Pod appears, at first glance, like a reasonable alternative for displaced Vodafone TV customers. But the innovation ends there — if you want to enjoy Sky’s offering, it has to be on Sky’s hardware only, there appears to be no hope of BYOTV in the near future. And if you want to watch Sky on more than one TV, you’ll need a decoder for each TV and Sky’s add-on Multiroom package. 

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