Sky was the first company to launch a digital television system in the UK, beating terrestrial broadcaster ONdigital -- later known as ITV Digital, and now Freeview -- by around a month and a half. Sky Digital promised improved picture quality, with none of the analogue satellite picture problems, and a massively improved selection of channels. Sky has never looked back, because its digital offering has helped it get into homes that would never have considered analogue satellite TV.
Sky continues to innovate, and is responsible for a massive increase in the high-definition content available in the UK. The company can also now claim to be the first to offer 3D broadcasts. A simple 3D loop channel is running at the moment, but Sky plans to broadcast sport and movies in the format, all using existing HD equipment.
In this review, we'll take a look at Sky's service as a whole, as well as the Sky+HD digital TV recorder.
Standard definition is dead
This year, Sky has totally stopped selling standard-definition boxes for its service. Now, you'll be supplied with an HD-capable box no matter which subscription you go for. The great news is that you're not forced to subscribe to Sky's HD package, but you can upgrade to it later if you want to.
It's worth noting that matters become slightly more complicated if you take a multi-room subscription with a second box. In that case, you're likely to get a slightly different receiver for the second room, depending on what you're prepared to pay for.
It's difficult to actually pin a price on Sky's service, as is the case with Virgin Media's offerings. There are numerous special offers on throughout the year. If you aren't in a rush, then just before Christmas is a good time to bag a deal, as are the periods before certain large sporting fixtures. It's usually the case that you'll get a free box, as long as you haven't had Sky before, and you can often bag free installation if you take a package that includes sports or movies.
It's also well worth signing up to a cashback site like Quidco, which, as we write, will enable you to net as much as £120 when you sign up for Sky online, and £95 for an HD install. The amount fluctuates though. As with all TV services, there's a minimum subscription term of 12 months, designed to recover the cost of your 'free' equipment.
The monthly cost of subscribing to Sky varies, depending on which channels you want. The most basic option, with the Sky+ box (basically a Sky+HD box without the HD package) and the 'variety' entertainment pack, costs £30 to set up and £18 per month thereafter. Additional 'packs' cost £1, or you can have them all for £23. If you want movies, then expect to pay another £16 per month. Adding Sky Sports 1 and 2 costs an additional £18. If you want everything, then set aside £48.50 per month. Channels like ESPN are also available for an extra £12 a month.
Our first gripe about Sky's service is that it costs an extra £10 per month to get the HD versions of your channel package. Sky deserves plenty of credit for spearheading take-up of HD in the UK, but we think this is too pricey. According to Sky's viewing figures, it has more than 2m subscribers to its HD package, which means it's getting £20m a year off the back of HD. We do appreciate that getting HD up and running represents a substantial investment, though, so we aren't too cross with Sky. But, in the long term, we think the HD fee should either be halved or dropped completely.