To conclude a long and complicated waffle about Sky's pricing structure, expect to pay £58.50 a month for all the channels in HD.
Installed in a flash
Sky sent its VIP installers to set us up. This isn't a service that's offered to normal customers unless they pay, but we've experienced a standard installation too. Both were done with skill and left our dwellings undamaged. The dish will be mounted in a place that gives it a good line of sight to the satellite, but will also be located as close as possible to your viewing room.
It only takes about an hour to get everything set up in an average terraced house. Non-standard installations might cost slightly more, but we've always found that installers will do their best to get you a result you're happy with. As usual, being pleasant to them and providing a cup of tea will boost their willingness to help you out.
Once the hardware is in place, the Sky engineer -- or a nominated third-party installer -- will talk you through the service. Ours explained how the Anytime catch-up TV service works, making us aware that we wouldn't see anything until around 48 hours had elapsed and the box had received some overnight content. The engineer also explained that the Sky box would take a while to update itself at first.
Box speed and stability
Our Amstrad-built Sky+HD box was extremely snappy when responding to our button presses. In terms of both speed and the stylishness of the interface, it leaves Virgin Media's V+ HD box for dead. Sky recently redesigned its electronic programme guide to take advantage of the HD box, and we're very impressed with it. Finding shows is very easy, and setting up recordings is super-simple. You can even search listings to find what you're looking for -- something that saves much tedious scrolling around.
The box we tested wasn't immune from crashing, but it only did so a couple of times when we were actually using it. We'd also sometimes switch it on only to find that it would be on channel 999 -- Sky's information channel -- which is a sure sign that it had reset itself. But, overall, we had very few problems. Anything that does go wrong can be fixed with a reboot. We can't say that about Virgin's hardware -- problems often need to be fixed by an engineer.
One of the most impressive features of Sky's service is also one of the least well publicised. Via its Web site, Sky allows all owners of Sky+ boxes to schedule recordings of shows they might have forgotten to set up via their set-top box. This means that, no matter where you are in the world, as long as you have Internet access, you can trigger your Sky box to start recording. There's also provision for mobile-phone apps too, which makes scheduling a recording even easier when you're out and about.
We tested this functionality, recording a movie on FX HD. The process went without a hitch. It's suggested that you give the box at least 30 minutes' notice before you start recording -- otherwise it might not have been sent the appropriate signals from Sky HQ to set it going.
More storage available
Sky's standard HD box has 500GB of storage, which sounds like plenty, but half of that capacity is unavailable to end users. This is because the Anytime service uses 250GB to store a selection of Sky's programming for you to watch on demand.
If 500GB isn't enough, Sky will sell you an upgrade to a 1TB box for £250. It's actually a 1.5TB box, though, so you'll have 1TB of space available to store your TV shows, with the remaining 500GB assigned to Anytime.
Anytime is Sky's competitor to Virgin's superb on-demand TV service. What makes Virgin's on-demand service so good is its inclusion of BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD. Sky has neither the rights nor the technical ability to offer access to these yet, so Anytime is just a mix of content from Sky One, Sky Arts, and the movies and sports channels.