Promise of Sky without satellite dish held back by bugs, clunky catchup apps and content restrictions
Last modified on Tue 23 Nov 2021 14.07 GMT
Glass is Sky’s new voice-controlled streaming television – an ambitious attempt to ditch the satellite dish and provide pay TV straight to the screen, with no set top box required.
The television comes in three sizes starting at £649 for a 43in screen, or £13 a month over four years, which works out at £25 cheaper too. Sky’s service costs from £25 a month on top.
Glass is a heavy beast, the 55in version weighs 28kg with its stand – about 10kg more than a standard 55in TV – but hides its bulk well from the front. The body is aluminium in a choice of five colours, and houses the built-in soundbar below the screen, making it look a bit like Apple’s iMac.
The 4K LCD screen ticks most of the specifications boxes. It has “quantum dot” technology with a local dimming LED backlight, which is found in many of the best mid- to high-range TVs. It supports the HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision high-dynamic range (HDR) standards, which covers the most popular formats used for 4K content.
The automatic brightness makes the picture look a little dim and grey except in very bright rooms, particularly with skin tones, and the backlight is uneven around the screen’s edges. Disable auto-brightness for a better picture that looks decent for normal HD and sharp for 4K content. But you’ll also see blacks turning a bit grey and a bit of blooming, where the backlight shines like a halo around dark edges.
Following an update the HDR performance is reasonable, but lacks a bit of peak brightness to really make the picture pop. Overall the screen rivals lower mid-range TVs costing about £500.
There are ethernet and three HDMI 2.1 ports on the back. But all you need is power and wifi to get up and running, making it a one-cable solution, which is extremely rare in the world of televisions.
Rare too is a TV that actually sounds good. Glass supports Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound with its six built-in speakers. It won’t beat something like the Sonos Arc, but does a decent job of delivering punchy, full audio. Its vocal clarity is particularly impressive and you don’t have to deal with any lip-sync issues. It is slightly weaker for music, lacking a bit of balance and detail at times compared to a dedicated speaker.
Everything Glass does can be delivered via any broadband provider; no satellite connection or Sky broadband is required.
The interface looks like an evolution of Sky Q. The top of the home screen features “top picks for you” recommendations and recently viewed channels, apps or HDMI inputs. Below that you can browse by content type, such as TV, movies or sport, or check out the regular TV guide. There is no one-button option for going immediately to live TV and when hopping between channels it takes two to three seconds before the picture appears.
Recommendations are pulled from all the services and apps including Sky, BBC iPlayer ITV Hub, All4, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others. The unified voice or text search makes finding shows across multiple services quick and easy.
Things get more interesting when you reach the “playlist” section about halfway down the home screen. Glass cannot record programmes in the traditional sense. Instead you add shows and movies to your playlist with the “+” button on your remote. When a new episode is available it appears in the “play now” panel, along with the rest of your playlist and others things you’ve watched. The logic is sound, but the execution is mixed.
It works great with content hosted on Sky’s platform, including UKTV and Syfy. New shows turn up, you press watch and it streams immediately. For content from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and some others, the tile in the playlist is only a link to the on-demand app.
Go to watch a BBC show and it opens the programme’s homepage or an individual episode in iPlayer. The same thing occurs with ITV Hub and All4. How far you got in a show is stored separately in the on-demand app and the Sky home screen, meaning they don’t always match. And you need to log into each app with your individual accounts. Jumping through these multiple hoops feels more like using a smart TV or streaming stick than a premium pay-TV service.
You are at the mercy of content rights and availability too. Not everything is available for on-demand viewing and some things only for a short period if they are, with no way to tell up front from the TV guide. It is not as good as having the content recorded and ready to watch, even weeks later.
The play now section also filled up with things I didn’t want to see. Movies I had watched and then removed from my playlist lingered for weeks, while shows I had tried once and hated stuck around like a bad smell. Unlike on the various on demand apps there are no separate user profiles on the main Sky interface, which means recommendations are the same for everyone in your home.
Most major on-demand video services are supported, as well as Spotify and YouTube, with Britbox being the only notable exception. But Glass does not support Chromecast or AirPlay from your phone.
Glass has hands-free voice control, similar to Google or Amazon smart displays. Mics in the TV listen out for your commands after the wake words “Hello Sky” or “Hi Sky” (but not “Hey Sky”) or there’s a push-button mic on the remote. You can ask for a channel, app, show or movie, search by actor, genre or other bits, access custom recommendations or control volume and playback.
Simple word searches work if you’re clear enough, but it doesn’t always wake up on your first “Hello Sky” attempt, and often misheard me. When I say “show me the guide” it can hear “how many died”.
Your commands have to be far more precise than with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, too. Asking it to “turn it down a bit” or “set to 30% volume” doesn’t work, instead you need to say “set the volume to 30%”. Pausing or skipping via voice doesn’t work in on-demand apps. And it doesn’t understand when you ask what’s the weather or when a TV show will next be broadcast.
The TV can detect motion to wake up when you enter the room and turn off when you leave. But it has only worked a handful of times in the three weeks I have been testing it and has turned on when no one is anywhere near it. If I don’t touch the remote for an hour, it asks me to pick it up to avoid the TV turning off too. Sky says it is working on updates to try to fix motion detection.
The television is generally repairable by Sky in the UK. Repair tools and parts will be made available to third parties within the next two years. It is designed to last a minimum of seven years. The company does not operate trade-in schemes. It will recycle old Sky equipment but not third-party devices.
The TV and remote do not contain any recycled materials, but Sky is offsetting the carbon for the TV making it “CarbonNeutral” rated by Natural Capital Partners. The TV is also shipped in plastic-free, fully recyclable packaging including a well designed box. The company publishes its sustainability commitments, including a net zero by 2030 pledge.
The screen does not support 120Hz or the variable refresh rate (VRR) used by the latest games consoles and PCs, and has no game mode for lower latency as is common on competitors.
There’s no way to use headphones, wired or otherwise.
There’s a standard aerial socket on the back intended as a backup if your internet goes down – otherwise the TV is useless without broadband.
You can’t add to your playlist from within on-demand apps, only the main Sky interface.
The motion of football on BBC was a bit blurry but not on Sky Sports.
The minimum broadband speed for HD content is 10Mbps and 25Mbps for 4K.
Sky Glass costs £649 for the 43in version, £849 for the 55in and £1,049 for the 65in when bought outright. It can bought via 24- or 48-month interest-free credit costing from £13 a month.
The Sky Ultimate TV service (Sky Entertainment and Netflix) costs £26 a month in HD. The UltraHD HDR and Dolby Atmos package costs an additional £5 a month. For additional channels, Sky Kids costs £5, Cinema costs £11, Sports costs £25 and BT Sport costs £30. After 12 months the ability to skip ads in on-demand content will cost £5 per month.
The TV can be used in limited capacity without a Sky subscription with third-party on-demand apps and the backup Freeview tuner.
Sky Glass is all about convenience. Its streaming system and built-in soundbar removes bundles of cables, boxes and the dish. But while its software and service show lots of promise, it is has bugs and small annoyances, most on-demand apps are slow and clunky, and there are extra hoops that must be jumped through to get to content that make it less convenient to use.
I have no doubt updates will fix many of the issues. But the reliance on terrestrial catchup services and their limitations may always be worse than old-school recordings. If you only ever watch live TV or content hosted directly on Sky’s platform or Netflix, Glass is great.
The screen is decent but not spectacular, competing best with lower priced mid-range sets. The sound is great unless you want a real cinema experience, and the remote is great too. The price is tempting when bought monthly, although you must add the cost of the Sky service on top.
Glass is a work in progress with an enormous potential yet to be realised.
Pros: no satellite or box needed, great sound for a TV, responsive and logical interface, good remote, voice search is fast, unified search helps you find content across a range of services, support for most UK streaming services, long service life and software support.
Cons: no local recording, reliance on terrestrial catchup services disappointing, some things only available live, bugs, motion sensing doesn’t work, voice control unreliable, uneven backlighting, auto-brightness is poor, no game or low lag mode, no Chromecast or AirPlay.
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This article was amended on 23 August 2021 to clarify that the play now section includes things you have watched or added to your playlist.