Sky Q with integrated Netflix: hands-on preview

Sky has revealed how it will integrate Netflix into its Sky Q platform, and the partnership goes way deeper than anyone first anticipated. Rather than simply offer the SVOD service as an app (as we’ve already seen from Virgin Media), Netflix has been folded into the main Sky Q UI itself.

Subscribers to Sky’s new ‘Ultimate On Demand’ package (more of which later), will see Netflix shows alongside Sky content on their main Q Home page, and incorporated into other Q screen furniture.

HCC had an early look at the way Sky and Netflix have bundled services, and it’s a transformative change.

The arrival of Netflix also coincides with subtle changes to the user interface. The thumbnail grid will be replaced by rails, designed to make navigation easier (and more Netflix-like).

So what’s the user-experience like? We had a play...

Most obviously, the Sky Q Top Picks area will now feature Netflix content interspersed with Sky shows, enabling you to select and play a Netflix programme directly from the Sky UI. In our hands-on preview, The Crown had pride of place..

Netflix programming also features in the Continue Viewing rail, depending on which Netflix profile was used last.

A new Ultimate On Demand area within Sky Q features both services. Some rails are all Sky, some all Netflix, some are a blend.

There’s also voice integration: bark ‘Netflix’ into your Sky touchpad and the app fires up. Netflix content has also been integrated into Sky’s text search. Enter ‘Stranger Things’ and the search function locates the show, which can be launched directly.

Of course, there’s also a dedicated Netflix app, which can be selected and run just like any other app on the platform.

For users who currently subscribe to Sky Q and run a separate Netflix tab, there’s even cost savings to be made.

So how does Ultimate On-Demand work?

From a billing perspective, Sky has combined its Sky Box Sets charge (currently £5, which gets you Sky, Fox and Discovery channels) with Netflix. The Netflix tier is the Standard £7.99 HD package available elsewhere, but here it’s combined with Sky Boxsets for £10, giving a saving of £2.99 when the two services are bought separately. Customers will need to have an existing Sky Q Entertainment subscription (currently £20 a month).

If you already have a Netflix account you can sign up for the Ultimate On Demand package using your Netflix details, and Sky them orchestrates a hand-over behind the scenes. This switches your billing to Sky. Once you’ve signed in and linked your Netflix account, you can continue to log into the Netflix app on any other device you may have.

If you currently subscribe to the Sky Q Experience (QMS) package (a £12 fee), which includes UHD delivery, then you automatically get the UHD streams from Netflix at no extra cost.

To be clear, the Netflix Sky Q Experience gives users two streams on Sky Go, streaming to Q Minis, UHD on the Sky Q 2 TB STB, Netflix Premium with four streams and UHD. There is no UHD premium just for Netflix.

Those that don’t take the Ultimate On-Demand pack, and are existing Netflix customers, can still sign in via the Netflix app on the Sky Q box, with no change to their regular Netflix habits. The idea is that you still have the full Netflix experience, but clearly the Ultimate On Demand pack is more fun.

The Sky Q Netflix marriage is scheduled for a November roll-out. A pre-registration process has begun for prospective users.

There are caveats though. Sky Q does not currently support any HDR (although it is coming, probably in 2019), so no Netflix shows can be seen in HDR via Sky. More thorny is the subject of Dolby Atmos. Netflix currently has a number of programmes with Dolby Atmos audio on select hardware. Netflix delivers Dolby Atmos in a Dolby Digital+ stream.

Sky itself offers Dolby Atmos on select shows and a growing number of UHD movies, again delivered using Dolby Digital+.

However, when we searched for Atmos Netflix shows on the Sky Q platform, they were only available in standard 5.1. When we quizzed Sky about this, there was a certain amount of confusion.

Technically, we can’t see why Netflix on Sky does not offer Dolby Atmos audio. While it may not be there on day one, we would hope to see a firmware update in due course that would enable it.

Watch this space.