All entries for March 2009

March 30, 2009

Sky – one of the biggest cons going?

Following the gradual death of my CRT widescreen about 6 months ago (after just over 5 year’s life – not impressed!), we’ve been progressively updating the main living room home cinema. Despite my reservations, I allowed myself to get nagged into getting Sky+ because “It’s got 24 on it” (which I’ve never seen and couldn’t care less about). And since we’ve now got a HD television, for the extra £9.75 a month it seemed a logical thing to get the high definition package as well.

Big mistake.

I always objected to getting Sky before on four main grounds – despite the plethora of channels, there’s pretty much nothing worth watching; the boxes don’t allow you to transfer files to your PC to back up content to DVD etc when you run low on hard drive space; you’re tied into their hardware which is not exactly the last word in performance or reliability, and most of what you end up watching you get with the standard television licence anyway. Having now had the box for a couple of months, I can confirm all of the above to be the case.

On the adverts for Sky, we’re constantly reminded of “How easy it is to record a series” “Even my Grandad can do it” etc etc. And yes, I can confirm that the setup is indeed pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it; it has some neat features (although I find the EPG quite clunky to navigate because of the sheer number of channels that I don’t want to watch). However, it’s little use being able to set up a series record easily if the record fails without any diagnosable reason about 50% of the time. Looking around the forums, I’m not alone. I thought that most of the problems with the early boxes had been resolved, but I’m unfortunately mistaken and hardware issues are still widespread. Compared to my Humax Freeview PVR, the Samsung HD box I have is absolutely hopeless. It regularly claims to have no signal for hours or even days at a time, has locked up several times lock up in a blue screen and require resetting, and above all the missing recordings fault outlined above really defeats the point of a PVR in the first place. The earlier Thompson boxes are supposedly even worse; I think the Pace ones are a little better but it seems to be a little bit of luck which one you end up with, and Sky support seems none too helpful on the matter. I’m particularly irritated that as an informed customer I can’t request which box I wanted; and requesting a swap seems like a fairly major battle.

So assuming that I’ve missed the recording, I suppose I could always use the catch-up facility to miss those episodes of 24 which I’m shelling out nearly £30 a month for. Afraid not; despite having a decent speed broadband that doesn’t struggle with iPlayer, the Sky streaming software plays back with unwatchable lags and breaks while it regains some semblance of a buffer. I also can’t get the “save to disk” functionality to work, despite having tried it on two separate computers (which in itself is a mission because Sky will tie it to one PC only at a time so you have to call them up to swap it over) and un-installing suspected conflicting software. Useless.

And even when you do actually get a picture, the effect isn’t as impressive as you might think (assuming that you can find something worth watching on a Sky-only channel that justifies the subscription in the first place). Sure, the picture quality is pretty good (particularly once you ditch the cheap HDMI cable which gave me a lot of interference through my receiver; guess I can’t really blame them for this so much because everyone builds to a cost), but the sound is really sub-standard and for me goes quite a way to spoiling the whole experience. I think at best it’s on a par with my humble 3 year old Humax Freeview PVR through a couple of inexpensive RCA connections.

Sadly, Sky tie you into a minimum 12 month contract when you sign up, so it’s an expensive lesson in trusting your instincts and standing your ground when you have reservations about a technological product. Hopefully if you’re reading this, you might not make the same mistakes that I did. Save the cash towards a holiday / another gadget / give to the needy / burn £50 notes for fun. Whatever you choose to do with your hard-earned, just steer clear of Sky.


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