Living with Sky+ HD, Sky Anytime and Sky 3D

We’ve showered the Sky+ HD box with five-star ratings and Awards before, but with new 3D capability and the Anytime+ on-demand service, let’s see what it’s like in action

If last year’s Product of the Year Award for Sky’s Sky+ HD 1TB box wasn’t indication enough, let’s reiterate – Sky+ 1TB is the best PVR on the market.

It is, of course, a subscription service, and when we divvied up our Awards at the end of 2010, we hadn’t had too long to investigate its new Anytime+ and 3D TV packages. There’s no doubt they’re both a big part of Sky+ HD’s appeal, though, so we’ve spent the past few weeks living with both services, to see if they really do make a good product even better.

Setting up the service
To get Sky Anytime+ you’ll need a Sky+ HD box (naturally), Sky TV subscription (of course) and a Sky Broadband connection. Sky hasn’t ruled out allowing non-Sky Broadband subscribers the service in the future, but it’s not a priority just now.

After that, you’re ready to go – though bear in mind that if your broadband package has a data allowance, downloading Anytime+ content will constitute part of your allowance – a two-hour film equates to around 1 GB according to Sky.

You should also be aware that you only get access to content available on your existing TV package: if you don’t subscribe to Sky Movies, for example, you won’t get access to Anytime+ on-demand movies. It’s a similar story with Sky 3D – you’ll need a Sky HD+ box and a subscription to Sky World with the HD pack.

Then it’s just a question of clicking the button marked ‘Activate Sky 3D’ on the Sky website and you’re in business.

You'll need to kit yourself out with a 3D TV

Embracing 3D
There’s no doubt that the first few times we watched 3D TV, it was an experience that made us feel slightly self-conscious. That’s about the shock of the new, of course - unless you wear glasses already, there’s something slightly ceremonial about strapping on your 3D goggles before settling in front of the telly.

Once that particular novelty’s worn off, the question is simply this: which kinds of content are actually enhanced by the 3D format, and is there enough of this content to enhance your entertainment when you’re watching the TV at home?

The answer to the second question is ‘not quite’, but certainly, Sky is at the forefront in collecting and presenting what 3D content is available. Sky’s canny combination of sport, films and documentaries makes for generally interesting and sometimes compulsory 3D viewing.

If you have an interest in 3D gaming as well, then the combination of games console plus Sky’s 3D service is now delivering enough content to give 3D TV some serious home appeal.

Anytime+ EPG gets a new look

Video on demand with Anytime+
What you see is what you get with Anytime+. The EPG’s got a new look, but the change isn’t too drastic, and current Sky Anytime users will pick it up easily. Thumbnails guide you via channel or genre to the content, or simply select ‘all’, and marvel at the quantity of programmes available to watch whenever you like – over 500 films at any one time.

Sky’s Broadband service proves stable and fast, though you might notice the HD+ box whirring as it finds new content, and an impact on the speed of your internet usage elsewhere in the house. Our only main gripes, however, are the lack of HD content (that remains on Anytime) or 5.1 audio.

A day in the life
It’s necessary to spend a fair bit of money every month – £73.50, by our reckoning – to enjoy these ‘free’ services, but there’s no better way to maximise your telly viewing (or have more HD channels on tap)...

We’ve cancelled the DVD rental subscription and – Blu-rays aside –our disc library is looking rather dusty. First thing when we get home, we have a look at Sky 3D, to see if there’s anything we fancy. Liverpool versus Aston Villa is on, but who wants to look at Jamie Carragher in 3D?

Sky offers plenty of footie in 3D

Next up we check what’s on Anytime+. It’s actually an enjoyable process, accessing some of the vast amount of continually updated Anytime+ content – there’s a short wait while a film downloads, and it’s just long enough to freshen drinks, stockpile snacks, dim the lights and slide on your slippers. But not for the first time – or the last – we wish it was in HD/5.1.

Long-term performance
Flexibility, usability and content are such that we’re happy to overlook the odd blip or two...

“This 1TB box lets you have your HD cake and save it as long as you like before eating it,” we wrote last year, and we’re no less enamoured now. Sure, we’ve noticed maybe half a dozen blips from dozens of hours of Anytime+ usage, but to balance that out, we’ve never run out of disc space, nor had a recording ‘freeze’ (unlike with several previous Sky boxes).

And 3D? A game of football or a standard-length film is more than enough viewing for one sitting. On every occasion we’ve been tempted to push on and watch even more 3D content, we’ve ended up with a bit of a headache and bad bridge-of-nose indents. But in small doses, there’s no doubt it adds to your TV experience.

Reviewers’ notes

Week 1
It’s early November and we’ve just had Sky Anytime+ go live on our EPG. The amount of content is certainly impressive, but the lack of HD content, plus stereo-only sound does mean we’re not making the most of our system.

Week 2
Curious friends round in force for the 3D showing of Liverpool v Chelsea. Not enough glasses for everyone to watch at once, sadly, but everyone gets a go – critiques range from “this is genius!” to ‘I’m getting a headache.”

Week 3
The first hint of a blip from Anytime+ – only a fraction of a second but enough to miss a pivotal moment. On the plus side, we’ve upgraded the figure-of-8 mains cable to a Merlin Tarantula (£40) and are now reaping the benefits.

Week 4
David Haye’s fighting Audley Harrison tonight, and it’s in 3D! Inevitably, some friends have invited themselves round. The most effective 3D broadcast we’ve seen so far, and way more believable than Harrison’s self-confidence.

Week 5
Enjoying the fact that you can download Anytime+ content for viewing later simply by pressing ‘record’. Belatedly worried about how much data this is chewing up, so head to the Sky website for a ‘usage tool’ to keep track of things.

Week 6
Anytime+ is now our first call for movies, having usurped both our DVD collection and LoveFilm subscription. We’re enjoying 3D content too – but only in small-ish doses. Those 3D glasses can make you feel a bit queasy after a while...

Now read our interview with Sky's 3D guru Chris Johns and find out what he has to say

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as GQ, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others.