Sky Player on Xbox 360
18th Nov 2009 | 16:00
Sky's live TV and VoD service is among the slickest yet
Sky Player on Xbox 360: Overview
All hail the Sky Player for Xbox. As well as being a video-on-demand system online, Sky Player has been streaming live channels for over a year to PC users, and Sky Player for Xbox tries to replicate that experience on a games console.
It's a nice idea – and it effortlessly makes the best possible use of the Xbox 360's luscious new interface to create a service that's lots of fun to use.
It's expensive to non-Sky subscribers though and certainly a niche product in the mass market, but for Sky converts it's essentially a VoD solution for the home (or a second home) that beats Sky Anytime hands-down.
The look and feel of the interface is stunning. 'Xboxy' is the only way to describe it; sweeping between the icons for live channels, VoD content and movie listings is familiar and effortless.
There's no way to personalise the service and it doesn't make recommendations about content it might think you like, but it's so easy to use and the on-screen menus are mostly lightning quick.
Sky Player on Xbox 360: Features
Most Xboxy of all the features is Party mode, which only works with live TV channels.
The screen shows your avatar watching a huge TV screen, which fills most of the space. Send invites to your friends and if they accept, their avatars appear next to yours, and interact using an E-mote; a small dial appears on the screen and you can play your avatar like a puppet, making him shout at the screen or clap ferociously.
Back to the serious stuff. Scroll to live TV and you'll find a thumbnail playing the last live channel you visited (with sound) alongside a stack of other channels and a TV guide, though it only gives listings for the next 48 hours and can't handle reminders.
In terms of content, Sky Player is an exact copy of the online version, but unless you already have access to (or stump up the cash for) the Entertainment or Sky Sports packages, it's not much to get excited about.
The 16 free live channels comprise GOLD, Sky Real Lives, Sky Arts 1, MTV, Sky Sports News, Eurosport UK, Sky News, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, History, Eden, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Nick Jr.
Add an Entertainment Pack and you'll receive both the Sky Screen channels, which show the latest blockbusters on a loop – though that does seem decidedly old fashioned in the age of VoD.
Buy a Sky Sports Pack and you'll get Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, Sky Sports 3, Sky Sports Xtra, ESPN and ESPN Classic.
The movie VoD section is excellent and surely the backbone of Sky Player's appeal. Stuffed with 421 movies (to be exact), you can browse via A-Z, genre, latest additions or most popular.
Choose one and you get a synopsis and information on the length, file size (for a future download service perhaps?) and, best of all, a list of related films, which makes navigation even easier.
Aside from movies, there are repeats from Sky Sports, and a mix or free and paid documentaries from Sky, Nat Geo and the History Channel (at £0.98 an episode).
Some material – and occasionally, the interface as a whole – can be slow to load. Once it's playing, you can call up a FF/RW/pause control and speed through content at 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x speeds.
Sky Player on Xbox 360: Verdict
We used the service on a 2Mpbs broadband line and the service struggled, buffering constantly, though upped to 6Mbps it worked without a hitch. If you do struggle, medium and low quality settings are available, but picture quality is very poor.
The advice is clear; don't think about getting Sky Player on Xbox unless you always have upwards of 2Mbps.
What you'll actually be able to watch on Sky Player depends on your regular Sky subscription.
If you already subscribe to the Sky Sports package via the satellite service, you can watch those same channels on your Xbox360 for free, wherever it's used – though Xbox LIVE Gold membership is a prerequisite.
If you're not a Sky subscriber and are looking at this as a way of getting live Premiership football into your life, you'll need an Xbox LIVE Gold membership (£39.99 per year), a £15 Entertainment Pack for the movies, and a £19 Sports Pack.
That works out at £468 a year, though there is a £29.99 introductory deal that gets you three months of Xbox LIVE Gold and Sky Sports for a month.
If Sky Player and Xbox want to rival the BBC's iPlayer as well as the PS3's VoD service, it's going to have to be super-slick, easy to use – and affordable.
In typical Sky fashion, Sky Player on Xbox fulfils those first two criteria with aplomb. Equally typical is its premium price for non-Sky subscribers, but if you're already signed-up to its satellite service, Sky Player for Xbox is an innovation that introduces VoD and multiroom in the smoothest way possible.