Sky’s new Sky+ 2TB Box (now with built-in Wi-Fi) promises to boost your TV viewing storage by six times, with up to 350 hours of HD television stored on the latest Sky+ personal video recorder (PVR). [Updated October 31, 2013: new Wi-Fi features.]
Every Sky+ user knows that feeling of dread when the remaining space on their Sky+ box drops below 20 percent. Whole series are racking up: David Attenborough nature programmes, war documentaries you can only watch when your wife/girlfriend is out, endless episodes of QI, hours of kids stuff in case of a rainy day, TV progs you can’t even remember recording…
Sky offers three Sky+ digiboxes. The standard Sky+ box offers 250GB and the Sky+HD box boasts 500GB of storage, allowing you to store up to 185 hours of standard TV or 60 hours of HD/3D telly. If you’ve had your Sky+ box for a few years the storage capacity will likely be much lower. You can compare the current Sky+ boxes here.
The Sky+ boxes have now been updated with built-in Wi-Fi, making OnDemand content even easier to access.
If your remaining space is often under 20% you probably need a larger hard drive in your Sky+ box.
60 hours of HD TV sounds a lot, and I’ve only ever got truly concerned when my remaining storage dipped below 10 percent. But it’s amazing how fast that storage goes when you’ve recorded a few HD movies and stored several series of programmes for future viewing.
Once it’s filled up it starts auto deleting older stored programmes. After Christmas we lost the whole new series of Homeland.
Sky’s excellent On Demand service that includes Catch UP TV with BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand 5 and soon 4oD is also going to tempt you to download more TV than previously.
Sky TV offers over 90 entertainment channels, 12 movie channels and six dedicated sports channels – 65 in HD, which takes up more space on your Sky+ box than standard, non-HD telly.
With that much programming there’s an awful lot you think you’ll find time to get round to watching, and those storage hours quickly get filled up.
Sky used to offer a 1TB Sky+ box (1TB = 1,000GB), and has now upped this to a mighty 2TB, although not all of that mega storage is immediately available – Sky keeps 500GB partitioned for On Demand services and the operating system.
That translates to a whopping 350 hours of HD television or 1,180 hours of standard (SD) TV.
Virgin’s Tivo box still maxes out at 1TB, and claims of 100 hours of HD TV.
2TB Sky+HD price
On its own without Sky’s HD pack the new box is priced at £249 for both new and existing customers.
New customers joining with the HD pack can choose the 2TB box for £149, or get the smaller-capacity Sky+ for free. The HD Pack costs £10.25/month on top of your Sky TV package.
Existing non-HD customers starting the HD pack can buy the 2TB box for £49.
Existing HD customers can replace their Sky+ box for £149 or upgrade to Multiroom and get the 2TB box for £49.
Self installation for existing customers is £15 (and relatively easy, see below). If you want a Sky engineer to install the new box for you the cost is £30 unless you’re a new customer or upgrading to the HD Pack where installation is free.
Obviously the cost of the Sky TV package should also be factored in for new customers.
2TB Sky+HD features
Aside from the mega storage the 2TB Sky+ box works just like the standard digiboxes. In our opinion it’s the best PVR/DVR and electronic programme guide (EPG) available. It’s simple and in the main extremely intuitive.
The two tuners mean you can record two shows at once while watching another you’ve previously recorded. Two tuners, however, can seem not enough at peak time when more than two shows clash. Virgin Media’s Tivo PVR has three tuners, and even that can force tough recording decisions from time to time. Thank the Lord for +1 channels.
Series Link allows you to record a whole series with just one click. You can pause and rewind live TV, and even Undelete items you’ve stupidly dumped from your Planner – we’ve all done it…
And there’s mobile options such as the Sky+ iPad and Android apps that show you what you’ve recorded on your tablet.
Sky’s On Demand is a great addition but not limited to the new 2TB digibox. For this you needed to add either the £21.95 Sky Wireless Connector or hook up the Sky+ box to your broadband router via Ethernet. But now that the built-in Wi-Fi function on the Sky+ box means you don't need the Wireless Connector, although a direct or PowerLine-linked ethernet connection should still be faster than Wi-Fi.
If your broadband router is not in the same room as your TV and Sky+ box you can go the wireless way or install a Powerline network in your house.
Powerline, as the name suggests, uses your power lines as Ethernet cables with the simple addition of a couple of units that plug into a power socket. Group test: What's the best Powerline adapter?
I installed one of these in my home – using the fast D-Link PowerLine AV500 Network Starter Kit (£65) – as my wi-fi wasn’t performing well enough for services such as iPlayer. Installation is pretty much as easy as putting a plug into a power socket.
Even if you don't upgrade to this new Sky+ box, there's a free Wi-Fi solution for you from Sky. Existing Sky customers who have not yet used On Demand can receive a free On Demand connector. This connector will allow them to connect their set-top box to their Wi-Fi network. To check eligibility Sky customers shoulf visit sky.com/connector.
The 2TB Sky+ box also seemed to work better with the Sky TV guide (also known as the Sky Electronic Programme Guide or EPG). This was updated last year but never quite worked fully on my old Sky+HD box. Now the Mini TV box at the top left, which shows the programme you’re watching on a small in-screen box while you navigate the TV Guide, works properly, where previously it was blank and I lost current programme audio while surfing the guide.
One annoyance with the Sky TV Guide is the annoying order of channels. Sky’s own HD channels are listed early, but non-Sky channels from big players such as BBC, ITV and C4 have their HD equivalents hidden away down the order. You have to travel several pages through the EPG to find BBC HD or C4 HD, for example. You can get round this by sorting channels into the Favourites option but it’s still a forced workaround.
It would be nice if Sky could move the order of these HD channels depending on whether you pay for the HD service or not. If you do pay for the HD Pack C4 HD, for instance, should be higher up the list than the non-HD Channel 4. Having to scroll around to find these non-Sky HD channels is the only real criticism I have of the Sky service.
To conform to EU eco legislation the 2TB Sky+HD box comes with an 'Off' mode that lets you switch off to meet the maximum 1W power usage. You can switch off the box by pressing and holding the power button for five seconds until the box displays the red 'Off' light.
While this saves electricity the box won’t make any scheduled recordings in this Off mode. The usual 'Standby' mode remain, which the box clicks into at night or by pressing the power button once – you’ll see the amber light.
Sky no longer includes a manual with its digiboxes. You can download Sky+ box manuals from the Sky website.
We’ll be publishing a list of Sky+ Secret Tips And Tricks when we’ve worked our way through its 100+ pages.
2TB Sky+HD design
The 2TB Sky+ box looks identical to the older 1TB model but quite a bit different to the standard boxes.
Like the 1TB box at 351mm x 265mm x 73mm the 2TB Sky+ box is shorter in length and height to older Sky+ boxes. It weighs 4.1kg.
It’s also glossier and darker as all upgraded gadgets should be. It comes with a new remote control, which is basically the same as the old Sky remote but darker to match the box.
While having a dark Sky+ box is nice, the darker remote makes it harder to see the button markings, which is not so nice.
Round the back of the box are the usual ports and slots – many helpfully colour-coded to match the supplied cables.
• Composite Video (CVBS Video) Out
• Digital Optical and Coaxial Audio Outputs (necessary for 5.1 Surround Sound)
• L&R Phono Audio Output (white and red)
• VCR/DVD Scart (old school stuff that won’t supply HD)
• Dish inputs 1 & 2
• External SATA
• External 10/100BaseT Ethernet (RJ45) for wired broadband connection
• Modem/telephone connection (RJ11)
• Two USB slots
• Aerial In
• RF Out 1
• RF Out 2 (9v)
2TB Sky+HD installation
If you go for self installation of the new Sky+ box it’s pretty simple but requires a phone call to Sky to pair your Sky viewing card with the new box, and a few other bits and pieces.
I had to download some new software to the box, which took a call to Sky to talk me through, and about 10 minutes of downtime while it updated the box.
You’ll likely have to match the new Sky remote control to your TV, which is a bit of a palaver – see How to make the Sky remote control work with your TV.
It’s probably not something you’d leave with your grandparents to handle but it’s fairly intuitive if you get the Sky helpline to talk you through the whole process.
Probably the hardest part is getting through all the old recordings on your existing Sky+ box. At some stage you’ll have to resign yourself to doing without that old series of True Blood or your 18-episode collection of Top Gear.
Is it worth getting a bigger Sky+ box?
Do you need 2TB of storage in your Sky+ box? Probably not, but many Sky users will be feeling cramped with their current digibox’s 250Gb or 500GB capacity. If you ever fill it up with 350 hours of HD programmes or over 1,000 hours of standard telly you’d never get round to watching it all unless you stopped watching or recording any other TV (or sleeping) for months.