Sky by Broadband
This is a project that Sky has been working on for almost a year, according to Sky’s developers. The service is available to anyone with two premium channels: a Sky Sports subscription gets you access to the sports streams, a Sky Movies subscription gets you access to the movie streams, and a Sky World subscription offers access to both.
To access the service, you log on to skybybroadband.com and input your address and Sky Card number. Each household may then download, onto a single PC, a copy of the Sky by Broadband software. The application looks very easy to use and it is a clean and simple interface that certainly looks very "Sky." Browsing the application is intuitive but I found that once downloaded there isn’t a single "play" menu but one each for Sport and Movies and I would have found a single unifying “Now Available for Playing” option useful. Sky have built an interesting "recommendation" system to tailor the choices it recommends to you; it isn’t anything sophisticated but, it provides some way to focus your attention and with move movies and sports clips coming this will be useful.
According to Sky, 30,000 people have already downloaded it. They are pitching it as another bonus content delivery platform similar to the positioning of Sky+ as a "loyalty bonus" for subscribers who take a minimum of two premium channels.
Currently, hundreds of titles are available on the service. Sky plans to expand this to thousands of titles of movies and sport content as the service develops. In the future Sky hopes to have some content from Sky One available, probably in the next 6 months and probably starting with their US imports. Live coverage of the UEFA Champions League is also expected to eventually join the service.
Once the software is downloaded and configured you select a film or sports clip to download. The programme then does so in the background, with Sky estimating an hour for a 2 hour movie on a 2Mbps downstream connection. The files are between 800MB and 1GB in size and are compressed using Windows Media 9 Series codecs. In terms of resolution, the clips have around 540 lines although they plan to increase this by 20% for the next set of movies. In terms of bitrates, the movies are encoded with variable bitrates (running at around 800kbps), with sports running at a fixed 900kbps.
I had mixed experiences with upscaling the content to larger screens. On a 1920x1200 resolution screen with the content running full-screen, it looked less than flawless; however, at Sky's demo the content upscaled well. Therefore, I suspect that the quality of upscaling depends on where it is done, with TVs and projectors handling it better than doing it on the PC.
Files are distributed via Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology provided by Kontiki. The Kontiki software runs beneath the Sky interface as a service in Windows XP ("Kserve"). It loads at boot and acts as a peer when your PC is idle.
There are restrictions on what can be done with downloaded content. Burning it to a DVD is not permitted, and movies are automatically deleted after 30 days.
Sky by Mobile
At the same time as launching their broadband offering Sky have also extended their mobile offering; again, this can be accessed by existing Sky premium content customers (or registered Sky Bet customers). It provides a simple interface to text / image and downloadable video content; this will work across all service providers and phones with GPRS (2.5G) and 3G capabilities. In addition, Vodafone customers can for upgrade for £5 a month to the Sky TV streams offering on the 3G service. The long awaited remote programming of Sky+ will be available via this service when it becomes available later this year.
The Sky by Mobile content is available to Sky subscribers as a bonus to your subscription, but you do have to pay GPRS/3G download charges. The Vodafone TV service costs £5 a month (which is about half price). This is potentially a very interesting service offering access to Sky’s information wherever you are.