Sky Meshes With Whole-Home Video

Sky, the U.K.-based video and Internet service, Sky shed a few more technical details about Sky Q (opens in new tab), its next-gen whole-home, multiscreen video platform, announcing that it will use AirTies Wireless Networks’ Mesh technology to enable and manage WiFi on all Sky Q devices.

Sky Q, slated to launch in the early part of the year, will feature an array of connected devices, including the Sky Q Silver and Sky Q – primary boxes for the home’s main TV that’s packed with 12 tuners and 2 terabytes of storage; the Sky Q mini (a WiFi-connected box for viewing on secondary TVs), and the Sky Q Hub, a gateway-style device that will use Powerline- and WiFi-based technology to communicate with Sky Q boxes.  The provider has also developed the Sky Q app for tablets, with plans to extend support to smartphones later this year.

Sky’s new platform will use AirTies’s Mesh system to deliver linear, over-the-top and stored local content to Sky Q-compatible devices that are hanging off the home network. Last month, Cisco Systems announced that it will provide security for Sky Q, including its Cisco VideoGuard Everywhere, as well as its headend platform for service delivery, and its set-top middleware.

Supporting a hybrid system with both wired (via powerline) and wireless (via WiFi) was important to Sky for it to address the challenges posed by the varying types of building materials that are used in subscriber homes.

“We've got a somewhat challenging situation from an architecture standpoint,” Andrew Olson, director of new products at Sky, said, noting that WiFi can have trouble penetrating thousand-year-old stone walls and cinderblocks.  “Using different technologies… allows us to create this great network and extend the WiFi coverage for all of those standard devices throughout the home to make the network stronger, which we think is really important for customers." 

And it fits well with “Fluid Viewing,” the term Sky is using to describe its whole-home video experience. In addition to supporting live and VOD across screens, Sky Q will also allow subs to download some VOD assets as well as shows recorded to the DVR.

“Once people start to get a taste of being able to get the same content flowing across these different screens, it becomes a really powerful story,” said Olson, who joined Sky in February 2012, and previously served as COO at Comcast within its Converged Products Group, which played a key role in the development of X1, that MSO’s next-gen video platform. He joined Comcast via its 2006 acquisition of multiscreen publishing firm thePlatform.

While a device with 12 tuners might seem like overkill, Sky believes that number fits well with consumer viewing trends as more and more content becomes available to them.

In an example scenario, Sky Q will enable viewing on the main TV and to two Sky Q Mini boxes, and streaming to two tablets – at the same time – while providing enough tuning overhead to record four additional programs.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Olson said. “It's a bit of a golden age in content…there are more things people want to record than ever before." 

Blending TV with OTT

Sky Q will also open the door to OTT content. But rather than tacking that content on as separate apps, Sky will integrate those partners with the Sky Q experience. Announced content partners for that initiative include YouTube, Vevo, Barcroft TV, Electus, and Funny Or Die, GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Wired, GoPro, Jukin Media, Kin Community, Red Bull Media House and Whistle Sports.

And what about Netflix, which has been integrated with Virgin Media’s TiVo-powered platform?

“We’re definitely talking to a lot of different partners,” Olson said. “We’re definitely open to working with other people, but we are strongly prioritizing brining the content natively into the experience.”

As for that experience, Sky Q will add a voice-based navigation capability later this year, and is enabling its platform to stream in audio by integrating it with Apple AirPlay.

On tap: Ultra HD

Looking further ahead, Sky Q will also support Ultra HD content, including on-demand movie titles and some live sports, later this year. But rather than streaming that content, Sky Q will rely on progressive downloads in an attempt to unify how that content is delivered via speedy fiber-based connections as well as slower DSL links.

Sky plans to deliver 4K fare using the new bandwidth-efficient HEVC codec. Early on, Sky Q won’t offer any YouTube content in 4K because that implementation requires VP9, which currently isn’t supported by the Sky Q hardware.

On Monday, AirTies also announced a hybrid mesh software platform for in-home networking that supports the management of WiFi connections as well as several wired-based technologies, including powerline, Multimedia over Coax Alliance, and Ethernet.

“Hybrid Mesh enables the next-generation of video distribution in the home” said Bulent Celebi executive chairman and co-founder of AirTies, in a statement. “Today we consume HD video - soon to become ultra HD - on mobile devices in addition to multiple TVs.”