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I have been a Windows Media Center user since 2005 and used it everyday in some way of other, I have gone from a single analog tuner to a dual DVB-T2 tuner with gigabytes of HD recordings and additional services like DVBLink and Remote Potato. But times change and with the BBC giving up showing all the Formula One races live in 2012 and with less and less content being offered by terrestrial broadcasters last month I made the decision to get Sky TV so a week before Christmas the dish and Sky+ HD box  where installed.

This has given me a couple of weeks to compare Sky+ HD with Windows Media Center. First I want to say that if Sky’s premium content had been available within Windows Media Center (via Sky card) I would have stuck with Windows Media Center and not considered a Sky+ box, but its not available and the only option is to get Sky’s own hardware and Virgin Media and its Tivo box is not available where I live.

(I know there are some hacks to get Sky on Windows Media Center but its not they way I want to go).

The Sky+ HD box is a pretty well made devices, with component, Scart and HDMI output. I have it hooked up to my TV using HDMI (with a HDMI splitter so I still have my PC connected) and connected to my receiver via optical connection. The picture quality is excellent especially the HD channels, having tried going back and forward between the PC and Sky I think the video quality of the Sky box is slightly better than the PC but there is not much in it. As for audio the Sky box is better, I found the digital audio better with proper 5.1 audio rather than the Dolby Pro Logic output of the PC on many channels. But this is brings me to my first gripe with the Sky box, the audio levels are extremely inconsistent. Some channels are much louder than others, even on one channel the adverts can be way louder than the rest of the programmes. So I have found I have to keep changing the volume on receiver where as with the PC I didn’t have to mess with the levels. Overall the hardware does the job, the remote is pretty simple and 250GB storage is adequate.

The user interface on the Sky box is a step back from Windows Media Center, the EPG is useable and the planner is ok but its not as elegant as Media Center however its simple to use and does the job. One area that is pretty poor compared to Media Center is the search features. Search is much quicker in WMC, its easy to find TV shows and there is no equivalent to Media Center’s movie browser in the Sky box, I enjoy browsing the upcoming movies in Media Center and having a look at which I want to record and there is nothing like that in the Sky box. You can filter the guide by movies channels but there is no easy way to see a weeks worth of upcoming films.  However there are other ways of browsing the EPG data and I will come to that later. Another feature of the Sky+ box is Sky Anytime where it downloads a selection of content for you to watch on demand, technically the service is good the content selection seems to be about promoting upcoming Sky shows and nothing that interesting.

One area where Sky are doing some good work is with Sky Go and Sky+ remote apps. With Sky Go you can stream live TV via their web site as well as on demand shows, it uses Silverlight for streaming and works on a Mac or PC, I found this works well but does require more bandwidth than a service like the BBC iPlayer. There is also a iOS app but that only offers Sky Sports and Sky Movies, this will come in handy when the F1 starts as Formula One is getting its own dedicated channel with the season starts in March.  The biggest problem with the Sky Go service is that you can only have two devices registered against your account, so I have my Macbook and my iPad registered therefor I can’t have my iPhone connected, two devices is limiting and I am sure that I am not the only one with multiple devices. The Sky+  app and web service is actually pretty good, I found this much better for viewing the EPG than using the Sky box. You can use the web site or iOS apps to browse the EPG and setup recordings, this is handy if your out and about forgot to record your wife’s favourite show. The Sky+ apps work very much like DVBLink’s apps or something like Remote Potato but do have the advantage of being easier to setup.

Overall I have found the Sky+ to be just good enough to use and mean that I don’t use Windows Media Center very much anymore. The extra content and convenience of the Sky box have meant that for the first time in many years I am no long using Windows Media Center. There are some things I miss like being able to record movies and TV shows and then copy them on to my Windows Phone or iPad, but if you want the Sky channels where is little choice and the family find it easy to use. I am sad that I don’t use Media Center full time anymore and its sad that Microsoft and Sky never worked out a deal that would bring the premium content to the PC. I am still using my Media Center PC as a source for DVBLink so I can stream to other PCs in the house but that is about it now.

So Sky wins out on content and the Sky + HD box is just good enough. A couple of years ago I would be sat typing a blog post on my Windows PC while watching TV through Windows Media Center but now I am typing on a Macbook Air, watching Sky TV while checking twitter on my iPad…

 

Sky Planner via the browser

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Sky Go via the browser

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iPad Apps

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A screen from Windows Media Center which I am going to miss:

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11 thoughts on “Switching from Windows Media Center to Sky+

  1. I did the same switch myself 2 years ago, as much as I love wmc it just does not get used at all now, have appletv for music and the rest done by sky+, media centre machine is still connected and ready to go at a moments notice if needed, but I find I never touch it..

    The WMC interface is so so much smarter than what you get with Sky+ so it is a shame, but sky have done just enough for everything to work well and easily so I find there is no reason to look elsewhere.

  2. So, software not as good but convenience wins – exactly as I predicted!

    Virgin’s Tivo is under serious consideration here right now. Just £3/month more than I’m paying now and access to three HD tuners. This would consign Media Centre to the dustbin of history after over six years use. The other option is dropping pay TV completely and going with a Media Centre/Freesat solution, but it’s probably second choice at the moment.

    The current status quo of using Media Centre to mix Virgin (via analogue capture) with Freeview won’t stay as the quality on both is too poor.

    .

  3. Great post.

    Looks like you are leaving for similar reasons I did. The lack of support for premium channels support in the UK. It’s such a shame that the UK is so restrictive when it comes to TV. Virgin gets away with not providing a CAM system (wish we had CABLECard equivalent!) in the UK despite there being European legislation which says it should, and Sky doesn’t want to play.

    I left during the trials of ITV HD on Freesat and the total non-interest of Microsoft to get support for the channel (even saying at one point that Media Center didn’t support Freesat HD) into Media Center at the time pushed me to getting Virgin HD cable.

    Ironically, I’m looking to get back into it now as after 2 years I found that I hardly watched anything on the premium channels have have down tiered to a ‘free’ package.

    I get get pretty much all the channels (except for Channel 4 HD) on Freesat so I’m going to resurrect my 7MC setup with a DVB-S2 card and use DVBLink to get live TV to from my main machine to my 2 “nettop” machines.

    I have missed having a true multiroom experience, better and more intuitive guide and transport controls.

    Currently I have all my other media consumption running thorugh XBMC Eden and I’m very happy with that and its very good plugins so I’m probably going to be running both systems for the foreseeable.

  4. Funny, I had sky last year and found that I never used it as I had media center, so kind of the opposite of your experience Ian.

    The problem I had with Sky was paying the subscription for things I never watched. I’m not into sport (expect for england games which we still have free) and I prefer to get movies straight away by buying them or through a dvd/bluray postal subscription.

    I really missed not being able to watch recorded tv in different rooms and on different machines as I like the option to be able to play recorded tv wherever I am in the house. The Sky guide really did feel like going back in time.. for someone like myself that is into movies it’s really great to be able to see the cover art, star rating, cast and crew not to mention the similar movies tab where you can press record on things and if they appear in the guide in the future they’ll be recorded.

    Fingers cross win8 mc gets the metro update and app support from lots of streaming services (i use boxee now but support is ending and I would prefer to stay ‘in’ media center.)

  5. ah well, i’ll be watching F1 in Media Center. Good luck getting more than a few films onto the Sky+ hard disk and then recording the F1. I’m amazed they’ve only just released a box with a 1Tb drive!. the first thing i did 2-3 years ago when i received my Sky HD box was replace the 320Gb drive with a 1Tb one.

    And multi-room fees? no thanks. its just a good job they’ve now made Sky Go subscription free, the Slingbox is no longer needed for Sky channels

  6. I’m saddened by your news!

    I’m wondering if you’ll miss the scheduled series recording functionality (unless its changed recently), for example, you can create a scheduled series recording in MC, and it’ll then record that program for the rest of its life, whereas on Sky, once the current series is completed, the scheduled series recording is then remove… which means you either have to start watching ads again, or reading the Sky emails!

  7. but what about shared recordings? we do the majority of recording in the living room but if the gf wants to watch it in the bedroom she can… cant do that with sky and would be a deal breaker.

    backing up settings and transferring recordings to a mobile or different device? cant do that with sky

    pooling tuners dvb-s and dvb-t together with dvblink? cant do that on sky

    theres many reasons why sky wouldnt work in our home network.

      1. Hi Ian,

        can understand why you’re doing it, I think I would just find it too restrictive personally.

        Can just imagine a conversation with my other/better half….

        [her] – I want to watch x in the bedroom, while I doze off…
        [him] – sorry dear, you can’t watch that one, its on an encrypted sky channel
        [her] – whats an encrypted Sky channel?
        [him] – its one that we pay Sky to receive, such as Sky1
        [her] – whats the difference between that and bbc1, we pay Sky to receive that too, they all come from the same box
        [him] ahhhh! if only we’d kept using Media centre throughout the whole house, life would be simple

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