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Eye on Demand | April 25, 2017

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Sky Online Review (Germany)

Sky Online Review (Germany)

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
6.5
User Interface
2
Content on Offer
6.5
Device Availability
5
Value for Money (Not including Sport)
5
5

Requires a lot of fine tuning.

Cable and satellite pay TV services are finally beginning to offer contract-free OTT options, and although Sky DE were a bit late to the party, they also provide a completely satellite-free service, with Sky Online being the closest equivalent to Sky UK’s hugely popular Now TV. But is it anywhere near as good?

When Sky introduced Now TV to UK consumers, it took a while for them to iron out a lot of their issues and attract serious customer numbers, but eventually they ended up with a very promising score in our companion review.

Whilst Sky Online’s German service is very similar in principle, they distribute it through their own software sporting a radically different user interface, along with an unsubsidised Roku Powered box that lacks any of the free-to-air apps that Now TV lavishes onto their customers.

Offering three separate packages that provide either movies, television series or sporting events, we’ll be concentrating here on the first two as we find the Sports Pass, averaging €450 per month (compared to the UK’s £34) to be far too expensive for serious contemplation. (And believe it or not, Sky DE advertisement as only €14.99 per day!)

Sky Online’s Cinema Pass on the other hand costs €14.99 per month, with the Entertainment Pass sitting around €9.99 per month, and includes both live and on-demand streams.

Video quality is quite good at it’s best, with the highest bitrate we tested averaging 4090kbps*. Whilst this is still significantly lower than Netflix or Prime’s best performance, it was still good enough to enjoy without any serious ramifications – as long as we weren’t viewing via a web browser. But pixelating and visual artefacts were still unfortunately spotted on some fast moving scenes across the board.

Platform support is also average with a reasonable range of devices covered including the obligatory web browser, iOS and Android mobile devices (including AirPlay and Chromecast support), along with select Samsung and LG Smart TVs, the Xbox One and their own “Roku Powered” Sky Online TV Box.

On the other hand, Sky Online is still missing from the two hottest platforms in the German market, with no Apple TV 4 or Amazon Fire TV apps in sight (let along the official Android TV Platform).

 


  • On Demand Content

    One of the big differences between Sky Online and other SVOD services like Netflix or Amazon Prime is that Sky Online sits in Germany’s 1st Pay TV Window, and Netflix or Prime generally speaking reside in the 2nd position (outside of course of their own original productions).

    What this means is that in most cases, Sky Online will have more recently released movies and television shows than Netflix, Watchever, Maxdome or Prime, and this is where Sky justify the higher monthly fees – after-all, it costs them more to license than older material.

    This can almost certainly be seen when browsing Sky Online’s content. Movies available include far more recent blockbusters than any of the 2nd window VOD providers, arriving on the service a few months after theatrical release.

    At €14.99 per month for just the Cinema pass alone (not including any television shows), this is quite a lot to pay for just under 1000 titles, but it certainly does include a lot of gems. One of the best things though is that most titles are available in both the original language as well as dubbed into German. This is not something to simply brush aside either as until relatively recently, this was an entirely new concept to find in Germany, with almost all foreign content (which to be honest, was the majority on television) broadcasted or streamed without the original soundtrack, and dubbed into German – a prospect that is painfully hard to swallow for anyone who appreciates art, cinema or for that matter, quality.

    Movies

    The Entertainment pass runs in much the same way with Sky Online. Outside of the original productions Prime and Netflix produce, as well as the odd licensing agreement, most of the competition’s television content is at least a season away from the latest.

    Sky Online however includes not only older boxsets, but also some of the latest episodes of shows as they air in the US or UK, with one of their biggest licensing arrangements with America’s HBO, the makers of True Detective and Game of Thrones.

    Sky Online plans to stream many of these HBO shows as they air on American television, and in both the original language as well as dubbed into German.

    At €9.99 per month for just the television subscription, and only 160 series available at the time of publication, this isn’t an incredible amount of TV when compared to some competing services. Still, Sky Online also offers the shows live as they air, which unlike watching movies, is an interesting option.

    TVShows


  • Live

    Both the Cinema and Entertainment packs offer on-demand or live streaming of their channels.

    I can certainly understand this for their Entertainment selection, as every now again there will still be a show some people would want to watch as it airs, and channel hopping, whilst lying on a sofa can be a pleasant way to kill time.

    Sky Online offer Sky Atlantic (Sky’s home of HBO), FOX, TNT Series, TNT Glitz, RTL Crime, Sky Sports News, National Geographic, Spiegel Geschichte, Disney Junior and Disney XD. Outside of the Sky Atlantic, this is not exactly the strongest line-up of channels and just to rub salt into your wounds, the Sky Online EPG lists all of Sky’s satellite channels clearly showing how few channels you actually get.

    Channels TV

     

    However, I personally can’t find any real point in having live movie channels, when the movies in question are all available via on-demand to start exactly when you like. Still, some people must like this, and Sky Online provide two whole channels for you to indulge in, Sky Cinema and Disney Cinemagic. That really isn’t a lot when you consider Sky’s UK equivalent of Sky Online (Now TV) has 11 live movie channels for £9.99 per month, and 13 Entertainment channels for £6.99 per month.

    Channels Cinema

    Video quality for both the entertainment and movie channels vary depending on platform, but you should be able see streams averaging 2800kbps, which although pleasant enough, is nothing to write home about.

     

    SkyOnline Roku Live Ent 2800kbps

    What is notably annoying is how there is no proper programme information when you are viewing a live channel, this is especially irritating because Sky DE are traditionally a broadcaster of live television in the first place. If anyone was to get this bit right, you’d expect it would be an actual broadcaster.

    But it gets worse. Depending on the platform (such as on the Sky Online TV Box), there is no easy way to flip between channels. You have to go back to the main screen, change channels, and then sometimes even enter your child-security PIN all over again!

  • Sky Online “Roku” Box

    If there is one place Sky Online should shine, it would naturally be in its own home via the official Sky Online TV Box. This is a somewhat expensive dedicated set-top-box based on Roku technology that provides little else other than Sky Online access.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me the boat has somehow been missed.

    It’s not that there aren’t a fair amount of Sky Online features here, as the app allows for both live streams and on-demand, but the execution can be frustrating at best and bitterly disappointing at worst.

    Everything seems more complicated than necessary, with the always-required child PIN needed to do anything from starting a live stream to visiting the Watchlist.  Sometimes I had to type this in twice (which is never easy with a standard remote) and at its worse, it actually required no less than 64 key-presses to fire up a single live stream once the channel was found! (It’s worth pointing out that this was clearly a bug, but even when working it took 32 key-presses to move one channel up!)

    Add to this further bugs which caused all sorts of regular problems from ending a stream to entirely crashing the app, that at times I was close to giving up.

    All this is a real shame, as once content begins playing, it generally does so reasonably well (presuming a bug doesn’t kill the stream). Live content varied in quality, but generally speaking I managed a tested bitrate of 2800kbps*. While this is quite reasonable, I should point out it is lower than I measured through a web browser which once again I find disappointing.

    SkyOnline Roku Live Ent 2800kbps

    On-demand and catch-up content played back a bit better, measuring an average 720p bitrate of 3580kbps. Video quality looked solid, even during most fast action sequences.SkyOnline Roku CatchUp 3580kbps

    FFW and REW works reasonably well, but lacks the thoughtfulness of thumbnails as provided by competing services like Netflix and Prime, and there are no profiles either. But the biggest omission was what seemed like to me the complete lack of episode management. You’ll have to keep a pencil and paper handy to write down which episodes you are up to in any series you are watching – this is quite disappointing in our day and age!

    Thankfully, there is a Watchlist (even if you need a PIN to access it), and unfinished shows will Resume where you left off.

    All up I found the whole platform to be quite disappointing and overly complicated, lacking the refinements of Sky’s UK equivalent; the Now TV app on their box, especially when you consider this box costs €70 and offers little else than the Sky Online app itself.

    Platform Pros:

    • Video quality is generally speaking good.
    • Resume and Watchlist available.

    Platform Cons:

    • App store is terribly restricted.
    • No Thumbnails.
    • No true Episode Management.
    • UI is overly complicated and full of bugs.
    • Hardware is out of date.
    • Sky Online app a bit buggy.
    • Too expensive.
    • PIN, PIN, PIN, always the damn PIN!
    • Remote is weak compared to current Roku 3 and requires line-of-sight.

    Sky Online is officially only available in Germany and a good VPN may be required to access from abroad.

    On-Demand - BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON HD BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Resume BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Sky Online via iOS

    All of Sky Online’s main features are also available via their iOS app, bringing their on-demand library and live channels to your mobile device. The app is available from from the German iTunes store.

    It does look a little cluttered and could benefit from Now TV’s new user interface, but despite being only available in German (which is a shame since most of the content can be watched in other languages), the app functions for the most part without any serious issues.

    I was somewhat disappointed to find no offline download option, which was one of the bonus’ of Sky Germany’s “Sky Snap” service – a budget version of Sky Online. It seems ridiculously odd to me that Sky’s more expensive service lacks the coolest features of the budget one, despite both sharing the same UI now. After-all, offline downloads is what makes watching television on a mobile device so attractive in the first place.

    Streaming quality varies quite dramatically, with movies coming in at an unimpressive standard definition average of 1400kbps. This is quite poor when compared to the industry standard today when competitors like Netflix and Prime are well and truly streaming HD on mobile devices.

    SkyOnline iPad Mov 1400kbps

    But things looked a bit better when sending across to a Chromecast dongle, with an improved SD stream averaging 2690kbps*. This is still not HD mind you, and nothing to boast about.

    SkyOnline Chromecast Mov 2690kbps

    Just to prove that madness really does prevail here, the Entertainment package provided higher quality streams averaging 3810kbps*! This is completely bizarre since the Cinema package costs more, and people generally demand more from films.

    SkyOnline iPad Ent 3810kbps

    While Sky Online’s on-demand service appeared rather erratic, their live feeds averaged a far more impressive 4090kbps* for the Entertainment channels. This would be a basic 720p HD stream and was noticeably clearer than the earlier mentioned streams. This is an incredibly odd thing for Sky to do, since the majority of their customers would be interested in their on-demand rather than live TV.SkyOnline iPad Live Ent 4090kbps

    What’s weird about Sky Online’s live streaming is that the direct links at the Home screen seem to lead automatically to the on-demand version rather than live feed. I found I needed to go to the EPG and start a live stream there, an unpleasant task if any as the vast majority of channels were greyed out as they are only used with a traditional satellite subscription.

    On the bright side, AirPlay is supported and fully multitasking, meaning once the stream airplays to the Apple TV, you can use the mobile device for most other purposes or even switch off the screen without affecting playback on the TV.

    On the dim side, the iPad app at least seemed just as prone to the same bug that plagues Sky Online’s Roku-Powered Box where the video continuously stops playback for no apparent reason.

    Platform Pros:

    • 720p HD for live or Entertainment VOD.
    • Chromecast support.
    • Original language options during playback.
    • Quick scrubbing via timeline for FFW & REW.
    • Full multitasking AirPlay support.

    Platform Cons:

    • Low quality SD on-demand streams for Movies.
    • Confusing links to live streams on main page.
    • EPG wasteful as it shows channels you can’t use.
    • No offline downloads.
    • No Closed Captions.
    • U.I. only in German.
    • Slow in downloading posters and info.
    • No FFW or REW Thumbnails.
    • No way to change child lock settings.
    • Bugs that constantly stops playback.

    Sky Online is officially only available in Germany and a good VPN may be required to access from abroad.

    Movies BUTTON SD BUTTON HD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Resume BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     


  • Sky Online via Web Browser

    If watching television on a TV is not for you, and you prefer a laptop over a tablet or phone when on the move, then Sky Online’s browser portal will provide access to the service’s library even if the user interface is not the most pleasant way to watch a film.

    All the expected options are here, including both live TV and on-demand, but implementation is confusing and cluttered.

    For a start, what appears to be a selection of highlights for live channels, actually leads to on-demand for the Cinema package, and Sports News for the Entertainment? The only way to access the actual live Entertainment channels is to hit the Jetzt Live Auf Sky button that leads to an annoying EPG that serves more to show you the channels you don’t have, rather than the ones you do.

    livehighlights

    On-demand seems a bit more logical in its implementation, even if minimal episode management exists to keep track of what you are watching – complete with an unreliable Resume feature in which many occasions Sky Online forgot where I last left an unfinished show.

    On-demand playback lags far behind what Netflix and Amazon pull off these days, with streams averaging 3280kbps* in our tests. But I have to stress that this was on a good day, with plenty of other tests where bitrates dropped far lower and visual artefacts were irritatingly visible – not a good sign since I’m based in Germany and have far better performance when streaming Sky from the UK.

    SkyOnline Web CatchUp 3280kbps

    Live streams fared a bit better testing 3910kbps* at their best, which goes so much against logic and reason. Usually maintaining a live stream is technically much more difficult than on-demand, since the delays required for live buffering are unwelcomed for viewers (the last thing you want to hear on a sporting match is everyone around you cheering while your stream is 30 seconds behind). Still, the tests below were during optimum performances, where otherwise I have also encountered 400kbps feeds that were effectively unwatchable.

    SkyOnline Web Live Ent 3910kbps

    It’s possible to easily change directly from the playback window the audio track between dubbed German and the original language if the option is available, but annoyingly there is no way to set a preferred default.

    Overall I experienced the worse performance through Sky Online’s web portal than any of their other apps or devices, but this is not unusual for browser viewing on any streaming service. Seriously, there are always better ways to watch TV than through a web browser.

    Platform Pros:

    • Everyone has a browser somewhere.

    Platform Cons:

    • Confusing and cluttered UI.
    • Poor episode management.
    • A bizarre way to highlight live content.
    • EPG is more of an advertising gimmick for Sky’s satellite service.
    • Poor streaming performance.
    • Resume seemed unstable.
    • No way to set default for language tracks.
    • No way to change child lock settings.
    • No closed captions.

    Sky Online is officially only available in Germany and a good VPN may be required to access from abroad.

    Sport BUTTON Movies BUTTON On-Demand - BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Live TV BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Conclusion

    Sky Online Germany really has quite significant potential. If at the end of the day, the most important part of any service is content, with such a good library of movies and television shows, not to mention live sports, Sky Online has a strong case for supplementing or competing against the likes of Netflix.

    Extra points are also awarded for the inclusion of the original soundtrack, an option which although is becoming more popular in Germany, is still something that oddly enough is not yet standard.

    So where does it all go wrong? Well, pretty much everything else. Sky Online is well and truly priced too high, and this is even before we take into account the ridiculous monthly expenditure for their Sports channels.

    Sky Online’s user interface is clunky, cluttered, bug ridden and filled with ridiculously ill-thoughtout annoyances such as their permanently forced child-lock PIN, which really should be a feature rather than a curse, and an almost complete lack of episode management.

    There is of course hope, and the best we can imagine is that Sky Germany cut their losses and fall into line with Sky HQ in the UK, and import the British UI along with the much friendlier pricing structure per channel.

    Pros:

    • Good range of Movies and TV Shows.
    • German home of HBO content.
    • Many shows available in original language as well as dubbed into German.

    Cons:

    • Expensive for what is on offer.
    • No offline downloads despite this being a feature of Sky Snap.
    • Far less options when compared to Sky’s UK version (Now TV).
    • Platform support could be better.
    • Sky Online TV Box flawed in many ways.
    • Device limitations too draconian.
    • Ridiculous 7-day cancellation window!
    • Child-proof security PIN required far too often (sometimes twice in a row).
    • Child security PIN required to even add items to the Watchlist.
    • No way to avoid child security PIN, even for homes without children.
    • UI only available in German (despite the Sky Online TV Box offering more than once language).
    • Doesn’t always remember playback position (Resume).
    • Poor Episode Management.
    • Live Channels don’t display detailed information.
    • Complete Sky EPG displayed when on web or tablet.
    • No Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or Android TV apps available.
    Log:

    15.01.2016: Review published. Score 5 – Requires a lot of Fine Tuning.

     

    * Bitrate tests were based on multiple averages and are subject to both the geographical location and ISP bandwidth at the time.

     

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Comments

  1. James

    I agree, I don’t quite see the logic in the pricing for the Sports pass ? I think they need to look at and take a note of the more flexible (day, week, month) and quite frankly, better value for money that NOW TV offers. Though I recall that when they first launched this service the Sports Pass was €19.99 a day!

    • You’re right about Now TV and their sports pass James. I used to rip them to shreds here at EOD when they only had a day pass, and even recommended against it when they added the weekly pass. It wasn’t until the monthly pass that I gave it a positive thumbs up (Although I still think £34 is too expensive for someone who may just want one sport, i.e. why should a cricket fan subsidise football?)

      What irks me about Sky DE though is that Sky knows how unpopular this was in the UK, but the German side has not made any effort yet.

  2. James

    Another thing that isn’t ideal is that you need to take the Entertainment Pass before you can subscribe to the Cinema or Sport.

    We can only hope that the Sky management from the UK will influence their DE branch into some changes, to bring it more into line with the NOW TV offering.

    • Hi James, well spotted. I overlooked this requirement which is one hell of an elephant to ignore. Thanks for passing this on. I am checking with Sky Online right now if there is any way around this, but if there isn’t, I’ll be updating this review with a subsequent drop in score.

  3. James

    I’ve double checked myself and looks like you are able to choose either the Cinema or Entertainment packs, in order to book the Sports. Still it’s that sort of bundling of packages that people don’t want on a non-contract service.

  4. James

    Jo

    How easy is it to cancel? Is it just a click on the website or is a call to Sky required ?

    • Being Germany, Sky Online don’t quite have the easy cancellation options that people in many other countries take for granted. There is no easy-click button on the website. Both packages have a term of one month (though this starts from the 2nd month!). To cancel, you must do so 7 days before the end of the month, or you will be forced into the next month. You must then notify Sky Online either by phone or in writing by registered mail with return receipt, or send a fax transmission report or email to Sky.

      At the time of this reply, the contact details are:

      Sky Germany
      22033 Hamburg
      Phone: 01806/140000
      Fax: 01806/8860000
      Email: service@skyonline.sky.de

      What do you reckon, with draconian cancellation methods like this, did I score Sky Online DE too high? There are better options in my opinion if you want German language content. Watchever can be really good, easy to cancel and provide offline downloads and Netflix DE can be easily switched to via Smart DNS if you have a UK sub (although Netflix is making this a bit more difficult, but still worth a try with their free month trial).

  5. James

    I agree there are better options for German content, but I would really like access to the Bundesliga Konferenz on Saturdays which is of course only available through Sky. I would rather pay for the content I watch, than use unofficial streams. But currently there are a lot of things that are putting doubts in my mind when considering Sky Online as a service.

    Another thing that is annoying is their Android app only appears to be compatible with certain Samsung and Nexus devices ??? I recall they released a Sky Sports News HD app that was exclusively for use only with Samsung ??? Why ????

    • Hi James, that’s a very good point. Sometimes content we want is only officially available via one source, and that source is not available abroad. This is an area where broadcasters could really improve, and develop a system that supports OTT access in countries where that specific content is not licensed elsewhere. The problem is that this would take a collaborated effort not only across multiple competing broadcasters, but at a global level. Still, it could be done and there are groups working towards this, despite being held up by constant barriers.

      In regards to the Samsung app for Sky Sports News HD, although I don’t know for sure with this service, in most cases where this happens, it comes down to two possible causes; 1) The broadcaster signs an exclusivity agreement with a Smart TV platform (in this case Samsung) to only have the app on their TV. While this type of practice is less common in the UK, it is widely done in other markets. 2) Alternatively, there may be lingering licensing issues that prevent the broadcaster from expanding services. In many cases this could even be a totally unrelated platform or service, but their lawyers determined there may be a risk that legal action is taken by other companies keen to make some extra money where they see a contract wasn’t honoured to the letter – Germany is one such country where this sort of practice occurs often.

  6. James

    What would be ideal is if Sky started to provide their channels through other IPTV services like Zattoo, Magine or TVSpielfilm. Sky has it Direct-To-Home business through satellite distribution, but also sells its channels and content through cable operators. What is the difference between them offering their channels via a cable company or another IPTV provider ?

  7. Jutta Hayter

    Hi, tried to watch Game of Thrones through the LG TV Sky online smart app in Germany but it only provided the English version and not the dubbed German version I am able to access on my iPhone or iPad. It only works using my Apple TV.

  8. James

    Looks like Sky.de are introducing weekly and monthly sport passes.

    http://www.digitalfernsehen.de/Sky-Online-fuehrt-neue-Sporttickets-ein.139861.0.html

    • Jo Chambers

      Thanks for the heads-up James 🙂 This is great news for German sports fans.