Sky is the largest traditional pay TV provider in the UK, with its core television service provided by satellite.
Sky launched a multi-channel service back in 1989, and started offering a multi-channel pay TV service in 1993. By the late 1990s, Sky’s service was shifting from analogue to digital; ten years later, Sky led the way in providing HD services. In recent years, it has faced increased competition from online services.
This page refers to the Sky service operated in the UK and Ireland, although Sky does also offer services in other countries.
What does Sky offer?
Thanks to the advantages of satellite television, Sky offers the largest selection of television channels of any main TV platform in the UK and Ireland.
In recent years, it has been adding additional connected and mobile services, allowing users to access catch-up and on-demand content as well as TV on the go. It’s main platform for delivering that hybrid of satellite and online services is Sky Q.
Sky also provides easy access to television services from other regions: all BBC regions are found from channel 950. Welsh channel S4C and Gaelic BBC Alba are available across the UK. Sky users in the Republic of Ireland can receive most main UK channels alongside the main Irish channels, sadly not vice-versa…
What do I need to receive Sky?
You need a satellite dish installation*/** and a Sky receiver: Sky limits users to its own receivers in order to access the Sky pay TV service. An internet connection is also required to make use of additional services.
There are three generations of Sky receiver:
- Original Sky Digital/first generation Sky+ boxes: legacy standard definition receivers to receive the core television service. Sky+ added the ability to record. No longer available to new customers.
- Sky+HD/Sky HD: second generation of Sky digital receiver, adding support for high definition television and the ability (on Sky+HD boxes only) to pause live TV and record programmes. No longer available to new customers. Additional basic catch-up TV and box set functionality was added to the Sky+HD platform before it was replaced by:
- Sky Q**: all the advantages of the first two types of receiver, plus improved connectivity options alongside additional catch-up and on-demand options, including Netflix.
You also need a viewing card, which you will receive as part of your subscription. The viewing card will tell your receiver which TV region you should be getting, so you can receive all relevant channels for your area. The card also enables additional functionality, including a parental lock on some channels.
(Without a viewing card you will only get limited access to channels, such as all the main Freeview channels and some additional satellite-only TV and radio stations. You also lose the ability to record programmes if you don’t have a valid viewing card and subscription.)
You will need an internet connection of a least 2.5Mbps, but preferably 10Mbps to make the most of connected on-demand and catch-up TV services.
*You’ll need to be able to host a satellite dish that has an open view to the south-east, or a wall or rooftop that gets the sun between 10-11am in the morning – the satellite used to distribute Sky’s services is located in south-east sky from the perspective of the UK and Ireland.
In Scotland and Ireland, you may need to accommodate a larger, so-called ‘zone 2’ dish in order to provide adequate reception in all but the most extreme weather conditions. A Sky installer will be aware of these factors.
**If you’re switching from Sky HD or Freesat to Sky Q, an installer will need to change the LNB (the small box that sits on the end of the arm protruding from the dish). Older dishes may be replaced with a newer, slightly larger model. To give you flexibility, you should insist on having a hybrid LNB – a hybrid LNB will allow for Freesat receivers to continue to be used elsewhere in the house and will allow any smart TVs with satellite tuner to continue receiving services.
Can I access Sky without a satellite dish?
Sky’s streaming service Now TV allows viewers to access all of Sky’s main TV channels and on-demand programme libraries without a satellite dish. You will need a broadband internet connection that can achieve at least 2.5Mbps download speed.
At the moment, in order to subscribe to Sky directly, you will need to have a satellite dish installed. Once you are a subscriber, services such as Sky Go and the on-demand services available via Sky Q allow you to access content via your broadband internet connection, rather than satellite.
Some Sky channels are also available through cable (Virgin Media). Sky Arts and Sky News are also available on Freeview.
How do I find out about subscribing to Sky and details of prices?
The Sky website www.sky.com (www.sky.ie for the Republic of Ireland) has the latest deals and pricing information.
Are Freeview channels available on Sky?
Freeview is terrestrial TV – you need a TV aerial to receive Freeview.
Sky is satellite TV – you need a satellite dish to receive Sky.
However, Sky does include all the main Freeview channels as part of its service: all the main broadcasters also transmit their Freeview channels via satellite to enable this to happen.
What if I’m not allowed to have a dish? / I can’t have a dish because of obstructions?
As an alternative, Sky’s streaming service NOW TV enables viewers who can’t have a dish to access all the main Sky entertainment, cinema and sports channels via broadband internet. Sky’s main channels are also carried on Virgin Media and TalkTalk TV. BT TV offers NOW TV as an integrated option.
Sky currently has the widest selection of HD channels compared to all other main TV platforms in the UK and Ireland. HD simulcasts of some Freeview and Freesat channels, such as ITV3 HD are only available with a valid Sky subscription.
Sky offers a selection of 4K UHD programmes to viewers with a Sky Q receiver.