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Sky+ Reviewed       
By Callum MacFarlane | 16th August 2003

The Time Before "Dual Recording"...

Before the current thoughts of such wonders as"Dual Recording" and "Save Live Pause" Sky recognised that there were many functions that needed reviewed and upgraded as necessary. Some of these functions were exposed to customer focus groups for their thoughts and opinions. Some aspects of the Sky+ service were roundly applauded and given gold stars. Other features, or lack of them, were the cause of recommendations for new functionality to meet the needs of the Sky+ user.

Here are some slides from the analysis carried out for Sky at the time. Slide number 1 talks about the high satisfaction amongst viewers who used the Sky+ remote control. The one area where concern was noted was in the operation of bookmarks - feedback saying that it wasn't intuitive or straight forward. In saying that if some people got confused between R for Record and the Red Button then any functionality might confuse!

The expectations of users as far as the Sky+ planner was concerned, were fully met. The question asked appears to be about clarity and understanding the symbols in the planner. Of course with no Autoview facility available users were not likely to comment on a function that wasn't present.

When is a buffer not a buffer? Well when its controlled by the manual buffer option. In principle it all sounds fine, but if you have ever tried to record 7.30pm Coronation Street followed by 8.00pm Eastenders, you'll know how difficult it is to get both programmes in their entirety. You could use Keep markers to prioritise but as Corrie & Eastenders swap broadcast order on different days - the whole thing is just a lucky dip of whether you will have 2 full recordings or not.

Often what happens is that Corrie runs until 8.00pm, Sky+ stops recording 30 seconds before Corrie finishes to record Eastenders - but when you play Eastenders it has 2 minutes of BBC promo trailer before the actual show, and you still haven't seen the end of Corrie. It's mighty difficult for any viewer to know what to do to ensure that nothing is ever missed.

Manual Recording was a major breakthrough for Sky+ users allowing us to record radio programmes for the first time (not mentioned in the research) and giving users a whole new level of control. One might have thought that "everyone" would be "concerned with capturing a whole program" but what this report is basically saying, is that if you don't trust Sky or any other broadcaster to remember to alter the EPG settings in real time if a football match goes into extra time and penalties then you can set up a manual record for the whole potential period of coverage. One thing that was not mentioned in the slides feedback but which Plusworld has had requests for was that many users would like their manual recording to be labelled with the EPG programme name/s.

The lack of proper broadcast control triggers made some users in this research wonder why Sky+ could not use video PDC like controls to make it more accurate.

On to the issue of Management of recordings: It is not clear from this slide whether the author of the report had asked the users about the Mandatory Prompt for each recording "Are you sure you wish to delete this programme?" It used to be the case that all recordings needed confirmation once you had pressed the yellow Delete button. Then Sky changed the policy to only getting a prompt when the recording had a "Keep" marker on it. For reasons best known to Sky their research suggests users were happy with this change, but from the constant feedback at Plusworld, we would suggest that either the wrong question was asked, or the people in the sample were not "typical".

Disk space had never been exceeded says the research. However being a little picky, unless Sky can change the laws of physics, you can NEVER actually "exceed" your disk space. Use it all up perhaps, or have insufficient disk space maybe. This finding was the most concerning to Plusworld of all the findings. Our Vote at Plusworld tells a very different story: Of 126 votes, 67 votes felt that they sometimes ran low on disc space. 30 votes (23.81%) felt that this size disc was perfectly adequate, and interestingly about the same again struggled to delete enough recorded material to record new programmes and this was always a problem.

The issues of speed were looked at next. The Sky+ users who were questioned felt quite content with the new x30 speeds and Viewer Defined Start Position was welcomed. The ability to freeze frame (as opposed to Pause) and step though a clip or show frame by frame was also welcomed but not judged as urgent (I guess that's why we don't yet have that feature.)

They maybe small in number but the Dolby Digital 5.1 enthusiasts are nothing if not vocal. At the time of the research very little was broadcast in DD5.1, happily now there is a much better choice of DD5.1 programmes.

Oh dear, if you already had a working VCR it was a bit hasty to throw it out. After all Sky+ is not scoped to be an archive machine, whereas you can dump all your recordings from Sky+ onto a VCR tape and archive to tape as often as you like. This aspect was perhaps lost on most of the users. And even users who had mastered copying to VCR, hadn't all twigged that you can set up a batch of recordings on Sky+ to be sent to a VCR tape.

Sky Box Office feedback mirrors what Plusworld is being told in our recent Vote:

Plusworld featured an article on Box Office Movies On Demand showing what could be achieved with Sky+ at no extra cost !

Finally Playback navigation was investigated and found to be acceptable. The comments about "Skip to End" not being understood, was perhaps a sign of light users of the system. As mentioned in the Coronation Street and Eastenders recording back to back issues, it is incredibly useful to skip straight to the end of Coronation Street to check that the end is actually there, before being disappointed with the immortal line "I confess it was me who..." -"End of Recording - press Back Up or Delete"


The research was carried out over a year ago. But some of the issues were well identified and worked into subsequent software updates, Other findings suggest that if you ask the wrong question, you might not get quite as useful an answer as if you'd asked the correct question. e.g. would you like the ability to toggle the Delete Recording prompt confirmation on or off? Is the reason you don't run out of disk space because you daren't record too many programmes because of the inadequate size of hard drive?

However what is good that Sky care to ask the questions and attempt to improve the Sky+ service for its users. So the message to Sky is simple: keep asking and keep improving and this virtuous cycle should continue to reap rewards for all concerned.

Do you have any opinions on this Sky+ Review?
Join in the discussion of Sky+ Review at the Digital Spy forum here

Viewpoint Previous Issues - click on the issue you require:
Sky Box Office Movies On Demand Credit Where Credit Is Due
Series Links don't link... Lack of Dual Recording Causes Clashes
Have I Got Series Links for You? Dual Recording - The Early Days
Save Live Pause - The Early Days

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