Initial MySky Impressions

It’s been about 48 hours since I had my MySky box installed, so I thought I’d note down a few initial impressions.

Overall, it’s pretty mixed (it does seem like a 1999 system, although I have never used the original ReplayTV or TiVo). While some things are definitely good, and it’ll certainly be much better than the old system, there are many things that are bad (I guess four years isn’t long enough to iron out the bugs), and I’m not certain yet whether I’d recommend it to anyone, given the high price tag. Hopefully software updates will take care of some of these problems.

Problem #1: the “help” button on the remote takes you to the “Preview” channel (which is pretty much just previews for the “Box Office” channels). I’m not sure in what way this qualifies as “help”.

Problem #2: The remote has the same four coloured buttons (red, green, yellow, blue) as previous Sky Digital boxes. However, when these are displayed on the on-screen interface, the colours are barely recognisable (very poor UI design). Luckily, the placement of the UI elements indicates which button to use, but that’s not immediately obvious. (Distinguishing these four buttons by colours is a poor choice, given that many people are colour-blind, anyway, in my opinion).

Problem #3: In order to change to a specific channel using the number keys, three digits must be entered (i.e. channel 3 is “003”, and 38 is “038”). The old system, where it would timeout after a little while and assumed you had entered all the numbers, worked fine. This way is annoying, especially considering that 90% of my watching is of single-digit channels, and I don’t watch any three-digit channels.

Problem #4: This is pretty minor, but on the “Active” menu, where (the same) weather and games interactive applications can be reached, there is an “Additional” menu item, which just says that nothing is available. There’s no point in having this (it’s like the one-item menus my phone stupidly has). When there are additional items, they can be added to the item. That’s what a software update is all about.

Problem #5: It now takes two buttons to get to the standard program guide. The first press (of the “guide” button) takes you to a menu of different guides (which existed on the old system, but didn’t really work). It’s nice to have a choice (although I can’t think when I’ll ever use any of these other guides), but it’s not nice to hide the one that everyone typically wants behind two presses. However, the transparent mini-guide system (more on that later) is much improved, and if series-link works properly, then the guide shouldn’t be so important now, so perhaps this won’t bug me too much in the end.

Problem #6: this one is a killer, and if it isn’t fixed soon, I’ll have to contact Sky about it. One of the key features of the PVR for me was being able to use some sort of “series link” (i.e. tell the box to record all episodes of a program). While there is such a feature, either it’s broken, or far more difficult to use than it should be. To test this, I set the PVR to record Gilmore Girls, which is (at the moment) on every weekday at 5:30 on TV2. Happily, Tuesday’s episode was successfully recorded (I was around to check, just in case). However, yesterday’s episode (when I was not home), was not recorded – there was no indication of why this was in the “Planner” page, which lists recorded and scheduled programs. This morning, I noticed that it does have an entry to automatically record next Tuesday’s episode. IOW, it appears that “Series Link” only works for programs that are weekly. (I also tried to set it to daily record Shortland Street for my wife, and that didn’t work either). I suppose that I can work around this by “series linking” each day’s episode, but that’s not very good design. A clever device (e.g. the ones available in the US) would also be able to find reruns and instances of the same program on other channels, and handle those, which MySky cannot. Update: I don’t appear to be able to “series link” two programmes with the same name and channel (or something else is wrong), so this workaround won’t work.

Problem #7: It would be nicer if there were separate screens for recorded (and recording) programmes and scheduled programs, especially once the device starts filling up.

Problem #8: It would be nice if there was a way to record at a lower quality, in order to save space (it seems that it will be able to hold about 55 hours of recordings).

Problem #9: It would be much better if the guide indicated which programs were scheduled to be viewed or recorded in some way (e.g. colour). Even the old guide did this (“booked” programs were inverted).

Problem #10: The hardware includes USB 1.1. I didn’t think anyone even made USB 1.1 any more. Changing to USB 2 would cost practically nothing, and mean the port could actually be used for something in the future.

Praise #1: The interface is finally responsive. For years I have been berating Sky for the terribly unresponsive interface (some of the newer Digital set-top boxes are better, but none are good). This arrived when they did a large redesign four or five years ago, and meant that you constantly had to wait for the screen to refresh. Completely unacceptable (except that they have a monopoly in New Zealand…). The MySky interface, however, is as responsive as I would expect.

Praise #2: The basic PVR features (live pause, live rewind, recording, playback) work exactly as I expected them to, and are certainly very useful.

Praise #3: The non-PVR Sky Digital boxes have a little information window that appears when changing channel (or by pressing a button on the remote) which says what’s on, and so forth. This was fairly useful, although it times out, so could be annoying to browse many channels, or several hours ahead. A pretty similar (minor improvements) version exists with MySky, but there’s also a similar window between that and the full guide. It doesn’t time out, and includes the program synopsis. Since this is transparent, so programs can be watched (and heard: the guide now had background music or silence) while it’s displayed, and since the synopsis is easy to get to, this might replace using the guide, at least partially.

Praise #4: Finally, it’s possible to tape two Sky channels at once (and additionally watch a prerecorded program). Since our TV isn’t plugged into the rooftop VHF/UHF aerial, our reception for TV2 and TV3 is pretty crap, and they both have a habit of putting almost everything I watch in a week on one day (Wednesday), which used to mean taping one on crystal-clear Sky, and one on crap reception.

Praise #5: I can get rid of the VCR (well, put it in another room), and get rid of one remote, with no loss of functionality. Likewise, I can get rid of all the VHS tapes sitting next to the VCR.

Praise #6: The “to VCR” output of the box outputs at full volume, it appears, which would be nice if I was going to move things from PVR to VCR/DVD. In the past I’ve recorded programs with the Sky volume down very low, which means the recording has hardly any sound.

Well, it seems that actually my impressions are pretty negative so far, from this list. However, it does do the basic things (apart from series link) right. So we’ve caught up to 1999. Maybe now that people have the hardware (or at least when they manage to get other people’s installed) they can fix the software and bring us to 2003 or so. No doubt more impressions will follow in another post, once I’ve been using it for a while.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Phil on January 26, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the blog. Keep going as I am unsure whether I am going to buy or not and I don’t know anyone with it to play with.

    The main reason I want to get it is for the series link, so I would want this working properly. For example the Formula 1 which is on at random times and random sundays.

  2. […] In my initial impressions, I noted that the “Planner” page of the MySky interface wasn’t that great. So far, this is what has annoyed me most. […]

  3. […] One of the features I initially liked about MySky was that it automatically started recording three minutes early, and finished three minutes late, to cover for programs starting or ending early/late (TV 2 and TV 3 are notorious for doing this). […]

  4. […] My initial impressions were that the “series link” feature of MySky (the most important feature, in some ways) didn’t work right. I set Gilmore Girls to be recorded on Tuesday, then it was next recorded Monday the next week (not Tuesday as I originally posted), missing Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This also happened with Shortland Street, the only other program I have set to record that is on more than once a week. […]

  5. Sorry about the delay – have been flat out over the last week, so just drafting things without posting them properly (but have caught up now).

    It seems that the series link feature is better than it first appeared. I’m still a little concerned about why the problem occured that first time (as in my new entry). If further problems occur, or I figure anything else out, I’ll certainly post about it.

    The fact that it managed to find a weekly program that skipped a week is certainly promising. It would be interesting to see how well it worked with more random programs. I suspect it would probably be ok as long as the name was the same (e.g. All Blacks games probably wouldn’t be because they have the opposition in the title; I suppose I’d watch these live anyway though).

    If I can find something on at the moment that has this semi-random schedule, I’ll see what happens (there’s plenty of space left for such experimenting).

  6. Posted by Phil on February 2, 2006 at 9:33 am

    Hmmm, do you know how Sky links the programmes in a series together. I would hope that they use some sort of metatag that is hidden in the schedule. If they just use the title I fear things like ABs games or the Formula 1 (as you suggest) which probably haqve different titles won’t be picked up.

    A related question, if you click on recording a series, can you look forward in the guide and see all the times it thinks it is going to record and if so how much in to the future does the guide go.

    Thanks again for the blog. Very useful and informative, especially considering there is no where to see and play with one before you plonk down $600

  7. No, I don’t know, unfortunately. As you say, ideally the program database would have a “Series Name” (just the same as the program in many cases, e.g. “Lost”, but simplified for others, like “All Blacks Game”). If it were really good, it would have additional tags (where relevant), like “Season Number” and “Episode Number”. I believe this is how TiVo and others manage to record just one season, and resolve conflicts by recording the same episode when a repeat is played later or on another channel. (Sky 1 actually does plenty of repeat programming, as do the movie channels (which I don’t have), so this would be a useful feature).

    My suspicion and fear is also that they are simply using the title+channel (in the past, I’ve seen programs in the guide where the episode title made it’s way into the program title, so that had better stop if this is the case).

    So far I haven’t been able to find anything to set for recording that would properly test this (the Sevens are one TV 1 this weekend, but the title seems to be the same each time). Hopefully I’ll see something soon.

    Sadly, no, the series link only shows the next show to be recorded, not anything else. The guide shows up to 7 days ahead, but even if there’s more than one show in that time (e.g. a daily show), you only get the next one displayed. It looks like what it does is just search for the next one after the current one is finished recording.

  8. Posted by Greg on March 1, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Tony,You are not alone. I have rung sky three times now and complained about the series link – each time I got a wonderfully crafted technical explanation that made no sense and actually was easily challenged. On two occasions they actually admitted what they where saying sounded like BS and perhaps it was not the problem.

    Series link does not work on TV one, Two or Sky sport. Other channels are hit and miss. TV 3 does seem to work (3 news, nightline both work fine).

    This is a fundamental part of the product and sky need to get it sorted fast before the end up on fair go or at the CC for false advertising. At least the should come clean publicly so people don’t get frustrated missing their favourite shows.

  9. I’ve given up on phone calls for just about any technical problem with any company. Typically the people staffing the phones are completely ignorant about technical issues and often make up their answers. Since you get a different person each time, you also end up repeating yourself endlessly.

    I agree they need to come clean. They need to say when this will be fixed, and really should offer to compensate existing customers for not providing what we paid for.

  10. Posted by John Porter on March 3, 2006 at 3:08 am

    Greg, series link DOES work on TV1 and TV2, although every program I have recorded on TV1 has been truncated (see my comments on http://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?ForumId=34).

    If it does not work for you, you need to reboot (GoBack+Select on front panel). Do not touch the ..searching lines. If you do delete one for any reason (like to stop recording a series), reboot again. Sounds like early versions of Windows, doesn’t it? 🙂

    When you first choose series link, it may come up with a ..searching line and a proper line. Don’t delete either – just let them be.

    I powered mine off once, and it really got confused – really lost its mind. Rebooting as above fixed it. It doesn’t hurt to reboot often. Any time I am unsure about anything, I reboot. Shouldn’t have to, I know, but I just want it to WORK!

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