Sky Player is one of two recent add-ons for the UK installs of Windows Media Center that support streamed video, the other being MSN Video. Sky Player started out life as a standalone Windows application that used the Kontiki peer-to-peer infrastructure to download programmes and films without overly taxing Sky’s infrastructure. Since then, Sky have reengineered Sky Player to use Silverlight for the delivery of the videos, introduced the streaming of live TV and also broadened the reach of Sky Player by allowing you to watch Sky Player through a web browser, Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, suitably equipped STBs (such as the forthcoming 3View) and, finally, through Sky Player software still, which allows you to download programmes to watch them offline.
One of the benefits of Sky Player is that it allows anyone to watch Sky programming, even if you aren’t a Sky customer. If you are at all familiar with Sky’s channel offerings, you’ll know that they are structuring into packs. The pricing for Sky Player is similarly set up, with their Entertainment Pack costing £15 per month, the Movies Pack £34.50 per month and the Sports Pack £32 per month. There is a combo offer of Sports & Movies for £41.50 per month.
If, on the other hand, you are a Sky customer, what you are able to watch is dependent on what your Sky subscription entitles you to. Live TV streaming, for example, is free if you are a Sky Multiroom or Sky Broadband Unlimited customer, otherwise it is £10 per month. There are selected programmes from channels in your Sky subscription that you can watch on demand for free. Beyond that offering, there is a selection of movies to rent from £2.50 and programmes from £1.
Enough about the background to Sky Player … what about using it?
Getting Sky Player set up is relatively straightforward. Windows Media Center should already have added two icons to the main menu area:
Selecting either for the first time starts up the installation process:
This should be a fairly painless process although I did have problems on one of the computers I tried this on, due to an earlier installation of either MSN Video or Silverlight – I cannot be sure. I ended up having to get out the keyboard and mouse for the Media PC in order to manually uninstall bits before trying again. In the above run-through, no such issue arose.
When the installation completes and you go into Sky Player, you’ll see a screen similar to this one:
Before you go much further, though, you’ll need to sign in. Sky Player uses a Sky iD to associate any subscriptions you might have with a username and password.
A word of warning: your Sky iD allows you to use Sky Player to up to 4 computers, but only one at a time. Furthermore, Sky have a concept of a main computer, which is typically the first computer that you use with Sky Player. Sky movies and Sky 1 programmes may only be watched on the main computer. All other computers are restricted to non-Sky content. You can change which computer is to be considered the main computer, but only once per month.
In my view, this is a significant restriction and one that should be reviewed. I don’t have a problem with the “up to 4 registered devices” limitation. What I do have a problem with, though, is the limitation of the viewing of Sky programmes. I don’t think that it is reasonable to say that only one of the registered devices is permitted to access that content. I definitely don’t think that it is reasonable to then only allow you to re-designate the main computer once a month! For example, consider our household where Windows Media Center is primarily used on a dedicated PC in the living room. I then go on holiday somewhere in the UK or visit family and want to watch Sky TV or movies on my laptop. Currently I would have to designate my laptop as the main computer and then, when I got home, I wouldn’t be able to watch Sky on the Media Center PC until a month has gone by! It is simply a nonsensical restriction.
Rant over … next time, I’ll go into how Sky Player has been integrated into Windows Media Center and the experience of watching Sky on your PC.