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Sky Glass review: streaming TV not quite ready for prime time | Sky

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Glass is Sky’s new voice-controlled streaming television – an ambitious attempt to ditch the satellite dish and provide pay TV straight to the screen, with no set top box required.

The television comes in three sizes starting at £649 for a 43in screen, or £13 a month over four years, which works out at £25 cheaper too. Sky’s service costs from £25 a month on top.

Monolithic looks in your choice of colour

sky glass review
The relatively thick body of the TV is aluminium with a mesh at the top allowing a pair of speakers to fire upwards for surround sound. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Glass is a heavy beast, the 55in version weighs 28kg with its stand – about 10kg more than a standard 55in TV – but hides its bulk well from the front. The body is aluminium in a choice of five colours, and houses the built-in soundbar below the screen, making it look a bit like Apple’s iMac.

The 4K LCD screen ticks most of the specifications boxes. It has “quantum dot” technology with a local dimming LED backlight, which is found in many of the best mid- to high-range TVs. It supports the HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision high-dynamic range (HDR) standards, which covers the most popular formats used for 4K content.

The automatic brightness makes the picture look a little dim and grey except in very bright rooms, particularly with skin tones, and the backlight is uneven around the screen’s edges. Disable auto-brightness for a better picture that looks decent for normal HD and sharp for 4K content. But you’ll also see blacks turning a bit grey and a bit of blooming, where the backlight shines like a halo around dark edges.

Following an update the HDR performance is reasonable, but lacks a bit of peak brightness to really make the picture pop. Overall the screen rivals lower mid-range TVs costing about £500.

sky glass review
HDMI-connected devices are handled like apps within the interface, found within panels to the left of your personalised recommendations. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

There are ethernet and three HDMI 2.1 ports on the back. But all you need is power and wifi to get up and running, making it a one-cable solution, which is extremely rare in the world of televisions.

Rare too is a TV that actually sounds good. Glass supports Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound with its six built-in speakers. It won’t beat something like the Sonos Arc, but does a decent job of delivering punchy, full audio. Its vocal clarity is particularly impressive and you don’t have to deal with any lip-sync issues. It is slightly weaker for music, lacking a bit of balance and detail at times compared to a dedicated speaker.

Sky over broadband

sky glass review
The top of the home screen is filled with personalised recommendations, which also form the basis of the TV’s big splashy screensavers when idle. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Everything Glass does can be delivered via any broadband provider; no satellite connection or Sky broadband is required.

The interface looks like an evolution of Sky Q. The top of the home screen features “top picks for you” recommendations and recently viewed channels, apps or HDMI inputs. Below that you can browse by content type, such as TV, movies or sport, or check out the regular TV guide. There is no one-button option for going immediately to live TV and when hopping between channels it takes two to three seconds before the picture appears.

Recommendations are pulled from all the services and apps including Sky, BBC iPlayer ITV Hub, All4, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others. The unified voice or text search makes finding shows across multiple services quick and easy.

Playlist

sky glass review
You can add almost anything you like to your playlist from any supported channel or service, but it won’t always be available after the live broadcast and you won’t know that until you try to access it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Things get more interesting when you reach the “playlist” section about halfway down the home screen. Glass cannot record programmes in the traditional sense. Instead you add shows and movies to your playlist with the “+” button on your remote. When a new episode is available it appears in the “play now” panel, along with the rest of your playlist and others things Sky thinks you might like. The logic is sound, but the execution is mixed.

It works great with content hosted on Sky’s platform, including UKTV and Syfy. New shows turn up, you press watch and it streams immediately. For content from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and some others, the tile in the playlist is only a link to the on-demand app.

Go to watch a BBC show and it opens the programme’s homepage or an individual episode in iPlayer. The same thing occurs with ITV Hub and All4. How far you got in a show is stored separately in the on-demand app and the Sky home screen, meaning they don’t always match. And you need to log into each app with your individual accounts. Jumping through these multiple hoops feels more like using a smart TV or streaming stick than a premium pay-TV service.

sky glass review
When watching non-live shows from terrestrial channels you are forced into using the broadcaster’s on-demand app, such as BBC iPlayer, many of which can be slow and clunky. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You are at the mercy of content rights and availability too. Not everything is available for on-demand viewing and some things only for a short period if they are, with no way to tell up front from the TV guide. It is not as good as having the content recorded and ready to watch, even weeks later.

The play now section also filled up with things I didn’t want to see. Movies I had watched and then removed from my playlist lingered for weeks, while shows I had tried once and hated stuck around like a bad smell. Unlike on the various on demand apps there are no separate user profiles on the main Sky interface, which means recommendations are the same for everyone in your home.

Most major on-demand video services are supported, as well as Spotify and YouTube, with Britbox being the only notable exception. But Glass does not support Chromecast or AirPlay from your phone.

Hello, Sky!?

sky glass review
A coloured bar lights up at the top of the screen when you use the voice commands, showing you what the TV hears in real time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Glass has hands-free voice control, similar to Google or Amazon smart displays. Mics in the TV listen out for your commands after the wake words “Hello Sky” or “Hi Sky” (but not “Hey Sky”) or there’s a push-button mic on the remote. You can ask for a channel, app, show or movie, search by actor, genre or other bits, access custom recommendations or control volume and playback.

Simple word searches work if you’re clear enough, but it doesn’t always wake up on your first “Hello Sky” attempt, and often misheard me. When I say “show me the guide” it can hear “how many died”.

Your commands have to be far more precise than with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, too. Asking it to “turn it down a bit” or “set to 30% volume” doesn’t work, instead you need to say “set the volume to 30%”. Pausing or skipping via voice doesn’t work in on-demand apps. And it doesn’t understand when you ask what’s the weather or when a TV show will next be broadcast.

sky glass review
Glass has a screensaver-like mode, which shows big splashy images from its top recommendations when left idle on the home screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The TV can detect motion to wake up when you enter the room and turn off when you leave. But it has only worked a handful of times in the three weeks I have been testing it and has turned on when no one is anywhere near it. If I don’t touch the remote for an hour, it asks me to pick it up to avoid the TV turning off too. Sky says it is working on updates to try to fix motion detection.

Sustainability

sky glass review
The TV guide is logical and responsive, but it is harder to skip ahead whole days at a time because the remote lacks a dedicated fast-forward button that skips 24 hours on Q and other TV services. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The television is generally repairable by Sky in the UK. Repair tools and parts will be made available to third parties within the next two years. It is designed to last a minimum of seven years. The company does not operate trade-in schemes. It will recycle old Sky equipment but not third-party devices.

The TV and remote do not contain any recycled materials, but Sky is offsetting the carbon for the TV making it “CarbonNeutral” rated by Natural Capital Partners. The TV is also shipped in plastic-free, fully recyclable packaging including a well designed box. The company publishes its sustainability commitments, including a net zero by 2030 pledge.

Observations

sky glass review
A mic-mute and power button are in the bottom right side of the TV. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The screen does not support 120Hz or the variable refresh rate (VRR) used by the latest games consoles and PCs, and has no game mode for lower latency as is common on competitors.

  • There’s no way to use headphones, wired or otherwise.

  • There’s a standard aerial socket on the back intended as a backup if your internet goes down – otherwise the TV is useless without broadband.

  • You can’t add to your playlist from within on-demand apps, only the main Sky interface.

  • The motion of football on BBC was a bit blurry but not on Sky Sports.

  • The minimum broadband speed for HD content is 10Mbps and 25Mbps for 4K.

sky glass review
The soft-touch plastic remote is fairly intuitive to use and lights up when you pick it up or press a button. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

Sky Glass costs £649 for the 43in version, £849 for the 55in and £1,049 for the 65in when bought outright. It can bought via 24- or 48-month interest-free credit costing from £13 a month.

The Sky Ultimate TV service (Sky Entertainment and Netflix) costs £26 a month in HD. The UltraHD HDR and Dolby Atmos package costs an additional £5 a month. For additional channels, Sky Kids costs £5, Cinema costs £11, Sports costs £25 and BT Sport costs £30. After 12 months the ability to skip ads in on-demand content will cost £5 per month.

The TV can be used in limited capacity without a Sky subscription with third-party on-demand apps and the backup Freeview tuner.

Verdict

Sky Glass is all about convenience. Its streaming system and built-in soundbar removes bundles of cables, boxes and the dish. But while its software and service show lots of promise, it is has bugs and small annoyances, most on-demand apps are slow and clunky, and there are extra hoops that must be jumped through to get to content that make it less convenient to use.

I have no doubt updates will fix many of the issues. But the reliance on terrestrial catchup services and their limitations may always be worse than old-school recordings. If you only ever watch live TV or content hosted directly on Sky’s platform or Netflix, Glass is great.

The screen is decent but not spectacular, competing best with lower priced mid-range sets. The sound is great unless you want a real cinema experience, and the remote is great too. The price is tempting when bought monthly, although you must add the cost of the Sky service on top.

Glass is a work in progress with an enormous potential yet to be realised.

Pros: no satellite or box needed, great sound for a TV, responsive and logical interface, good remote, voice search is fast, unified search helps you find content across a range of services, support for most UK streaming services, long service life and software support.

Cons: no local recording, reliance on terrestrial catchup services disappointing, some things only available live, bugs, motion sensing doesn’t work, voice control unreliable, uneven backlighting, auto-brightness is poor, no game or low lag mode, no Chromecast or AirPlay.

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Exclusive or not, this is one Clubhouse I was happy to leave | John Naughton

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In March 2020, a new app suddenly arrived on the block. It was called Clubhouse and described as a “social audio” app that enabled its users to have real-time conversations in virtual “rooms” that could accommodate groups large and small. For a time in that disrupted, locked-down spring, Clubhouse was what Michael Lewis used to call the “New New Thing”. “The moment we saw it,” burbled Andrew Chen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, “we were deeply excited. We believe Clubhouse will be a meaningful addition to the world, one that increases empathy and provides new ways for people to talk to each other (at a time when we need it more than ever).”

The app could not have come at a better time for social media, he continued. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other, while giving power to its creators.” His firm put $12m of its (investors’) money behind Chen’s fantasies and followed up a year later with an investment that put a valuation of $1bn on Clubhouse, which would have made it one of the “unicorns” so prized by the Silicon Valley crowd.

This endorsement by an ostensibly serious venture capital firm undoubtedly helped to boost the hype about Clubhouse, but the main drivers – snobbery and elitism – had little to do with funding. In the beginning, for example, the app was only available for the iPhone (the BMW of the smartphone market) and membership was by invitation only. If you were lucky enough to be invited, then you could pass on an invitation to one friend. A generous colleague of mine extended hers to me and I went about signing up, until I discovered that the app unconditionally demanded access to all the contacts on my phone, whereupon I deleted it, as did my embarrassed colleague some time later.

Other invitees were more accommodating, though, and for a time Clubhouse grew like crazy. It had 600,000 registered users by December 2020 and 8.1m downloads by February 2021. In April 2021, Twitter approached it with a view to acquiring it for $4bn, but nothing came of that. And sometime after that the air began to leak out of the Clubhouse balloon. After months in which much of the chatter was about (and on) the platform, we somehow moved to a point where nobody talks about it any more. Yet Clubhouse still exists, has 10 million users and has raised more than $10m from investors. But now, in a move that smacks of desperation, it’s allowing its US users to share a link to a “live” room that enables non-members to listen in (but not to talk). And the web is alive with pieces trying to explain Clubhouse’s decline.

So what happened? A conjunction of lots of different things, probably. The most important was that vaccination programmes led to an easing of the Covid lockdowns. People who were no longer having to work from home were out and about again, talking to friends and colleagues in person. But other factors were at work too. For example, the decision to open the app to Android users in May 2021 somewhat dented the iPhone “exclusivity” that drove growth in 2020.

And, as always happens when user-generated content balloons online, abusive and unpleasant conversations proliferated. Many of the virtual rooms turned out not to be about discourse but celebrity-puffing or scamming.

As one critic put it: “So many rooms that advertise themselves as hosting big celebrities and names in the worlds of business and entertainment … turn out to be scammers … impersonating celebrities or giving a vague Ted Talk about entrepreneurship from random people who have never … set foot in the industry. Other rooms are often cover-ups for scam businesses.

“A big issue on the app were rooms that claimed to invite people with startup ideas to share with their peers and exchange advice and strategies. The rooms’ hosts would then buy the domain names these startups were looking for and sell them back to them at much higher prices to make a profit.” Clubhouse rooms became, wrote another critic, “like a late-night talkshow where celebrities come together and speak about their family, achievements, passions and plans”.

So how should we view the Clubhouse story? In the long view of history, the app might look like a shooting star, an object of brief wonder that briefly mesmerised a world afflicted with tech-induced attention-deficit disorder. A more prosaic, but possible more realistic, view is that it was just a tech solution looking for a social problem to “solve”. In other words, a typical product of Silicon Valley.

What I’ve been reading

On message
I Didn’t Want It to Be True, But the Medium Really Is the Message is an interesting New York Times op-ed by Ezra Klein.

Ministry of the environment
The late, great James Lovelock outlined the Gaia theory in the article I Speak for the Earth, which is republished on the Resurgence website.

Desperately seeking Susan
Seriously Susan is a terrifically inventive review by Melinda Harvey of Benjamin Moser’s biography of Susan Sontag on the Sydney Review of Books website.

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AI laser probe for prostate cancer enters clinical trials • The Register

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AI software capable of mapping tumor tissue more accurately to help surgeons treat and shrink prostate cancer using a laser-powered needle will soon be tested in real patients during clinical trials.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that approximately 12.6 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. The risk for developing the disease rises over time for men over the age of 50. It’s one of the most curable forms of cancer, considering most cases are caught in the early stages due to regular screening tests.

Treatment for prostate cancer varies depending on the severity of the disease. Patients can undergo hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove tissue. Avenda Health, a medical startup founded in 2017, is developing a new type of treatment that is less invasive. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an investigational device exemption (IDE) to the company’s invention this week, meaning it can now be used in a clinical study. 

Patients will need to have an MRI scan and a targeted fusion biopsy performed first. The data is processed by Avenda’s AI algorithms in its iQuest software to map where the cancerous cells are located within the prostate. Next, the computer vision-aided model will simulate where best to insert FocalPoint, a probe armed with a laser, to help surgeons treat the patient’s tumor. The heat from the laser gently heats the cancerous cells and kills them with goal of shrinking and removing the whole tumor.

focal_point_iquest_avenda

MRI images where cancer is mapped using iQuest software before and after treatment. Image Credit: Avenda Health

“Historically, prostate cancer treatments of surgery or radiation impacts critical structures like the urethra and nerves which control sexual and urinary function,” Avenda’s CEO and co-founder Shyam Natarajan told The Register. “Our focal laser ablation system, FocalPoint, which is powered by our AI-driven cancer margin software, iQuest, specifically targets tumor tissue and avoids healthy tissue. This means patients no longer lose control over these functions that are so common with traditional treatments, so quality of life is significantly improved.”

The treatment is only effective for men diagnosed with intermediate risk of prostate cancer, a classification that describes tumors being confined within the prostate only. Patients are considered high risk in cases where the cancer has spread beyond the prostate. 

“This is one of the benefits of the iQuest software. Not only can it map the cancer, but it also provides decision support for the physician as they determine the best course of treatment for an individual patient. Not every patient is going to be eligible for focal therapy, and it is important for the physician to distinguish between good focal therapy candidates and not.  iQuest provides useful insights for that decision making process,”  Natarajan said.

Avenda received FDA clearance for its FocalPoint device in 2020. The IDE approval brings the company one step closer to bringing their product to market after clinical trial testing, Brittany Berry-Pusey, co-founder and COO of Avenda, said in a statement. 

“This clinical trial will play a key role in advancing our breakthrough technology to improve prostate cancer care. With no new FDA approvals for the treatment of localized prostate cancer in more than four decades, we look forward to working alongside our clinical sites to collect the data necessary to bring iQuest and FocalPoint to market and into the patient care environment.”

Natarajan told us the company was aiming to begin clinical trials in 2023. ®

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US offers $10m reward for info on five Conti ransomware members

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Rewards for Justice shared a photo of someone it claims to be an associate of the ransomware gang and is offering a reward to identify him and four others.

The US Department of State is offering a $10m reward for any information on five malicious cyber actors who are believed to be high-ranking members of the Conti ransomware gang.

The US has been offering rewards for information on this ransomware gang since May, including a $5m reward for any intel that leads to the arrest of anyone conspiring or attempting to participate in a Conti attack.

Yesterday (11 August), the department’s Rewards for Justice programme shared an alleged photo of an associate of the ransomware gang. The department said on Twitter that it is “trying to put a name to the face” and believes the individual is the hacker known as “Target”.

Illustration showing an image of a man with four figures next to it. A reward offer for information on the Conti ransomware gang.

A request for information by the Rewards for Justice programme. Image: US Department of State/Rewards for Justice

Conti, also known as Wizard Spider, has been linked to a group believed to be based near St Petersburg, Russia. The US has labelled it a “Russian government-linked ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group”.

The group’s malware is believed to be responsible for more than 1,000 ransomware operations targeting critical infrastructure around the world, from law enforcement agencies to emergency medical services and dispatch centres.

In May 2021, the Conti group was behind the HSE ransomware incident that saw more than 80pc of the IT infrastructure of healthcare services across Ireland impacted. It was said to be the most serious cyberattack ever to hit the State’s critical infrastructure.

The US Department of State previously said the Conti ransomware variant is the “costliest strain of ransomware” ever documented. The FBI estimates that, as of January 2022, there had been more than 1,000 victims of attacks associated with Conti ransomware, with victim payouts exceeding $150m.

When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the Conti group declared its allegiance to the Russian government. Shortly after, a Ukrainian researcher took the cybersecurity world by storm after publishing more than 60,000 internal messages of the ransomware gang.

Raj Samani, chief scientist at cybersecurity firm Rapid7, said the latest reward offer is just “the tip of the iceberg as enforcement agencies make “considerable strides” through public-private collaboration to hold cybercriminals to account.

“Announcing a reward and revealing the details of Conti members sends a message to would-be criminals that cybercrime is anything but risk-free,” said Samani.

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