Hands-on: Now TV review
Forget Netflix, forget LoveFilm, Sky wants Now TV to be the service you choose when it comes to streaming movies online to your computer, phone, games console, or set top box. But is the new service "powered by Sky" good enough to impress? We had a quick play on a number of different devices ahead of the UK launch.
We had a play with Now TV on YouView, on an Xbox 360, on the iPad, on an HTC Android device, and a MacBook Air. The key takeaway to tell you is that the interface is clean, crisp and very clear.
It's still very bare bones at the moment, it's not even day one yet, but the functionality is there or promised.
The idea is twofold: option one is that you dip in and out of the Sky Movies catalogue, buying movies a la carte when you fancy watching them - as if you were heading down to the local video shop. Movies are priced between 99p and £3.49 and after pressing the rent now button the movie starts streaming almost instantly; option two is to pay a set monthly fee (£15) and watch as much as you want, when you want.
Thanks to technology already used on the company's Sky Go service there is no waiting for downloads to occur and the service on all devices bar YouView works out the best bit-rate quality to stream to your device, so you get to watch it rather than just watching a download bar.
If you are paying a la carte, once you press play you have 48 hours to watch the film, or if you are loading up your choices for the weekend, 28 days before it disappears. It's the same as Apple's iTunes offering and makes sense. After all, you aren't buying the movies you are merely streaming them.
Movies are currently available in SD rather than HD, although Sky has told Pocket-lint that it hopes to offer HD in the future and you'll be able to register two devices with the service.
As for the catalogue, there are around 600 movies available at any one time, and the catalogue, like that for Sky Movies subscribers, is constantly moving and changing with new releases being added every Friday.
The service will be available only to UK residents, and you can stream it only in the UK. No dialling in from abroad.
Now TV on YouView
Like other catch-up services, YouView has allowed Sky to keep the Now TV interface (seen above) and that means once you've used the service elsewhere you'll know exactly where everything is. Not that it is confusing.
Users will be able to scroll right to left to reveal films available and at no point will you be offered a long list of titles. The interface is all about showing you the covers, and it's easy to pick the one you want.
To make it easier films are split out into genres, either the typical ones you would expect, or collections like "Teenage kicks", or "Toon in" for example.
YouView users will also be able to see the movies they've already watched in the My Movies section, which is handy if you've queued a film from the web browser at work or half way through a movie, or Search for a film if you are after something more specific to the ones listed on the home pages.
QUICK VERDICT: Having a movie service that doesn't require you to pay a monthly subscription is a big win for YouView, and YouView customers are likely to flock to the new service. While YouView has said that it is trying to court Netflix and LoveFilm for the service as well, having five new movies every Friday night to choose from is going to be a big appeal.
Now TV on Xbox Live
Now TV on the Xbox works in a similar way to the YouView experience, although it will add a couple of other features when it launches later in the summer. The key bonus here is that you'll get full Kinect voice and gesture support to whizz through the movies.
Xbox users will also get a Live TV feature that lets you see what is on Sky Movies at the same time, if you've paid for the Monthly Sky Movies Pass option. As the service is on-demand that's not really a massive plus, but it will help guide those who can't decide to what to watch.
The Xbox experience is otherwise all operated via the Xbox controller and moving through the interface is easy.
As with other iterations of the service on other devices, the focus of Now TV is new and exciting. It's trying to push the fact that there is always something new to watch rather than some random French film that you remember seeing a decade ago and want to watch again.
It's about quality of content rather than quantity.
QUICK VERDICT: Now TV is going to have the toughest challenge to impress on the Xbox, as the entertainment console is already very good at offering plenty of ways to get content from the likes of Netflix, LoveFilm, Xbox Video, Sky Player (which is staying) and others.
The appeal here is going to be the latest movie selection. It's a far better, more useful catalogue than Netflix or Lovefilm, however without TV, Netflix still wins out if you are hoping to watch the latest episode of Californication or Dexter, for example.
Microsoft tells us the delay after launch in getting Now TV on the Xbox is down to the app having to go through the usual app approval process.
Now TV on iPad and iPhone
For those who travel, the Apple iPad or iPhone experience is likely to be one of the key ways you watch Now TV. The iPad and iPhone apps are still awaiting approval from Apple, although we managed to play with the yet to be approved app at the launch event. It's very white, and very picture focused.
Pressing on a movie poster reveals the pricing details and a small blurb about the movie and you'll be able to set a passcode for movies over a certain age rating to stop your little ones watching something they shouldn't.
As with the Sky Go app, you'll be able to jump back 30 seconds if you missed a crucial plot point, and jumping to a specific spot is simple and easy. There is no need to wait for the whole movie to download first.
The iPad and iPhone apps support resume, so you can break and come back to where you were, Unlike Netflix, however, this feature doesn't work across multiple devices, but is promised for some time in the future.
QUICK VERDICT: The iPad and iPhone apps are easy to use and will offer you the chance to rent and watch movies quickly. You won't be able to rent new movies from within the apps if you choose the pay per view option, but can queue them from a web browser on the same device.
We expect this experience to work in the same way the Amazon Kindle app already does and is probably a move to stop Apple taking a slice of the movie rentals via in-app purchases. If you opt for the Sky Movies Monthly Pass you can watch what you like when you like.
The service will need an internet connection (Wi-Fi or 3G) to work, so if you are hoping to stack up on films before getting on a flight iTunes is still the better option.
Now TV on Android
Now TV will work on a handful of devices, the same handful of devices Sky Go works on in fact, and that sadly means no Ice Cream Sandwich support until the end of July, and no Jelly Bean support for the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 devices.
Sky Go is supported on the following Android smartphones running on 2.2 & 2.3 operating systems: HTC Desire, HTC Desire S, HTC Desire HD, HTC Incredible, HTC Sensation, HTC Sensation XE, Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Galaxy S II.
It's not sure at this time whether the app supports HDMI out so you can stream to a TV from your smartphone.
QUICK VERDICT: Using the app is easy and works as we would expect, and with the most popular devices supported you should be okay.
Sadly for Sky, Google constantly moves the goalposts, and that means you won't be able to use the service on the new flagship tablet, the Nexus 7. That's frustrating and something that Sky should make a priority in fixing. We are sure it will.
Now TV on a MacBook Air
Quick and easy to use laptop users don't get any additional features over those we talk about above with other devices, aside from being able to stream the content to a TV - handy if you go to your parents' house and they don't have Sky.
With OS X Mountain Lion adding 1080p HD streaming via an Apple TV, this could be one of the easiest ways to get movies to your television.
QUICK VERDICT: If you've not yet got a capable smartphone, Xbox, set top box, or iPad this allows you to not miss out on the fun and games and share it on your television. That might be a little more geeky than you were hoping, but needs must and all that.
From our brief play with Now TV on several different devices at the launch event it is clear that Sky has created a great service that will offer plenty to a stack of new users who, until now, have been scared to tie themselves into a contract.
Like Netflix, the success here is that you can enjoy the service for a month - say at Christmas - and then ditch it in January. The streaming quality is excellent and the lack of having to wait for downloads certainly appealing to those who just want to watch something straight away.
Sky is clearly hoping people will be wooed by having access to the latest films, and that's likely to be true - Netflix users will tell you that they just don't use the service for movies at the moment.
Where the service is at its weakest however, is when you look beyond films.
While Sky has promised content from Sky Atlantic and Sky Living, if you look at Sky's Sky Go on-demand offering of those channels, the service is more of a catch up of the latest shows rather than the Netflix approach of offering huge back catalogues of TV shows so you can start from the beginning. Sky hasn't detailed its plans for TV as yet, but we would expect it to be the same here.
As a movie proposition Now TV looks like it will quickly be the de facto offering for many people, the catalogue is fresh, and the interface clean, streaming was very good even though it's not HD at the moment. However Netflix and its huge collection of American TV shouldn't have anything to worry about if TV is your thing.