Sky has launched a set-top box that allows you to turn any crusty old television with an HDMI socket into something capable of getting movies, sports and BBC iPlayer. All via the internet, all for a tenner. It can’t be that easy can it?
With a footprint no bigger than a pub drinks mat, and with the height of a mid-sized burger, it measures in at a trim 84 x 84 x 24mm. All the miniscule Now TV box needs is a power source and a HDMI cable to make it useful.
Tech lovers will possibly be able to tell that this box is a rebadged Roku: the design is akin to its current range of devices and it is small and unobtrusive. Around the back is the power socket, a HDMI socket and A/V out. That’s it. There is no on/off switch.
Unlike many of these diddy boxes, the Now TV box is gloss white with a blue base. The branding is subtle, but the white and blue are part of Sky's corporate colours, and the Now TV logo is embossed on the top, but it's discreet and doesn't stand out too much. This certainly doesn't look like a massive yet subversive advert for Sky.
The accompanying remote is equally unimaginative or uninspiring, but does feature all the buttons you need to get things working. Again, it's the same as the Roku remote - no surprises there.
Plug it in, connect it your TV, and go through the easy to follow setup procedure. As you have probably already gathered, you’ll need to connect this device to your wireless network. That’s easy, and the onscreen keyboard lets you punch in your details.
The box does need you to be a Now TV account holder. You do not, however, need to be a paying Now TV subscriber for it to work. All you need to do is set up an account, plug it in to the box, and you're free to use it for all the other services without giving Sky a single penny. One of the charms of Now TV is - as with Netflix and Lovefilm - you can turn it on and off month-by-month – great for school holidays or Christmas and so you don’t get a dead box if you stop paying for movies.
On demand and apps
Once you’ve set up your account and are ready to watch movies it's fairly easy stuff. The interface is laid out simply, and is designed to be very easy to use with Now TV, Sky News, BBC iPlayer, BBC New, and Demand 5. These services are just an icon click away.
For those feeling the urge to explore further, there is also the Roku Channel Store, and this offers further services like flickr, Spotify, blinkx, Fox News, TuneIn radio, Vevo, Picasa, and many more.
Those thinking they can be clever and get Netflix, the brilliant Plex, Angry Birds and other niceties, don't get excited - Sky has disabled those services here.
That said, having access to BBC iPlayer, Now TV, Demand 5 and Sky News for a tenner is still welcome and Sky have openly said that it plans to add and offer more services over the coming months.
Now TV’s pricing structure is still somewhat confusing, because of all the special offers that are available.
If you are reading this review before 4 August 2013, then you can sign up to Now TV for the next 6 months for £15. If you’ve missed that deal you can get Now TV free for the first 30 days, then £8.99 for next three months before paying £15 a month thereafter. You might of course be paying £15 a month straight off, or you might find another deal somewhere else. As Now has just celebrated its first birthday, Sky is clearly pushing for more customers. When we asked the broadcaster about how Now was doing, we were told that uptake for the service was strong.
For sports fans the Now TV box also allows you to buy daily passes to Sky Sports for £9.99. That's right, pretty much a tenner a day for sport. It is not, obviously, designed for constant use, but for very occasional forays into big sporting events on Sky.
The Now TV interface is very easy to navigate and the simple remote control only helps to make things easy to do. The movie selection is the same as that available to Sky Movie subscribers and here it is broken down into easy to find and manage areas such as new in, most popular, must see, genres, collections, and live.
Live is a direct feed from Sky’s Movie channels and it’s perfect for those too lazy to work out what they want to watch but need suggestions.
Unlike Netflix, which has focused on TV shows like House of Cards and Breaking Bad, the focus here is a constantly moving catalogue of great movies that you’ll always be keen or happy to watch. It's not an archive service, so don't expect to find exactly what you want, this is a service that rotates current movies before they're available on other on-demand services.
The Now TV box does support HD streaming, but at the moment Now TV only streams in SD. That’s not ideal, but if you’ve got a slow internet connection it means you don’t have to worry. The BBC iPlayer does support HD though.
The Sky Sports daily pass in Now TV gives you access to Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports Ashes - at the moment, although it will return to Sky Sports 2 once the cricket is over - Sky Sports 3, Sky Sports 4, Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports News.
BBC iPlayer and Demand 5
On the UK terrestrial TV side of things you get BBC and Channel Five's catch up services.
If you aren’t fussed about movies or sports, this is the key reason to buy the box. For £10 you get BBC iPlayer for your old non "smart TV" and Demand 5 brings things like CSI, Neighbours, and The Walking Dead. With Demand 5, you can often catch-up with some shows, watching all the episodes from the current series.
Depending on your connection, the streaming speed is almost instant, and the quality, although SD, in most cases is still good enough to enjoy if you aren’t a HD snob.
Add in the above with services like TuneIn radio and flickr or Picasa for turning your TV into something more than just a big black screen in the living room and there is plenty of potential – we still just can’t get over the price.
We are very impressed with the performance of the Now TV box, although would have liked HD streaming given the box can support 720p HD – as proved by the BBC iPlayer app. That’s really a criticism of Sky’s Now TV service rather than the capability of the box, so here's hoping that the broadcaster fixes that in the future - we're pretty sure it's working on it.
As for the box itself, the menus are responsive, the interface easy to use, and the overall experience one that we would recommend to all comers who want to expand their TV viewing beyond Freeview on the cheap.
Those wanting more services like Netflix can easily opt for the £50 Roku LT box, but that’s £40 more than this Sky box.
If you haven’t got a Smart TV and are looking to add movies or more likely the BBC iPlayer to it, this is the best way on the market to do it, especially considering the price of the Now TV box.
Yes, there are other more-comprehensive systems out there like Apple TV, or Roku’s more advanced boxes, but when it comes to bang for buck, the Now TV box is hard to beat. This is a tenner well spent even if you have no plans whatsoever to use Sky’s Now TV service.