(Pocket-lint) - Sky has now set into motion a new stage for Now TV, its internet streaming service that has grown massively over the last couple of years.
Not only has it introduced a new package and way to get Now TV, with the Now TV Combo that includes broadband and landline phone with TV streaming, it has launched a new set-top-box: the Now TV Smart Box.
So what do we know so far about the Now TV Smart Box and the new service? Well, the following for starters...
Now TV Smart Box: What is it?
The Now TV Smart Box is a larger, flatter device than the standard puck-like model. This is mainly because, as well as stream Sky entertainment, movies and sports passes, it contains a digital TV tuner that can access the entire gamut of Freeview channels in the UK.
It is an additional offering rather than a replacement. The standard version, without the tuner, will continue to be available.
Now TV Smart Box: Release date
You can now order the Now TV Smart Box by itself or as part of a Now TV Combo package from nowtv.com/combo.
Now TV Smart Box: Price
Pricing for the box is slightly complicated by the fact that it comes included as part of the new Now TV Combo monthly deals, which can be priced different depending on your choice of Sky pass, broadband and landline packages.
They start at £9.99 plus line rental £17.99.
The box is also available as a standalone option, so if you already have a Now TV pass or want one without the broadband or phone line you can get it for £39.99.
Passes individually cost £9.99 a month Sky Movies Pass, £6.99 a month for an Entertainment Pass covering multiple Sky and related channels, £2.99 a month for a Kids Pass, and up to £33.99 a month for a Sky Sports Pass.
Now TV Smart Box: Specifications
There were a few rumours on the spec of the new Now TV Smart Box beforehand, but the main one seems to be unfounded - that it is capable of 4K Ultra HD video.
We understand that the HDMI port on the rear of the box isn't HDMI 2.0 and therefore not HDCP 2.2 compliant. That means it won't be able to output 4K TV broadcasts, for example.
Other ports include Ethernet, a microSD card slot and a USB input. We're not sure what they are used for at present, but we'll update when we find out. It's currently unlikely that you can record digital TV broadcasts on an external drive through USB, but we'll clarify.
It can be used, however, to play media files through the box. MP4, MKV, AAC, MP3, WMA, JPG, PNG and GIF files are all supported, for video, audio and image playback.
The box is capable of 1080p video and up to 7.1 surround sound. It has 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi.
Now TV Smart Box: Content
Freeview has over 60 channels on offer, with a healthy selection of them in HD. That's plenty of live stations to view.
However, where the current Now TV box comes into its own is that it also offers several apps, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 (My5), as well as access to its different passes. That opens up the world of on demand movies and TV shows, plus offers Sky-only channels to stream live.
The menu system is neat and, unlike the native Roku UI, offers content in a more flowing manner. Sky Movies rentals are also available. And shows to catch up with are offered front of house.
Over 50 apps are available too, including YouTube and Spotify.
Sky replaced its original Now TV box in August 2015 with a more capable version, but the new Smart Box will probably be the main option for many now, especially considering how attractive the Now TV Combo packages are.
At £40 as a standalone device it might not be as appealing - after all, how many of us already get our Freeview channels through the TV already? It does morph live TV and streamed content well though, so that's one allure.
It's a shame that the Now TV Smart Box doesn't have 4K connectivity, but it's still an interesting proposition nonetheless.