(Pocket-lint) - Now TV is the pay-as-you-go streaming version of Sky, with various bundles to choose from. It's ideal if you want to watch Sky Sports, Sky Cinema or Sky's entertainment contract but don't want to sign up to a long term (and costly) deal; perhaps if you only want Sky Sports over the cricket season or Sky Cinema over the winter.
You've long been able to buy Now TV devices to plug into your TV, but when this device first launched in 2018 it wasn't able to stream particularly high quality. Thankfully, that's now been fixed - with Full HD content available if you pay for the Now TV Boost supplement. So here's why the Now TV Stick might now be worth your time if you have a not-so-smart TV that needs sprucing up.
What's the competition like?
Before we get into the details of how the Smart Stick performs, it's worth looking at what rivals it's up against. The two main competitors are the Amazon Fire TV Stick (the price is similar) and Google's Chromecast.
If you've got Roku, YouView, EE TV, Apple TV, a PlayStation 3 or 4, Xbox 360 (or later) or a 2015-or-later Samsung or LG Smart TV then you can already get access to Now TV through its app. We suspect this means most will not need this Smart Stick, therefore, except to bring content to older tellies (so long as there's a spare HDMI port to connect).
Now TV boasts monthly entertainment, movies, sports and kids' passes. The prices have gone up since launch, though, costing £3.99 per month for kids' content, £8.99 for entertainment, £11.99 for Sky Cinema, and £33.99 for Sky Sports - although you can also get a Sky Sports £9.99 day pass, £14.99 for a week, or £5.99 for monthly mobile-only access. There are bundles, too, to combine multiple content options at lower price points than buying individually.
The Now TV Streaming Stick is subsidised by Sky as a gateway to signing up for the packages. If you subscribe you can also watch Now TV content through a computer or mobile device in addition (up to four devices are supported).
The Now TV Smart Stick will also give you access to catch-up services including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5 and All 4, plus you can download over apps including YouTube, Sky Store and Vevo. As such, it's a great way to bring catch-up TV to an older TV or a TV where the built-in apps aren't as good. If you want Freeview channels as well, then check out the £40 Now TV Smart Box.
Design and remote
- Standard HDMI dongle design
- Powered via USB port
- No included extender cable
- Nicely-designed Wi-Fi remote included
The Now TV Smart Stick is a standard HDMI dongle - so it can plug directly into your TV or another screen (or something like a projector). As with other dongle-designed streamers, USB power is required from a 5W charger (included in the box). Refreshingly, USB power could be from a port on your TV. This is unusual since usually device manufacturers recommend using the included mains supply, but we always prefer using the screen so the device powers down when the TV does.
It's worth noting that there's no extender cable in the box as with many other similar devices, so you'll need a little bit of room next to your HDMI port for it to fit in or you'll need an extender, which you can pick up for next to nothing. This may be necessary if there's lots of close-together filled HDMI ports and you can't squeeze the Stick in among them.
The new Wi-Fi remote doesn't need line-of-sight control (essential for a stick that will probably be around the back of your TV). The remote is well-designed and doesn't feel cheap, despite the price.
As well as basic menu navigation controls, there's also a Kids button for easy access to the Kids section of the guide; a My TV quick access control so you can see programmes you've saved or are in the course of watching; and a Sky Store button - as the Now TV Streaming Stick gives you access to Sky's download store where you can buy or rent blockbusters at the same time that they come out on DVD or Blu-ray (so before they're shown on Sky Cinema).
The remote also features a microphone button. As on Sky Q, Apple TV or Fire TV with Alexa you need to hold this button while you talk into the remote. You can ask for a director or actor by name and all relevant content will be dredged up from Now TV content (though not, for example, from BBC iPlayer or other catch-up services).
You're also able to ask for a particular app, like BBC iPlayer, by voice. We found it generally quite effective providing we were crystal clear - there were a few queries we tried where the remote didn't recognise what we said - as it's a simpler voice offering than, say, Amazon's solution.
- Box to viewing in a few minutes
- Needs a Now TV account
- Interface is functional but doesn't really show-off content well
The remote can also be used to control your TV's volume. You can specify this in the settings menu, but we found it controlled our Samsung TV automatically without further setup. However, one disadvantage is that you can't set it up to control the volume on other devices, such as a soundbar.
Initial setup of the Streaming Stick is so simple: plug it in and when prompted enter your Wi-Fi details, then sign into your Now TV account (you can create one on a computer or mobile device if you don't have one already). That's it, job done.
The interface won't surprise anybody who's used Now TV before. It's all very simple and easy to use, with different sections split to match the available Now TV passes - Entertainment, Sports, Movies and Kids.
In some ways it feels a bit more outdated than, say, Amazon and Apple's more image-led streaming interfaces, but it's perfectly functional. It is, however, a little bit on the slow side when you click into an area which needs to be re-populated with content. When you click into the content you've selected it also takes a few seconds to load.
If you you click into a programme from a catch-up TV app you're transported into that app, so iPlayer loads the familiar smart TV interface, for example, and the on-screen controls are all iPlayer's own. The catch-up TV services are all fairly slick now.
It's worth noting that the Streaming Stick will enable you to able to pause live Sky TV for up to 30 minutes - a feature that wasn't available at launch. That's not a Stick exclusive, though, it's the same for other Now TV physical products.
Services and streaming quality
- 720p streams only
- No Amazon Video
- 1080p possible with NOW TV Boost addition
This isn't a device to use for streaming from devices (like Google's Chromecast) - but it's great for catch-up TV. Most of us already have a way to access that kind of content though, so the only real advantage of having catch-up TV here is that all your viewing would be in one place. There's also a bunch of around 50 apps including YouTube, TuneIn and Vevo, distilled down from the much wider selection that Roku offers.
While Netflix was added back in 2018, Amazon Video still isn't supported - and we don't expect that it ever will be (rivalries and all that). So if you're subscribed to Amazon and want Prime then that means this can't be your only smart TV device. You could buy a Roku Express instead, which does have the Amazon app.
At launch in 2018 the Now TV Smart Stick didn't offer Full HD content - it was 720p only (which is less than half the resolution of 1080p Full HD). But that's all changed following the introduction of Now TV Boost - an additional cost of £3 per month - so, finally, you can buy the Stick knowing that Full HD content is possible.
Some might argue that it's cheeky adding a surplus to get that quality, but you pay different price tiers for Netflix between Full HD and 4K UHD. The principle is the same, really, plus Now TV Boost also adds three streams (so multiple household members can stream at the same time), and surround sound options.
The Kids area of the Now TV offering is worth a separate note, because we think that £3.99 a month for access to full kids' programming will be good value for many parents - and this will especially be the case as Now TV also offers downloads (which is saved for 30 days, or until it expires and is no longer available on the service).
Once inside the Kids area of the interface there's also a soft lock, so you have to consciously exit the kids section. It's designed so kids can't just click around the entire interface willy nilly.
When the Now TV Smart Stick first launched we were rightly harsh on it, scoring it low, because it locked you into low-resolution quality and wasn't any more cost effective than its rivals.
Things have changed, however, with the introduction of Now TV Boost, which (if you pay for it) lifts the 720p quality up to Full HD 1080p. And, being a product to access Sky services, there will be content you can get on Now TV that you can't from anywhere else (well, except Sky, of course).
In addition the Smart Stick has other attractive points. It's cheap to buy in the first place. The passes don't cost a fortune - and the Kids one is particularly good value. Access to Sky Sport - even if it's just for that one special match - is also a better option for some than paying through the nose for full-on Sky subscriptions.
Which is where the Now TV model comes into its own: you can cancel any time. No additional fees. No fuss. And some of the content on offer you will really want to watch - and can't ad-hoc obtain from any other streaming service.
This review was first published 8 October 2018 and has been updated to reflect change in pricing and services
Amazon Fire TV Stick
While Amazon can't provide access to all the content that Now TV offers, because it's not Sky, it will deliver content in higher quality without the need for supplemental costs. Plus, of course, it has access to Amazon's content, which Now TV will always lack.