Sky Now TV Box review
With Now TV, Sky created an internet video service that let people watch movies and sports without having to have a full Sky subscription. The service has been available on numerous devices, most notably video game consoles, so you can watch such content on your TV. However, not everyone has a games console, so now we have the Now TV box, which is a super-cheap set-top box designed to be used with the streaming service. Best of all it costs just £10 and includes iPlayer for free.
PAY TV - SKY HIGH PRICING?
The Sky services aren't cheap however. To watch Sky Sports, you must purchase a day pass, which costs a whopping £9.99 per 24-hours. This then gives you access to Sky Sports 1, 3 and 4, Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports News and, at the time of writing, a special Sky Sports Ashes channel (usually called Sky Sports 2). You can view each channel separately and see what’s on later, too.
At this price, it's obviously not a replacement for Sky Sports on satellite for serious sports fans. However, having bought the box, you do then have the option of buying a day pass to watch the odd big Premier League clash, without having to head down to your local. Get a couple of mates to chip in and it's actually quite reasonable.
A subscription to Now TV Movies costs a more reasonable £8.99 per month for three months and £15 per month thereafter. Though for this you get arguably the best selection of big-name movies available on any such service in the UK - mirroring those on offer on Sky's movie channels. There's no ongoing subscription either, so you could sign up for the winter months and then cancel in the summer.
The Movies channel divides films into a series of categories, such as New In, Most Popular and Must See. You can also view collections of films, such as All The Bonds and The Pixar Collection, which includes hits such as Monsters, Inc. and Brave. You can also browse for films by genre. You can also watch individual Sky Movies channels such as Sky 007, Sky Disney and Sky Sci Fi & Horror. The quality and range of the films is immense, as you’d expect with Sky, with the company having deals with all the major Hollywood studios.
The quality of the Sky channels is obviously dependent on your broadband connection, with a minimum recommended download speed of 2.5Mbit/s. The service uses an adaptive bit-rate, so the quality varies depending on your connection speed. On a reasonable ADSL broadband connection, around 5Mbit/s, you can get 720p video. Unfortunately this the maximum output resolution the box runs at, and so though video quality is acceptable, it pales in comparison to 1080p content from Netflix or LoveFilm. In comparison to Sky's satellite output the quality is somewhere just above its standard-definition offerings, but well below that of Sky HD services.
BOX AND INTERFACE
Externally, the Now TV box looks similar to the Roku LT media streamer. That's no surprise, as this box is the result of Sky's investment in Roku. Wi-Fi is built in, which is useful, but we can't help but miss Ethernet. We prefer to connect our home cinema and media streaming equipment to our network with HomePlug adaptors so that we get fast and consistent network speeds.
Setting up the Sky Now TV box is simple and straightforward, with easy-to-follow instructions walking you through each section. The first thing you must do is select the wireless network to which you’ll connect. The Now TV box scans for available networks and then presents them to you at the side of the screen in large, clear text. You simply select one and then enter its security password. Some media streamers make us curse due to their ill thought-out data entry screens, but the Now TV screen is easy to traverse and all the icons, such as space and backspace, are clear and make sense.
You’ll then have to enter your Now TV username and password, after which the Now TV box will update its operating system and add apps and channels, such as Sky News, Demand 5 and BBC iPlayer. The Now TV channels can only be viewed with subscriptions, which you must set up initially via the Now TV website.
The Now TV box’s user interface is unsurprisingly similar to that of the Roku systems, which is no bad thing. Roku’s user interface impressed us with its clean, uncluttered system of moving tiles, and the Now TV box continues that tradition. The user interface is quick and responsive, and you can soon move to the channel you want to watch.
Initially, the interface contains tiles for Settings, the Roku Channel Store, Now TV, Sky News, BBC iPlayer, BBC News, and Demand 5. You can add more channels through the Roku Channel Store, which has fairly a good selection of paid-for and free channels, from familiar channels such as Fox News to obscure special interest channels such as Aliens & UFOs. There are music channels too, such as Spotify and the excellent Vevo app, which lets you watch music videos for free.
Netflix is one glaring omission, but given the incredibly low price of the box, you could never see Sky letting such a serious competitor get a look in - even if it paid Sky handsomely for the privilege. Less easy to understand is that there's no Plex media player for streaming content from a DLNA server. Currently, the Now TV box can be hacked to add this, but Sky could shut this backdoor at any time.
We like the Now TV box and think it’s a great device for people who would love to watch Sky Movies but either don’t want a long-term subscription or are unable to use a satellite dish at their location. We also like the portability of the Now TV box, and it would be easy to take it to relatives’ homes when visiting or when staying at hotels.
It isn’t perfect, though. It’s a shame it doesn’t have local media streaming or the ability to play files from a USB port. Given its very low price, though, we understand why these things are missing. However, for occasional sports viewing, plus iPlayer for the ludicrously low price of £10, the Now TV box is still tempting.
Alternatively, the Roku LT is essentially the same box. It also supports Now TV, has Netflix and will stream media over your home network and it's currently only around £25 more expensive. But if you want Full HD video, a USB port and Ethernet, the Roku 2 XS is a better choice. See the differences on www.roku.com.
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