Review Price £10.00
What is a Now TV box?
The only other tech you need is an HDMI-equipped TV and an internet connection, and the Now TV box gets you access to services like iPlayer and 5 Demand as well as Now TV itself. It's not perfect, but for a tenner it's one of the tech bargains of the year.
Now TV box - Design and Features
Sky's Now TV box is all about simplicity and ease of use. Slap down your £10 and you get everything you need: the box, a remote control, the remote's batteries and an HDMI cable (which we managed to break within a day, but you can't expect miracles for £10).
It's a ridiculously cheap package, and we can only conclude that Sky is making a loss on these boxes in order to make them attractive to your average TV watcher who doesn't have a web-connected TV. These are actually customised Roku streaming boxes, which normally cost between £35 and £80.
As you might expect, it's about as basic as it can get, hardware-wise. It's small, it's light and it's plastic. There are just three connectors on it, too: the power socket, an HDMI output and an A/V line out. Most people will only use the HDMI, not the line out.
Despite the low price, there are a couple of neat touches. There's a tiny light on the front to let you know that the Now TV box is operational, and the bottom of the box is rubber rather than plastic, helping it to stay in place on your TV stand.
The remote control isn't too shabby either. Like the box, it's designed for accessibility. There are just 13 buttons on it, including one that takes you directly to the Now TV service. Those familiar with Roku's line-up will notice it's very similar to the Roku LT, both box and remote.
Now TV box - Performance and Interface
Setting up the Now TV box is fairly simple. It has interated Wi-Fi so you simply need to type in your router's security key and hook the box up to your Now TV account.
Here's the best bit, though: you do not need to be a Now TV subscriber to get one of these accounts. You can use this box's other features without paying for Now TV.
The worst bit, and there is one, is that Sky has removed a bunch of the apps from the Roku apps gallery, which you still have access to here. It's basically a little app store that gives you access to a bunch of different video portals.
You get BBC iPlayer and 5 Demand, but you do not get 4OD or ITV Player, and Netflix plus LoveFilm have both been removed. It's disappointing, but we can hardly blame Sky when they are the two biggest rivals to Now TV in the UK.
There are a lot more services available, too: Sky News, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, TED and more. It's not just TV, but music and social network apps too.
Performance is patchy, but still quite impressive for the money. Boot-ups take a while - around 30 seconds - but most importantly flicking through Now TV's content is pretty fast, lacking the irritating sluggishness of some Smart TV systems. Performance in other apps is a little inconsistent, but iPlayer functions fairly well, again outperforming many versions built into other home entertainment gadgets.
There are some real usability annoyances outside of Now TV, though. iPlayer doesn't let you fast forward or rewind except in ~five or ~10 minute chunks that are too large to be remotely useful. It does use the 'lean back' interface common to set top boxes like this, though, which is particularly easy to navigate using the simple remote. Fingers crossed the rewind issue will be fixed with a firmware or app update.
Now TV box - Picture Quality and Sound
The Now TV box is able to output video in streams of up to 720p and can hack surround sound audio. However, very few apps available to the box are HD-capable.
With a good internet connection, the Now TV's on-demand movies will stream at up to 720p, according to Sky's website. This is less than the 1080p that Netflix now offers, and many of the films do not appear to offer surround sound. It also seemed to have a less sure grip on its HD stream than Netflix, presumably because Now TV prioritises keeping you away from the buffering screen rather than maintaining quality, compared to Netflix. During our testing, the video quality was consistently lower than that of an HD Netflix stream, and did not come across as HD, but closer to that of an upscaled DVD.
The limited HD video and surround sound support is a little poor when you consider that Now TV's 'normal' price is £15 a month - almost three times as much as either Netflix or LoveFilm. (Yes, Now TV tends to have some newer films.)
It also gets a little annoying that even after you have signed up for Now TV, the box's interface still keeps on displaying pop-ups about both Now TV and the Sky Sports day pass. That's also accessible through the box, and costs £10 for 24 hours. There may not be much of a monetary cost to the Now TV box, but there is a slight demand for patience.
Should I buy the Now TV box?
The Now TV box is not perfect, but it is an amazingly cheap way to get your TV hooked up with streaming capabilities without spending much money.
There's not much point buying this if you aleady have a PS3 or XBox 360 connected to your TV. And if Netflix or LoveFilm are priorities, you're better off with the £35 Roku LT. However, as a first step into the world of streaming, it's a great buy.
The Now TV box is primarily a way to get more people hooked on Sky's on demand movie service. But as it also gets you access to iPlayer, 5 Demand and a bunch of (less essential) streaming services for £10, it's one of the tech bargains of the year.