Until now, every device we’ve compared Chromecast to has lost out to the little HDMI dongle on price. The Now TV box is three times cheaper than Chromecast and already has more content available to watch.
You get access to services like BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5 and many other streaming platforms including Now TV itself, Sky’s on-demand service for non-Sky TV customers.
By the same token, Chromecast gives you access to Netflix, something which has yet to land on the Now TV box.
- Cost: £30
- Dimensions: 72 x 35 x 12mm
- Apps Available: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Google Play Movies, Chrome Beta, Red Bull TV, Revision3
- OS Support: iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, Chromebook
- Taffin: Yes (£2.49 to rent from Google Play, £7.99 to buy)
Google Chromecast has received a lot of love since it’s big UK launch. We’re putting this down to three main things; ease of use, the low price and the ability to access your own content on your home network.
Chromecast is a tiny mobile broadband dongle-sized device that slots neatly into one of your TV’s HDMI ports. You won’t ever see it rubbing shoulders with games consoles, TV set-top boxes, hard drives and other devices. As it doesn’t draw power from your TV's HDMI port, you’ll need to find a mains socket for your Chromecast, or a spare USB port on the back of your TV.
At £30, Chromecast is a pocket money purchase. For your money you get a cheap and convenient way to get services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix on your screen - perfect if you’ve got an older non-smart HD TV that doesn’t have any catch-up features.
As well as letting you pipe paid-for on-demand content over WiFi, you can also access your own content on your home network. This is achieved through third-party apps and services like RealPlayer Cloud, Plex and Avia Media Player.
While you will have to do a bit of leg work to get all this working, it’s not rocket science. We’ll be posting a guide shortly comparing these services and explaining how you can get your own media files on your TV via Chromecast. Until then, check out our full review of Chromecast here.
As well as this, you can also currently cast tabs from the Chrome desktop browser as a way to quickly get web pages, presentations and YouTube videos on your TV screen. This feature is in beta right now (read: it’s not brilliant) and Google is currently working on a way to enable full desktop mirroring - a feature which is even less stable.
Much of what’s on offer from Chromecast right now feels very home-made and hobbyist. There’s some good apps out there now but there’s some really awful ones too. While you can tap into things like Netflix and iPlayer right now, Chromecast is still missing things like 4oD and Prime Instant Video - with the recent announcement of the Amazon Fire TV box, it’s possible that we’ll never seen the latter on Chromecast.
- Cost: £10
- Dimensions: 84 x 84 x 24mm
- Apps Available: BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, Now TV, Crunchyroll, Revision3, Vimeo
- OS Support: N/A
- Taffin: No
If you want to upgrade your old dumb TV on the cheap and get things like iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5 on your screen, then the Now TV box is the box for you.
Costing just a tenner, it’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get catch-up content on your big screen. In terms of the quality:cost ratio we can’t think of a Smart TV peripheral out there comes close.
The Now TV box is a tiny white box about the size of a beermat.
Despite its size you’ll need to find a home for it on your TV stand. At 84 x 84 x 24mm it’s hardly an imposition but it’s not neatly tucked away like Chromecast is. You also get a little remote control thrown in as well which is lightweight, comfortable and dead easy to get to grips with.
As well as giving you free catch up content, the Now TV box, as it’s name suggests, lets you access Sky’s paid-for Now TV library. Now TV comes in three flavours, Entertainment, Movies and Sports.
The Entertainment Pass (£4.99/month) which currently gives you access to shows like Girls, Game of Thrones, True Detective and other shows from Sky 1, Sky Arts and Sky Atlantic.
The Movies Pass (£8.99/month) lets you pick from films that are currently being shown on all 11 of the Sky Movies channels. A Sky Sports Pass (£9.99/day) lets you tune into premier league football games and Formula 1. In fact, if you do the maths, Now TV is the cheapest way to get every F1 race on your TV.
We’d like to see ITV Player and STV materialise on here, just so the Now TV box has the full compliment of the UK PSB broadcaster’s services. Note that 4oD wasn’t available from launch, so we could see ITV and STV beaming down at some point.
The Now TV box also gives you access to the Roku Channel Store, where you can tap into apps like Crunchyroll (anime and Japanese drama) and Vimeo, plus a range of international and religion-themed streaming channels.
Remarkably, this is also the first TV box we’ve reviewed which fails the Taffin test. If really you want to stream the late 1980’s Pierce Brosnan flick, made famous by the Adam & Joe Show, you’re going to have to take your money elsewhere.
You can however currently watch Dante’s Peak, so get that going, mute your TV and download this app. It’s the next best thing.
A drawback of Now TV is that there’s no easy way for you to access your own content through it. There’s no USB port on the back, meaning you can’t connect any external drives like you can on the Roku 3 box and other Roku devices.
Unless you’re prepared to enable Developer Mode and experiment with hacking your Now TV box, there’s no way to make use of a service like Plex and stream other media files through the box. Doing so may void your warranty and/or break your Now TV box, unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. Then again, it’s only a tenner.
Verdict: Now TV for streamers, Chromecast for dreamers
As we said in our review of Apple TV way back when, it’s all about the apps. We think that your choice here will hinge on what's available.
Both Chromecast and Now TV come with BBC iPlayer. Chromecast currently has YouTube and Netflix -- the Now TV box doesn’t.
The Now TV box has 4oD, Demand 5, Vimeo, Spotify, Crunchyroll and, of course, Now TV. Chromecast doesn’t. Both platforms give you access to Revision3.
Another thing to consider is the openness of both the platforms. Google’s Chromecast lets you access your own content whereas it’s not possible to do this on a Now TV box without hacking it.
If you find yourself wanting something a little in between the two, then something like a Roku 3 or a Roku LT might be more suitable.
Specswise, the Roku LT is very similar to the Now TV box, plus Netflix and Plex apps are available. The Roku 3 also has a USB port meaning you can plug in external hard drives. The upshot here is price. Roku LT’s if you can still find them cost around £35-£40 while the Roku 3 costs £99.
If neither of these things are of much interest to you, get a Now TV box - it’s only ten whole pounds.