- Dirt cheap
- Well designed
- Easy to use
- Good range of services
- No Netflix
- No native media player
The 2015 edition of the Now TV Box seems like the perfect mini media streamer for the UK – access to Now TV’s suite of premium Sky content, BBC iPlayer, All 4 and many more.
Sky’s original Now TV Box offered customers a lot for the princely sum of £10. Now there’s a new kid on the block, costing a whopping £15. What difference can two years and five quid make?
Yes, the old Now TV Box was excellent value for money. The follow up isn’t much more expensive either and promises a number of improvements on the original, namely some more ports. In theory it should be the best value tech buy of the year. Let’s find out.
Now TV Box (2015): What’s in the box?
Related: What is HD? The difference between 720p, 1080i and 1080pThe new Now TV Box keeps things nice and simple; no fancy packaging and no extraneous Bible-thick user guides. You get the box itself, the remote, an HDMI cable (it’s always handy to have a spare) and the main adapter. And that’s it.
As for the box itself, it’s basically a Roku box but with Now TV branding and without the tell-tale purple tag. The white and blue Tesco Value colour scheme of old is gone. Now TV has gone all Spinal Tap with its latest offering.
Despite the spec sheet saying that it’ll only support video streams at up to 720p, you will be able to stream 1080p Full HD content. Bandwidth permitting, you’ll be able to get catch-up content from BBC iPlayer and other services in proper high definition.
Sky says that it has no immediate plans to make 1080p content available through the Now TV app, but it’s not ruling it out either. Should Sky’s position ever change, the new 2015 Now TV Box is at least ready and able to deliver programmes in Full HD.
Now TV Box (2015): Remote control
The IR remote control features chunky, rubberised buttons and a smooth with a matt finish.
For a £15 device it feels pretty decent. The original remote, all glossy white plastic, felt a little sticky and tacky so it’s nice to see that’s not the case anymore.
Speaking of which, we noticed that the original remote works fine with the new box, which is perfect for situations where you lose one and need a back-up, or you simply like winding up your other half with covert button presses.
As well as a directional key, media controls and buttons for home and back, there’s a couple of shortcut keys that’ll take you straight to the Now TV menu or the Sky Store.
Like the Netflix and YouTube buttons of the new Roku 2’s remote, quick access to Sky’s wares is baked in to the remote. Handy if you want to quickly jump over to Sky Atlantic or get a movie from Sky Store Buy & Keep in a pinch, but that’s it.
In an ideal world, it’d be nice if these hotkeys could be user defined, if you wanted to be able to access Crunchyroll or Revision 3 in a flash. The main UI can be customised to a degree where you can set up your own shortcuts anyway, so it’s not a massive deal.
Now TV Box (2015): Set up and installation
Getting set up is as easy as sneezing. Plug it in, connect it to your TV with the supplied HDMI cable (or use one of the hundreds of others you’ve no doubt got choking the place up) and hit the home button on the remote.
You’ll be asked to connect to your router over WiFi or Ethernet first of all. Once you’re all good to go the Box will check that it’s all up to date with the latest version of the software, posting cute messages like ‘opening solar panels’ and ‘engaging hyper drive’ while it’s running things in the background.
Not a big deal, but it raised a smile and we’d rather laugh at silly things like that than stare at a ‘43% complete…’ progress bar for however long.
Once you’re done, you’ll be presented with a colourful grid of icons which will be familiar to current Now TV Box owners and anyone who’s ever used a Roku before.
Now TV Box (2015): What do you get?
For your money, the new Now TV Box lets you stream content from a wide range of services – most of them free – on your TV set.
This is ideal if you’ve not yet forked out for a fancy smart TV (but your panel is otherwise decent) or if you simply find the labyrinthine menus of your smart TV too god-awful to contemplate.
The Now TV UI is big, bold and colourful. It requires the barest amount of effort to find your way around. The home screen gives you a 3×3 grid of icons, containing shortcuts to Now TV, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player, Demand 5, BBC Sport and YouTube.
The channel line-up can easily be edited and changed around to suit your viewing needs. Entering the channel menu on the left hand side of the screen allows you to scroll through a list of other available channels, including the likes of Revision 3, GoPro, Crunchyroll, Vimeo and TED can also be added to the home screen.
Service-wise, you basically get everything but Netflix and Amazon. Given that Amazon likes to keep as many of its services as it can on its own Fire platforms, the absence of Prime Instant Video here perhaps isn’t that surprising. But the no-show of the otherwise-ubiquitous Netflix is something of a drag.
If this is a deal-breaker, then it might be an idea looking elsewhere; Sky has no immediate plans to add Netflix to the Now TV Box line-up.
Now TV Box (2015): A closer look at Now TV
If you haven’t used Now TV before and the thought of watching Game of Thrones, Premier League football or the new Star Wars film (eventually) without having to have a satellite dish bolted on to your house appeals, then you’ll want to take a closer look here.
Now TV, for the uninitiated, is a streaming service owned and run by Sky. It’s aimed chiefly at the type of customer who might like to get a couple of things on Sky but doesn’t want to pay for the rest of it or for whatever reason, simply can’t get regular pay TV.
Offering the choice between entertainment channels like Sky 1, Sky Atlantic and Sky Living (accessed with an Entertainment Pass), all 11 Sky Movies channels (accessed with a Sky Movies Pass) and all 6 Sky Sports channels (accessed with a Sky Sports Pass), Now TV lets you pick and mix what you want.
Passes for the entertainment and movies channels are available on a monthly basis, while the sports passes can be bought on a daily, weekly and now monthly basis. Here’s how the prices break down:
|24 Hour Pass||Weekly Pass||Monthly Pass|
In addition to this, you’ll need a broadband service that gives you at least 2.5Mbps of spare bandwidth at all times for Now TV to stream content in SD.
As we mentioned above, Now TV offers catch-up content in high definition, but currently only up to 720p HD through the Now TV Box. For this you’ll need at least 5Mbps spare, otherwise you’ll be bumped down to SD quality.
You can also access Now TV streams on iOS and Android phones and tablets. While there’s no Now TV remote control app or Chromecast-style functionality, this gives you the advantage of being able to carry on watching something on your phone if the main TV becomes unavailable.
Now TV Box (2015): External hard drives & file support
This whole section may as well be replaced with a giant ‘NOPE’ sign.
We were unable to access any files stored on external hard drives, USB sticks or microSD cards that we connected, plugged and slotted into the new Now TV Box.
There’s no native media player – Roku Media Player doesn’t show up in the channel search for some reason – meaning you can’t access any of your own content unless you’ve got it stored on a network drive.
How to install third party apps on your Now TV Box: Turn on developer modeIf you want to stream your own files on the new Now TV Box, you’ll need to enable developer mode and sideload something like Plex or Emby and stream files from there.
This is a somewhat bizarre workaround users are forced into, especially when you consider that the device actually comes with ports for external devices and cards. It’s more than a little frustrating.
We understand that there’s no immediate plans to make Roku Media Player (or an equivalent) available for Now TV boxes, but Sky hasn’t ruled out this as a possibility. We hope to be able to get to grips with an official or third party service that lets us access external devices in the future.
Now TV Box (2015): Verdict
The Now TV Box (2015) is a great value for money proposition. For your £15 you get a very capable media streamer that lets you get a huge range of on-demand services.
There is a fairly big Netflix-shaped hole in the Now TV Box’s repertoire which we hope is plugged soon. In the meantime, you could shell out for an Amazon Fire TV Stick as well. At the time of writing, this costs just £25 and it’ll give you access to Netflix and Prime Instant Video to boot.
Our only other gripe is the lack of a native media player. It begs the question why bother releasing a device with ports on it in the first place if this function is locked out.
If you wanted to be able to watch Now TV content alongside Netflix while dipping into locally-stored media, then you might be better off getting a new Roku 2, which is currently four times the price of the Now TV Box.
Other than that, we highly recommend the new 2015 edition of the Now TV Box. It’s a great portal into pay TV for people who wouldn’t normally bother dipping their toes into that world as you can get some of the best TV Sky has to offer on a range of flexible payment plans, so you won’t have to break the bank each month.
|No of on-demand services||30+|
|Audio outouts||7.1 Stereo (Digital via HDMI)|
|Number of channels||n/a|
|Number of tuners||n/a|
|Mobile service||iOS, Android|