The Now TV Box announced today has raised some eyebrows. The Roku-based smart TV box from Sky has a lot of going for it.
First of all it’s tiny. Measuring 84 x 84 x 23mm, it’s smaller than an Apple TV. Set up is so easy a child could do it. The remote, while a tad too light-feeling in the hand (it doesn’t feel like it’ll stand up to much long-term wear and tear) has an intelligent button layout and that’s easy to acquaint yourself with.
If this wasn’t enough there’s the Roku Channel Store, a mini app store that lets you pick from around 30 extra video channels. We picked TED, Vimeo and Revision 3. Sky says there’s more in the pipeline for the Now TV Box so hopefully 4oD and ITV Player will join their PSB chums.
Sky says that the Now TV Box will work on broadband connections as slow as 2.5Mbps, so it’ll work in the vast majority of British homes. It’s got mass appeal written all over it.
Then there’s the price. It’s £9.99, just under a tenner.
A low price doesn’t mean everything though. If it’s a lemon it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. Let’s see exactly what the Now TV Box gives you for your almost-one thousand pennies.
If you’re a Now TV subscriber then you’ll know what you’re getting here. Access to a catalogue of the latest blockbusters 12 months before they’re on Netflix and Lovefilm Instant. Or, if football is more your bag, you can get daily access to all of Sky’s Sports channels from Sky Sports 1 all the way to Sky Sports F1.
The Sky Movies Pass on Now TV is free for the first month, then £8.99/month for the next three months and £15/month thereafter.
Access to Live Sports costs £9.99 a day. This will let you watch live footage from all of the Sky Sports channels including Sky Sports F1.
Compared with taking out Sky TV to get the premium movies and sports packages, Now TV Box represents a bargain for film buffs and something of a mixed result for sports fans.
Getting Sky Movies and Sky Sports with a Sky TV subscription normally costs £16/month and £21/month respectively, plus the £21.50/month you’ll need for the requisite basic Sky TV pack. Opting for a Now TV Box means you don’t have to pay this.
The flipside to this of course is that Now TV’s Movies Pass is more expensive than other streaming services which offer similar (but not as current) content.
The Sky Sports Pass is slightly cheaper if you want to watch football every Saturday as you’ll pay just under £40 in a month. But of course this means you’ll miss out in the rest of the week.
There’s also this My TV section which is currently empty. There are plans to launch more Sky TV channels on Now TV, so we when that happens, this is where we’ll see programmes from the likes of Sky 1 and Sky Atlantic.
Free content - BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, BBC News and Sky News
BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 on Now TV Box works really well, loading programmes from the last seven days. BBC News works less well. It’s sluggish, slow to respond to commands, slow to load news bulletins. This often leads to double presses and false confirmations. It’s crashed twice on us since we’ve had our Now TV Box. It’s frustrating and not that nice to look at. Sky News is thankfully much better, featuring a smarter layout and video streams that load quickly.
Roku Channel Store
Roku Channel Store has a bit of a Wii Shop Channel/iTunes App Store look and feel. Pick and choose from around 30 video channels including Flixster, CNBC News, Bollywood Central, Fox News, Revision 3, Watch India and more.
There’s also Flickr and Picasa apps which let you view pictures on your big screen and Spotify if you want to play music through your TV.
This lets you curate your own smart TV experience. You can pepper the Now TV Box homepage with technology news, cooking programmes or kids shows.
The only thing we’re not so keen on is if you’ve got lots of icons on your homescreen, accessing everything is a bit of a chore. Everything ends up tacked on to one scrolling ticker tape, meaning you’re forever thumbing left and right through the list. You don’t get to edit the list and select favourites, which would improve this.
What, no 1080p Full HD?
The biggest let down about the Now TV Box is that it’s not a 1080p Full HD device. You get an HDMI cable in the box and HD up to 720p is supported but there’s no chance of you streaming movies or watching games in glorious 1080p. But for £10, we can’t expect it do everything and it had to let us down somehow.
For a full list of specifications, click here.
Now TV Box: Conclusion
For the price, it’s hard to find fault with the Now TV Box. At best, it’s an excellent upgrade kit that lets you breathe new life into the old dumb TV and Freeview box you’ve got gathering dust in the spare room.
As a standalone smart TV device on it’s own, there’s a lot missing that means it won’t ever compete with the likes of Apple TV or YouView. While you get top quality on-demand content, Now TV is still pricey compare to Netflix and Lovefilm and there’s still no TV shows available to watch. The lure of things like the final episodes of Breaking Bad mean that the competition is going to command the most eyeballs for the foreseeable.
While there’s room for Now TV Box to grow and add more services we’d really like to see the other PSB catch-up apps find a home here, the iffy BBC News app get an overhaul and support for 1080p streams in the future.
Check out our video review below for an idea of how it all works in the flesh.