The weekend before Christmas we were sent a family set of Christmas onsies, a fabulous hamper of goodies and a NOW TV box with a month long Sky Movies subscription so that we could join in with the #myonsieland watch-along of Muppets Most Wanted.
We’ve been using the Now TV box for a couple of weeks now as so in his role as resident family geek here’s Dave’s review:
The NOW TV box is Sky’s attempt at a streaming box. It’s a re branded Roku1 box with reduced functionality and a more controlled app store. It does without a USB input for connecting an external hard drive or USB stick (a real shame for me as I really wanted networked attached storage for our house) and there’s no Ethernet port. I always prefer a hard wired connection if possible as buffering is the stuff of Satan in my opinion! How much does Sky want for this box I hear you ask? £10! That’s cheap. Really cheap! Consider me intrigued.
So can Sky’s streaming box free me from the monthly subscription to Sky? Read on to find out.
In the box you get the tiny NOW TV box, a remote control plus some batteries, an instruction book, a power cable and a HDMI cable.
Setting up is a bit of a pain. Connect box to TV. Connect box to socket. Turn it on. It scans for WiFi signals then gives you a list of networks you can connect to. So far so good. Next, pop in your password and you’re on your way. It’s slightly bizarre to use a remote to input text for the password, it felt like stepping back in time! The is the first time you can see where Sky have saved their money. The remote is terrible. Really cheap and not nearly as responsive as you need. I found that you had to have the remote pointed precisely, and I mean Swiss watch maker precisely, for it to work. There is a work around but I’ll come to that later.
After we’d connected to the network it immediately found an update. A good thing in my opinion, as this means the manufacturer hasn’t forgotten about the device as soon as they’ve sold it and are trying to improve their product.
Once you’ve updated then you can set up an account. As a Sky customer I already have a Sky account. Fine and dandy. Put in the details using the remote (boo!) and the box says you’ve got to go online to activate your account. Right, bit of a pain but fair enough. Go to the site and put in the details. You’ve got to put in a credit / debit card to go further. Now I’m not a fan of this. Why do they need my card details? If I want to buy something through the box that’s the point it should ask for my details. Not before. It should be a choice. Not a requirement. Even if I never ever buy anything through NOW TV they’ve got my card details stored on a system somewhere. I shouldn’t have to hand over my card details to anyone unless I’m purchasing something. Anyway, rant over. You can’t continue without giving them details so I had to. Back to the setup. At this point you can choose a pin number for purchases, and one for parental control. Any films or programs that have a rating above what you’ve chosen require the pin before they will start playing. Good. I like that.
Now you can set up your channels. There are some pre-selected on your home screen. You’ve got all the normal catch up services for BBC, ITV, Ch4 and Ch5. These all work in pretty much the same way as they do online so I’ll assume you’re familiar. Also there is the NOW TV app which is where Sky hopes you’ll be spending most of your time. Warning! Everything in this app costs money. You’ve got three types of programme: sports, movies and entertainment.
The sports pass costs £7 for a day’s pass!!!!! Or £11 for a week! This gives you access to Sky’s many sports channels for whatever period of time you’ve paid through the nose for.
The entertainment pass costs £7 for a month. This gets you a curated selection of the many channels that Sky considers entertainment. Channels like Sky1, Sky Atlantic, Discovery and many, many more. To be honest I don’t think there’s much missing from the channels and you get to watch what you want when you want, not to a channel’s schedule, although I imagine programs won’t become available until after they’ve aired.
The movies pass costs you £10 for a month and works similarly to the entertainment pass. (This has been great for the kids over Christmas – they’ve watched loads of new films)
With the box we were given a month’s free pass to the movie channels. Might as well try that then. When setting it up we found there was a concurrent offer running on the website for a month’s free movies. So lucky us, we’ve got 2 months free movies. We’ve just got to remember to cancel after that period, which Sky is obviously hoping we’ll forget! Reminder already set.
Other channels are YouTube, Spotify, BBC news, BBC sport, TuneIn radio, and the more obscure but still interesting crunchyroll (anime), there’s plenty more but they get progressively less bearable if you ask me. A full list can be found here.
I mentioned before about the remote being awful. Well a tip for anyone who takes a dip in the NOW TV waters is to download the Roku remote app from your app store. Even though the box says “NOW TV” the app still picks up the box and allows you to control it from your phone or tablet. Which works like a dream, and means that because it’s working through WiFi rather than infrared you can stash the NOW TV remote out of view behind your TV! This stops 1 year olds from pulling it out and trying to eat it! Maybe that’s a niche problem. To be honest I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t someone trying to destroy my TV or Xbox any more! “No dear, the Xbox doesn’t need to eat any more biscuits!”. Regardless the app works brilliantly and transformed using the NOW TV from a nightmare to . . . well, not a pleasure, but not a problem anymore.
For me having the YouTube app / channel is great as you can use the YouTube app on your phone or tablet to find videos and then ‘cast’ them to your TV through the NOW TV! You can set up playlists and control is all on your phone then watch on the big screen. Pretty good. If you watch videos on YouTube. Which I do.
The overall performance is ok. You get stutters and pauses while navigating menus and apps / channels can take a while to open once you’ve chosen them, but considering the cost of this box it’s really not that bad. Once you get to watching whatever you’ve chosen the experience is good, depending on your broadband speed that is. A poor connection will give you a spinning wheel in the middle of the screen while it buffers! Infuriating.
It’s also worth mentioning that everything you watch is using data, and if you’ve got a data cap you’ll have to be careful of how much data you’re getting through. It outputs at 720p, which isn’t full HD, but matches what the Sky+HD box we’ve got outputs at so I can’t complain. Pictures look good but if you’re a pixel junkie you’ll be able to tel the difference.
Going back to the home screen. You can rearrange the order of the channels to the ones you use the most are nearer the top of the list. However, you can’t put your most used channels on the top row. Nope, that’s row is reserved for Sky’s channels. NOW TV, Sky Store and SkySports News. Really Sky? That’s petty I think. If you want to watch those channels then you’ll have them near the top but if you don’t then you’re forced to look at them every time you use it. Which is the point. I get it. I just don’t like it.
That’s pretty much it for the review. In conclusion, much as I’ve grumbled about a few of the foibles of the NOW TV box, I like it. It works well enough for what we need and adds functionality to your TV. It makes your TV into a Smart TV for £10. Which is far cheaper than buying a Smart TV,
So can it free me of the Sky subscription? No. Unfortunately not. Colette has things on our Sky box that she recorded years ago, that she hasn’t got around to watching and yet can’t bear to have deleted! (He’s exaggerating!) However if you can get by with watching the programs you would have recorded within 30 days then it’s possible the NOW TV is good enough for you. For us it’ll just be an add on to our existing set up.
*Disclaimer – We were sent the NOW TV box & a month’s Sky Movies subscription free of charge for the purposes of review how all thoughts and opinions remain our own – well mainly Dave’s!*