Now TV Box
The Now TV Box from Sky just dropped like a bombshell on the smart TV landscape. It’s not trying to create yet another standard platform for developers, or throwing in crazy new features to make searching for shows online easier. It’s just a tiny little wireless box that plugs into your regular old TV and pumps out 720p HD video from Sky’s Now TV service and other web video channels. For just £9.99, including postage. Is this the bargain of the decade? We plugged one in to find out.
If you think the Now TV Box looks familiar, there’s a reason: it’s made by smart TV box innovator Roku, which Sky invested in last year. Indeed, barring the new white lacquer and now TV logo stamped on the top, it’s almost identical to the Roku LT set top box that’s been on sale for over a year: it’s absolutely tiny, quiet and a piece of cake to set up, with HDMI cable, remote control and batteries all included in the box. It just happens to cost a mere fifth of the price of an LT.
Set up could not be simpler. You just plug it in (The Now TV box plugs into), connect to your Wi-Fi, log in with your Now TV account (You’ll need to register for one on your laptop first, but crucially, you don’t have to pay for the Now TV subscription service by doing so - though you might as well use the month free trial) and start streaming. Sky’s Now TV provides the movies, there’s Sky News for rolling news, and you can also get Sky Sports via a daily passes, which sounds expensive at £9.99, but if you only want to watch the derby twice a year, it’s much cheaper than a satellite and a monthly subscription.
You’re not just limited to Sky content however. You’ll also find BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 on board, as well as many more services in the Roku Channel Store including anime streaming app Crunchyroll, Facebook and yep, Spotify - ideal if your telly is plugged into the best speakers in the house. We also managed to install Plex, a media streaming app that lets you play videos from your PC connected to the same network, by going into the developer mode - it’s not something technophobes will want to do, but for the more IT savvy, it’s an ideal way to get all your downloads on to the big screen, as £10 sure beats an £100 Apple TV.
The Now TV Box is a rebranded Roku LT, so it suffers from the same limitations: namely, it has to connect to your router via Wi-Fi and not speedier Ethernet cable, and it can’t play back media from a USB stick. I also lacks some of its siblings’ smarts. It doesn’t work with official Roku remote apps for smartphones for one (but it will work with some clunkier unofficial ones that don’t require account login). And given that Sky is almost certainly selling it at a loss in a bid to sign you up to Now TV on a monthly subscription, it’s been stripped of some rival services, including Netflix.
This might not be such a problem if Now TV’s catalogue wasn’t so limited. Though it boasts many new release movies, its back catalogue is weak, and it really suffers from a lack of TV, unlike its rivals - especially for the subscription cost. Though it’s advertised as £8.99 for the first three months, the price shoots up sharply after that to £15.99 per month. When Netflix adds many more films, as well as its own amazing TV shows like House Of Cards on a regular basis for less than half of that, it makes the Now TV Box a lot less appealing for cinephiles. But hey, did we mention it only costs ten pounds? Sorry, we still can’t get over how cheap this thing is.