21st Dec2013

Review: NOW TV

by Phil Wheat

now-tv-box

As someone who wants it all when it comes to home entertainment – the ability to access online content, be able to stream my own media and to watch the occasional bit of live TV. And I’ve tried a number of devices in my quest to find the “one.”

Apple TV, Ouya, PS3 and even the good old “memory stick in the back of the TV”, yet nothing has quite done it for me. Most recently I hooked up an old PC to my television and that, for now, seems to be fitting the bill quite perfectly but, and anyone who’s used a PC in conjunction with their TV, the interface is clunky and it can be a hassle waiting for boot and load times. So when I was given the chance to check out the NOW TV service and the NOW TV box I jumped at the chance…

Billed as a simple plug and play device, NOW TV’s advertising doesn’t lie. Two cables: power and HDMI (both of which are provided) and a wifi connection is all you need. Plug in, switch on and proceed through the setup – connect to your wifi, add password, sign in, or up, to NOW TV. The NOW TV channel, Sky Store, BBC iPlayer and other UK-centric on demand services are automatically added to your home screen and with that you’re good to go. You can of course go to the Roku channel (using the on screen link or the “apps” button on the remote) and add any extra channels you’d like – for example VEVO or Fox News. There’s even a PlayTo channel which, if you install the accompanying app on your phone or tablet, can easily and quickly let you stream your own content to the NOW TV box.

It really is that simple.

Now as someone who has used a number of set-top boxes, the first thing that struck me about the NOW TV box is the interface. The ergonomic remote is really responsive, with each click feeling substantial – something I had not experienced before – and the on screen interface is just as pleasing: I’ve honestly never been able to browse, and in particularly type, as fast on *any* other set-top box. In comparison to the likes of the OUYA and even the Apple TV, using the NOW TV box is a dream!

now-tv-box-interface

Of course NOW TV is a Sky TV service and as such the main focus of the unit is the NOW TV platform and, to a lesser extent, the Sky Store. Unlike Sky’s satellite service, NOW TV is a drop-in/drop-out subscription, payable on a month-to-month basis. Prices start at £4.99 for the Entertainment Pass, which offers acces to 11 channels – including Sky 1, Sky Living, Comedy Central, MTV and the Disney Channel – on both an on-demand and live TV basis. Meanwhile if you you’re a sports fan a day pass to Sky Sports is a pricey £9.99! Thankfully movie fans are better served by the NOW TV service, if you want to watch the latest movies you can subscribe to the Sky Movies package for £8.99 a month and movies appear on the service at the same speed as the Sky+ HD on-demand service – ideal for those (unlike me) who don’t obsessively buy DVDs and Blu-rays the day they hit the high street.

Unlike some of the set-top boxes I’ve previously used, the NOW TV box does not output in full 1080p quality. Instead the box, which is essentially a white version of the Roku LT, upscales content to 720p – but if you’ve got a fast broadband service you’d never know as the box uses adaptive bitrate streaming so picture quality (especially on a service such as BT Infinity) is easily as good as DVD and in some cases even better. For example – a quick comparison between episodes of Arrow on the Apple TV and on NOW TV reveals that the stream on Sky’s set-top box is infinitely better that Apple’s 720p download quality.

Simple enough that even hardened techno-phobes will have no problem getting set up and watching TV, Sky’s NOW TV box and service look set to take UK living rooms by storm in 2014 – especially considering the meagre £9.99 price tag. I know it’s now my go-to set-top box. Sorry Apple!

You can get subscribe and get your box from the official website at nowtv.com

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