Streaming Media Device Review: NOW TV Box (UK)
Ivan Radford | On 22, Jun 2014
Our streaming media device reviews reach Sky’s own branded effort, the NOW Box. Essentially a clone of a Roku box, this is a product intended to advertise the broadcaster’s own VOD platform.
Is it a flimsy piece of promotion? Or is there substance hidden beneath that shiny, branded case?
We give the NOW box the once-over.
Sleek and white, there’s no denying that for a piece of branded tech, Sky’s NOW Box looks good. It may not be as small as some of the streaming sticks out there – more on that later – but it’s about as small as a box can get, which means it seats neatly by the TV without clutter or distraction.
The remote is almost identical to that of a Roku box, which means it’s simple and easy to understand and feels good to click away with. They’ve even added a “NOW” button, just in case you need to get to your Sky subscription ASAP.
Given it is a clone of a Roku, which costs £50, NOW’s £9.99 price tag for a box is eye-catchingly cheap. There are, however, some caveats… (See Content.)
We’re yet to meet a streaming media device that is hard to set up and the NOW Box is no exception. Plug the box into the wall and connect the other end to your telly’s HDMI port with the included cable – that’s almost worth £9.99 on its own – and you’re prompted to sign in / sign up for an account. In a few minutes, you’re up and running.
Content / Channels / Apps
NOW is, of course, the central app here. And it’s the same interface you’ll find on other platforms. The content, which includes Sky’s TV channels and/or movie catalogue (depending on whether you have an Entertainment Membership – £4.99 a month – or NOW Cinema Membership – £9.99 a month), is excellent, but the menu itself is hard to navigate. Again, this is the same experience on any other NOW app, although (and this may just be our setup) we found it to be more stable than the app on the PS3.
Sky is very much the order of the day, with Sky News sitting snug beside NOW. It contains lots of short video snippets from recent news reports, if you like getting your news from Sky. Video quality is notably SD, though, which almost makes you wonder why they included the HDMI cable at all.
Sky has been increasingly expanding its range of apps/channels for Sky Go and NOW customers. Now, alongside BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand 5 and 4oD, you can also install ITV Player – which means that you have all the terrestrial catch-up services you could require. For free.
BBC iPlayer is essentially the same app you can find on other devices: pink, quick and all in impressive HD. Demand 5, meanwhile, is worth checking out: the app is funky and purple with a neat approach to menus and categories. In fact, it’s like NOW – but more intuitive.
Vimeo is also present and correct, although – like all other incarnations of the app (except for Apple TV) – you cannot watch private videos.
For movies, NOW comes with the Sky Store readily installed, which allows you rent films – the only way to watch new home entertainment releases on a pay-per-view basis. Trailers for titles within the app are of an even worse quality than Sky News, but renting the movies are easy and the visuals are good.
Here’s where NOW falls down – significantly. As with a Roku box, there is no blinkbox or Amazon Prime Instant Video app. Unlike a Roku box, though, there is also no Netflix. While on a standard Roku, you would expect that to be added in time, here it looks like an impossibility; Sky has locked down its NOW box so that you can only access its own VOD platform. It’s a great way to get people to sign up to NOW, but not a great way to get anyone to actually buy one.
Menus are, again, as simple as those on a Roku: they’re exactly the same, but with bigger icons, which makes it easy to browse – although there are NOW adverts around the edges. The Roku Channel Store may be lacking in a lot of content, but it is quick and simply to install new apps. Occasionally, the menu stalls if you overload the box, but this is far from a frequent occurrence.
Do you want to buy a product that is essentially one big exercise in brand promotion? Or do you want a capable, competent streaming device? The NOW Box manages to be both, which is to its credit. With no Netflix, Amazon or other services, there is a lot to be desired, but if all you want is iPlayer and a way to watch Sky TV shows on the big screen, it does that undeniably well. A free HDMI cable to boot? It’s not bad for a tenner. Then again, would you pay anything more?