You don’t need a Now TV Smart Box if you’ve already got a TV with apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Now TV. If that’s you, you should probably stop reading right now and go see which is the right streaming service for you. For everyone else, however, here’s what you need to know about the Now TV Smart Box and why it’s most definitely the best TV streamer around.
Firstly, and arguably most importantly, you don’t need a Now TV subscription of any kind to make use of the Now TV Smart Box. All you need to do is create a Now TV account (or using an existing or previous Sky account), and this little box gives you Freeview channels and a plethora of apps.
Not only will you get Now TV, but you can also make use of all the major catch-up TV channels like iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5. Unfortunately, you won’t get Netflix or Amazon Prime Video access, but there’s plenty of other apps and services here anyway. But if that doesn’t bother you, the Now TV Smart Box is available through Amazon UK for around £30 – and that makes it a VERY good deal indeed.
One of the Now TV Smart Box’s best features is its wonderfully designed EPG TV Guide. Here channels are clearly split into Freeview channels (supplied via a traditional terrestrial antenna connection), Now TV live channels (streamed via the internet), and radio stations. If your TV has a rubbish guide, then it’s worth buying the Now TV Smart Box just for this. You can also pause and rewind live TV, watch catch-up and stream movies and box sets.
The interface isn’t exactly the same as on the premium Sky Q service, but it’s organised in a similar way, with categories arrayed on the left-hand side in a vertical list, and contents displayed on the right. It’s intuitive and responsive to use.
Nothing connected to a TV would be complete without apps, and the Now TV Smart Box is no exception. It may be based on Roku’s platform, but it doesn’t have quite the same selection of apps. Most important of all, it doesn’t have Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, meaning if you’re a fan of either company’s selection of shows, you’re out of luck and you should buy an Amazon Fire Stick as well.
Although I can understand why Sky wants to keep you within its TV streaming system, I think this is a bit silly. If both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video were on the Now TV box, it would make a good case for being the “one box to rule them all” single device which lives under your TV – and that would surely benefit Sky overall. As it is, if you really want Netflix and Amazon, you’ll need to buy another device too.
If you’re a gamer obsessed with eSports, though, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Like most TV boxes not made by Amazon, the Now TV Smart Box doesn’t support an official Twitch app. Coincidentally, Twitch is owned by Amazon, which would love you to purchase a Fire TV stick instead.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for offers on Now TV Smart Boxes. For example, just before Christmas you could pick up one for less than £20 – a geniune bargain given how good this box is.
Now TV Smart Box review: Prices and content
A Now TV subscription effectively offers most of Sky’s exclusive content – Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, and channels such as Sky Atlantic and (for the cultural sorts) Sky Arts – without needing a Sky dish or contract. Instead, it’s all streamed over the internet to either a computer, smartphone or tablet, or an app-enabled TV or box like this one. Resolution is limited to 720p, which is low compared with Netflix or the full Sky TV’s 1080p resolution, but for the most part it looks sharp and watchable. Those with very large TVs, however, will notice the difference.
It’s the pricing strategy that’s key here, though. Want entertainment channels? That’s £7.99 per month. Sky Cinema? £10 per month. Sky Kids will set you back £3 per month. Sky Sports? Anything from £7 for a day to £37 per month.
Everything together will cost you £58 a month – around the same as Sky TV with movies, sport and a heck of a lot more channels. It’s basically getting you to pay more for less, which on the surface doesn’t sound that great.
The key thing to note, though, is that you’re not tied into a 12-month contract with any of Sky’s “passes”; each one last only as long as the time you’ve paid for. After that you can chop and change at will and it’s possible to watch all this on up to four devices, and on two simultaneously. And you’re still getting a lot of TV for your money.
The only downside in all this is that, although most streamed services are shown in 720p resolution on the Now TV smart box, the Freeview TV services, and Sky Sports, are limited to standard definition across most compatible devices. That’s the price you pay for the extra flexibility.
Now TV Smart Box review: Now TV Combo
You can now also buy a “Now TV Combo”, which is where things begin to get a bit more complicated. This is composed of Sky Broadband, a Smart Box and your choice of subscriptions to the various packages.
You get the box for free and a small discount on the overall subscription – all the available channels including sports with up to 80Mbits/sec fibre for just short of £90 per month, which represents acceptable value. For comparison, a similar bundle from BT, including Sky Sports 1 and 2 and BT Sport (which is available on Sky satellite for an extra fee, but not on Now TV), would set you back a little more than £90.
Now TV Smart Box review: Verdict
So, should you buy a Now TV Smart Box? If you have a TV with a terrible guide, want access to apps and the flexibility to not have to pay for premium channels for 12 months per year, then the answer is an unqualified yes. It’s a nicely designed, simple-to-use way of getting catch-up TV and Sky Sports, a good guide and a way to pause live TV. For £40, that’s a bargain. The absence of both Netflix and Amazon is disappointing, but given everything else this device does it’s not going to stop me from recommending it.
As for the Now TV Combo, I’m less sure. The deals are likely to be as good as anyone else’s, and I’d certainly put it on the consideration list if I were looking for broadband. If you’re already a Now TV subscriber, then you’ll get a small discount and a free Smart Box, which is nice. But if you shop around you can find cheaper broadband packages, which will save you more in the long run than the £40 saved on buying the Smart Box outright.