Sky's £10 Smart TV gadget proves too good a deal to turn down
If you’ve been looking for a cost-effective way of adding Internet TV, be it catch-up or Video on Demand, to a non-connected telly, then Sky’s new £9.99 Now TV box must seem heaven sent.
With its double-take price and promise of instant connectivity, even certified technophobes will be hard pushed to think of reasons not to buy one. So what exactly do you get for your meagre tenner? As it happens, quite a lot…
The Now TV box, which is available directly from the Now TV website (the price includes post and packing and an HDMI cable!), is a well-made puck of a player, measuring just 84mm x 84mm x 24mm. It features Now TV branding on top and sports an HDMI output, plus 3.5 minijack AV output for SD screens and a power port.
The box is actually a clone of the highly regarded Roku LT streamer, which sells for around £35, although it’s bundled with the better Roku XS remote control. Set-up takes just a few minutes. The player has onboard Wi-Fi; there's no Ethernet port. You'll need to have set up a Now TV account to complete the setup process. When you sign up, you get a 30-day free trial for Sky Movies, which then shifts to £8.99 a month for three months, before settling at £15. The movie selection is the same as that offered on Sky’s satellite service. You can also buy Sky Sports day passes for £9.99, which is actually a good deal if you only really want to watch certain events.
Unsurprisingly, Now TV dominates the home page display, but it's flanked by the BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and news from Sky and the BBC. Interestingly, the box also offers access to the Roku Channel Store, which is where you’ll find a variety of additional services which can be downloaded and added to your lineup.
The version of the Roku Store here has a smaller inventory than the iteration on native Roku streaming boxes. A notable omission is Netflix, but there’s still a goodly number of specialist apps to peruse. Worth investigation are Spotify, Revision 3 (which offers a number of high grade tech shows), Flixster, Vimeo and anime channel Crunchy Roll.
Image quality from the service is (perhaps surprisingly) very good. Sky doesn’t promote the package as HD, but uses adaptive bitrate streaming which adjusts depending on the quality of the broadband available. I put it on a fast (actually very fast) Virgin Media broadband connection, and was suitably impressed. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is a great-looking HD movie, and on the Now TV box a good deal of that detail and sparkle made it though to the screen. Given that the Broadcom processor in the box upscales content to 720p, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s coming from where, but by way of comparison the results certainly looked as good as upscaled DVD. The excellent Dredd appeared equally impressive. The opening high-speed bike chase was crisp and involving; the fast action didn’t add any unwanted artefacts.
The BBC iPlayer implementation, incidentally, includes HD streams, and the results look excellent. Unfortunately, audio across the board is two-channel stereo. Of course, plumbed into an AVR, you can at least find some use for all those DSP modes.
Overall, the Now TV box should be considered an absolute steal. Obviously being heavily subsidized by Sky to help promote its Now TV platform, it’s a cost effective way of getting extra content to unconnected flatscreens and provides a real alternative to paid subscription. And if you simply want to put iPlayer on a bedroom TV, it’s simply too good a deal to turn down.
Sky Now TV box
Price: £10 Approx
Highs: Astonishingly cheap, well-made, good selection of streaming TV services, great image quality
Lows: No 5.1 audio from Now TV content, No YouTube
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