The NOW TV box has had an update this year, giving it a bit of a facelift, some new innards and improved connectivity. But given the stiff competition from the likes of Amazon and Netflix on the content side, and Fire TV, Apple TV and SHIELD on the hardware side, is there still a place for Sky's little media maestro?
Outside of the murky mobile phone world, contracts are becoming a bit of sticking point for the consumer. With Netflix pioneering the way for non-contract on-demand services, and the likes of Disney now following suit, Sky has found another way to get the contract-phobic signed into its ecosystem.
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The NOW TV service offers practically no-strings access to Sky content for an incredibly reasonable price. And in a pretty darned simple way too. The NOW TV box echoes that, delivering simple, cheap hardware that will instantly make your dumb telly just that little bit smarter.
There are other ways to get the NOW TV service into your home – some smart TVs, like LG's, carry the app, and you can also access it via a tablet or mobile and Chromecast it onto your screen. But for that plug-and-play aesthetic, the £15 NOW TV box is the one to go for.
The original box was a subsidised, cut-down version of Roku's own player, and Sky has partnered up with Roku again, using what is essentially the Roku 3 box, with a few key differentiators that explain the much lower cost.
The OS has been locked down to avoid giving too much access to Sky's content-providing rivals. You won't, therefore, be seeing Netflix on a vanilla NOW TV box, although as the underlying hardware's still the same I doubt it would be a particularly tricky thing to change with a little light hackery…
And while there are USB and microSD slots, on the side and rear respectively, you won't actually be able to do anything with them on the standard NOW TV box – I guess that with such a bargain-priced box there wasn't the budget for a new housing which covered them.
But there are new hardware goodies compared with the original NOW TV box, the main one being a hard-wired ethernet connection, enabling you to plug the box directly into your home network.
The original box relied upon the vagaries of Wi-Fi for its connection, but the ethernet port should put paid to any stuttering, buffering performance from the box. There is still a Wi-Fi connection, however, of the 802.11ac variety, which should also help alleviate any wireless woes.
The improved internal components of the NOW TV box also enable you to stream purchased content up to 1080p, over the HDMI connection – that's a welcome improvement over the 720p limit of the original.
The remote is pretty much identical – but the simple little device doesn't really need more than the direct NOW TV or Sky Store buttons.
Content really is the name of the game for the NOW TV box. Its aim is to get Sky into as many homes as possible, and this versatile wee thing gives you myriad options for doing so.
The first is the bundle. When you pick up a box you can add another tenner onto the price of the box – pushing it up to £24.99 – and choose one of the three basic content packs to accompany the hardware.
There's the Movie pack, the Entertainment pack and the Sports pack. With the £24.99 bundle you get two days of sports (big whoop), two months of movies or a full three months on the entertainment side.
Picking up subsequent passes when those run dry will cost £9.99 for a month of the movies package, and £6.99 for a month's worth of the entertainment package.
On the sporting side though things are a little more complex, and far more expensive. Considering that this is the only way, outside of a lengthy Sky TV contract, to get access to Sky's sporting crown jewels that's probably not much of a surprise.
You can pay by the day if you simply have to watch what is known in the parlance of our times as 'the big match'. That will run to £6.99 per day, but if you go for a week it's a more reasonable(ish) £10.99.
And for a month? Well, that's a pricey £31.99.
What's different about the NOW TV service compared with other streaming options is that it's not just offering on-demand or catch-up content. The movie pass does give you that, but you also get 11 Sky Movies channels, the entertainment pass gives you 13 live channels, and the sport option nets you all seven Sky Sports channels.
You can go fully on-demand and rent/buy movies from the Sky Store if you wish.
Finally, the NOW TV box will also give you access to the main catch-up services, featuring iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player and Demand 5.