With more and more televisions being made ‘smart’ by manufacturers, the need for independent streaming boxes can be unclear, but for those who don’t have smart TVs and still want the choice of multiple streaming services, these devices can be an affordable solution.
Netgem’s new Netbox HD is exactly that and more, and with access to Amazon Prime Video, on demand TV and Freeview, you can get access to most of the features of a smart TV without the cost.
The first streaming device in the UK to include live TV, it’s also Amazon Alexa-enabled for a hands-free viewing experience and has dedicated remote control buttons for your favorite streaming services.
Price and availability
The Netbox HD is available for £129, which is fairly expensive compared to streaming devices that don’t support Freeview - however, Netgem has confirmed that the price is likely to drop in the coming weeks.
For example, Google Chromecast costs around £30, but doesn’t allow you to watch live TV as the Netbox HD does, which could explain the vast difference in price. At the moment, you can purchase it from Netgem’s Amazon store in the UK.
The Netbox is also currently available to Three UK mobile customers at a hugely reduced price of £49 via the Wuntu app.
Design and features
Small and super compact, the Netbox HD is designed to blend in seamlessly with the rest of your entertainment system, meaning it won’t take up any precious room on your TV stand or cabinet. At a first glance, it just looks like a small black box, with aerial, HDMI, USB, ethernet, and S/PDIF (digital audio) ports at the back.
The remote is where things become more complex, with some Netgem additions alongside the standard buttons.
Perhaps most useful are the dedicated streaming buttons for Freeview Play and Prime Video, which immediately open the apps when pressed, meaning you don’t have to trawl through the menu to find what you want to watch.
There is also a button to activate the Alexa voice control feature, though you will need a compatible Amazon Echo device to make this work.
Setting up the Netbox HD wasn’t quite as seamless as we would have hoped, with connecting to the WiFi proving particularly difficult – however, there is an ethernet cable included in the box so you can connect directly to your Internet router or wall socket.
The difficulty in connecting via WiFi was compounded by the remote control’s lack of responsiveness – when it came to entering our WiFi password to complete the set-up process, we found ourselves having to press buttons several times before the device would recognise the signal.
Once we got through the set-up process, we tried out the voice activation feature – all you need to do is press the voice activation button on the remote and pair it with your Amazon Echo smart speaker. For example, if you wanted to watch The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime, simply say to your speaker, “Alexa, watch The Grand Tour’, and the Netbox HD will bring up the latest episode in the series.
There’s a wide variety of streaming platforms available to use with the Netbox HD, including Prime Video, Freeview Play, BBC iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player, Hayu, Deezer, and Daily Motion – however, many of these services will require you to sign up before you can start watching.
If you don’t want to trawl through all of these apps to find something to watch, the Netbox HD has a ‘More Apps’ page that showcases the most popular programmes from each streaming service, which is extremely useful.
One of the biggest flaws with the Netbox HD is that is doesn’t include access to some of the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify. The alternatives Netgem has provided (for example, DailyMotion and Deezer) just don’t measure up in terms of the content available. However, Netgem has confirmed thqat YouTube will be available from October 2018.
We didn’t encounter any issues when using the Netbox HD to watch live TV, and were able to pause live TV for up to two hours at a time – however, we found ourselves once again having to press the buttons on the remote control several times before the Netbox would respond.
Overall, the Netbox HD is a good option for anyone who doesn’t have a smart TV and still wants to be able to access their favorite streaming platforms without having to connect their laptop to their TV.
That being said, without access to streaming giants like Netflix and Spotify, the Netbox HD’s ability to provide quality content is somewhat limited, and we can imagine that this would be a concession too far for many users.
Still, Netgem has tried to remedy this by providing alternatives; instead of Spotify, you could use Deezer, and instead of Youtube you could try Daily Motion (although YouTube will reportedly be available from October). Furthermore, if you are mainly looking for the ability to pause live TV or catch up on shows you’ve missed via BBC iPlayer, 4OD, and other on demand platforms, you probably won’t miss these services.
If you are a Netflix devotee you may need to complement your setup with the Google Chromecast for example, which at a quarter of the price, houses far more apps and higher quality content – still, Chromecast doesn’t allow you to watch live TV.
Another issue with the Netbox HD is that the interface can feel a little sluggish, particularly when it takes such a long time to respond to the remote. This could become particularly frustrating over time, and unless you have an Amazon Echo, you’re pretty much stuck with using it.
Cost-wise, it’s not the cheapest streaming device available, but if you're looking to have all your entertainment option in one place, you may find it worthwhile to choose the Netbox HD over competitors which don’t support live TV.
Furthermore, as the only streaming device in the UK to support live TV as well as access to streaming platforms, the higher price feels somewhat justified, and we are told that the price is likely to be reduced in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Who the device is aimed at however, is a little unclear. While it could be a good option for students who want access to live TV and streaming services in one device, the omission of Netflix, Youtube, and Spotify from its supported apps may not appeal to young people who want to be able to watch the same shows as their friends.
If, however, you're happy using a smaller selection of streaming services in exchange for the ease of using one device for live and smart TV, this could be the streaming box for you.