Sky has thrown the proverbial cat among the pigeons with its Now TV Box, which – for a mere £10 – will turn any HDMI-equipped tellybox into a smart TV with BBC iPlayer, Sky Movies, Sky Sports and Spotify.
But is it too good to be true? While much of the enticing content costs extra, the cheap up-front price and addition of free services such as iPlayer are sure to tempt plenty of people to take the plunge.
Design and specs
First things first, Sky has confirmed that the Now TV Box is a "white labelled Roku box with customised Now TV interface", so it'll look familiar to anyone who's seen the Roku LT.
The box itself is very dinky (84 x 84 x 24mm are the dimensions, and it weighs just 85g). Sky reckons it's the size of a beer mat – that's a little generous, but it's certainly palm-sized and easy to accommodate into any system set-up. It feels light and fairly insignificant but ultimately once it's connected build isn't much of an issue.
Round the back you'll find an HDMI ouput, minijack AV out for analogue audio and video and a power connection. It's Wi-Fi only so there's no Ethernet input – a bit of a shame – while in the box you get an HDMI cable and a smart white remote control.
The Now TV Box outputs at a maximum resolution of 720p via HDMI and also promises to deliver "5.1 surround sound where available", though there's no mention of Dolby Digital anywhere.
So what do you get? A simple row of app tiles yields up BBC iPlayer, BBC News, Sky News, Demand 5, Spotify, Tunein, Vimeo, Facebook, TED, Flixster and IGN, among others. What you won't find, we're fairly confident, is Lovefilm or Netflix – you'll need to turn to Sky Movies for that.
iPlayer and Spotify performed well from a quick look, with a familiar iPlayer Smart TV design and access to 'HD' content, while Spotify allows you to login (you need to be a premium subscriber) and access playlists, see album artwork, search for tracks and more very neatly.
The remote control is fine, but a smartphone app would make text entry a lot easier – sadly neither Roku's own app nor the excellent Sky apps are compatible with the Now TV Box.
Now TV, powered by Sky
Now TV is the next tile on the home screen after the Roku Store, and is where you find the juicy stuff: Sky Movies and Sky Sports. The 'catch' is of course that this is premium content. The main draw is pay-as-you-go Sky Sports, yours in 24-hour bundles for £9.99.
Expensive? It seems up for debate. If you're dipping in and out, once a month at most, and/or getting mates round who might share the cost, then for a day of potentially quite a lot of content, it's not too bad. It's certainly cheaper and easier than having a Sky dish and a monthly subscription.
Sky Movies, meanwhile, is accessed on a pay-monthly basis. It's £8.99 for your first 3 months, then £15. You can get a 30 day free trial for now, which offers access to over 700 movies, the same as those offered on Sky Movies' on-demand service on Sky boxes. You can cancel these subscriptions at any time, according to the Now TV T&Cs.
After a few hours of playing around with the Now TV Box, we like what we see. It's easy to use and has shown little sign of flakiness (there was the odd long pause but no crashes or need to reset). The custom interface is very smart, fast and slick to move around and intuitive in terms of finding relevant apps and content.
And the selection of content is good: £10 for a box that adds iPlayer, Demand 5 and internet radio apps is a bit of a bargain on its own – pay for premium content such as Spotify and of course Sky's Sports and Movies, and it could offer a lot. Full HD would be nice but pictures seem decent at first glance, with only occasional syncing/buffering issues – which show the importance of a good wireless network connection.
First impressions are definitely good for this compact, incredibly affordable Now TV streaming box. For free catch-up TV services it seems a no brainer; for premium Sky Sports and Movies – which is what Sky is really after – it will ultimately depend a great deal on how much you're prepared to pay for premium programming.