Now TV launched in 2012 as Sky’s internet TV service, offering access to the company’s premium content without the need to install a satellite dish. A year later, the company launched its first Now TV Box, providing an easy way to add Smart TV functionality to any television. With this market now becoming crowded, the new Now TV Smart Box aims to help Now TV get ahead of the competition.
The big change here is the addition of a Freeview tuner, adding free-to-air TV channels to the option of premium Sky content and catch-up TV channels.
Launched alongside a new range of Now TV Combo packages, with access to TV, broadband and phone, and a new Now TV router, the new Now TV Smart Box is Sky’s new take on the set-top box. We take a closer look.
The new Now TV Smart Box is larger and slimmer than the current Now TV box, measuring 165 x 165 x 20.5mm (HWD), and looking more like the new Sky Q boxes. Weighing just 432g, it sports a gloss black finish with blue Now TV branding.
Now TV wants this box to replace any Freeview box you may already have. To that extent, it’s equipped with a digital aerial socket, alongside an HDMI out to connect to your TV. You can enjoy 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound over HDMI, but the video output is limited to 1080p full HD, so there’s no support for 4K TV.
While we knew you’d need the Sky Q service to get Sky 4K TV over satellite, rumours had suggested we would see a Now TV 4K box. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Other connections include an Ethernet port for a wired internet connection – the box does also have built-in wi-fi – a microSD card slot, and a USB connection for viewing media on external devices.
There’s no built-in hard drive (and you can’t connect an external one), so there’s no option to record. Sky would rather point you towards its array of catch-up and on-demand content – and keep the costs of the box down. However, you can pause live TV and rewind programmes by up to 30 minutes.
The aerial, Ethernet, HDMI and microSD connections are on the rear of the Now TV Smart Box, while the USB port is on the side.
The aerial connection gives the Now TV Smart Box access to 60 free-to-air channels, including 15 in HD (where available).
More than 50 apps are available to download to the box, including YouTube, Spotify and Sky News, but not Amazon Instant Video or Netflix. Naturally the push here is towards the Sky Cinema and Entertainment passes if you want to watch movies and TV shows.
The Now TV interface has been given a refresh and it is now easier to find recommended content and your favourite programmes. The interface, like the box, has been developed with Roku.
The homepage is the best place to go if you want to continue watching a series or movie you’ve already started, or to watch live TV.
One of the main boxes on screen shows you a live feed of the last channel you watched, while others recommend programmes based on personalised selections and on previous viewing history.
You can also access the TV guide which shows you what’s on now and next, as well as programme information.
Unlike YouView and Freeview Play, you can’t simply scroll back through the EPG to find programmes you’ve missed to watch on demand. Instead you need to go into the dedicated app for the relevant channel, such as iPlayer, or use the search function.
The apps page shows all the apps you have installed on your box. The most popular are front and centre on the Now TV Smart Box interface.
There are over 50 apps available to download, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube and Spotify.
Navigating the menus is done using the supplied infrared remote control, the same as the one that comes with the standard Now TV box.
A new feature for this Smart Box is being able to pause live TV. You can also rewind up to 30 minutes, although the company says this depends on individual channels.
If you want to go down the Now TV Combo route, then you need to choose a Sky pass for the content you want to watch, plus broadband and phone subscriptions.
There’s a choice of Sky TV passes. The Entertainment pass gives you access to 11 channels not available on Freeview, including Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts, Comedy Central and Discovery. You’re also given access to more than 250 TV box sets, including big name shows such as Game of Thrones and Modern Family.
The Sky Cinema pass opens up over 1000 movies to watch, including a new premiere every single day. Films including Spectre, Ant-Man and The Martian are all lined up to be added in the future.
The Sky Sports pass is available in three options; as a 24-hour day pass, a seven day week pass or a month pass. Each gives unlimited access to all the Sky Sports channels, allowing you to watch Premier League football, Formula 1, cricket and golf.
Finally, the Kids pass has recently been added. This gives children access to six channels, including Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network as well as a child-friendly interface.
Once you’ve chosen your pass, you’re all set. Want to change TV package? You can. Swap the Entertainment pass for the Sky Cinema pass, for example, and the monthly cost will be adjusted accordingly.
There are three Sky broadband options to choose from; up to 17mbps Brilliant Broadband, up to 38mbps Fab Fibre or up to 76mbps Super Fibre. There’s a one-off £40/$60 set-up cost for Brilliant Broadband or a £50/$75 fee for the other two options. As with the passes, you can change your broadband speed on a monthly basis.
Finally, you can add a calls package to your monthly bundle, with three options: pay as you use, evenings and weekends or anytime. Again, you can change your plan whenever you like.
The new Now TV Smart Box is an interesting one. The addition of a digital Freeview tuner, coupled with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface, makes it a genuine alternative to the vast range of standard TV set-top boxes available. It’s missing a built-in hard drive, or support for an external one, but as more and more content goes on-demand, this should become less of an issue.
And on top of Freeview, you get access to Sky’s crown jewels, the pay TV content, without the dish and costly subscription. However, a Sky Sports pass and Super Fibre broadband would still see you paying up to £70/$105 per month, including line rental.
We also can’t ignore the fact this box doesn’t support 4K Ultra HD. Both Amazon and Roku have boxes that support the 4K video, so this won’t appeal to those wanting the very best picture quality.
But for the most part, the new Now TV Smart Box, whether combined with a Now TV Combo package or not, is certainly an interesting addition to the crowded TV landscape of streaming sticks, set-top boxes, apps and more. We look forward to getting hold of the new box for a full review shortly.