There are three things that don’t sit together very well:
- Being interested in the future of connected TVs
- Building up a consultancy career
- Having a one year old child
Points two and three make point one surprisingly hard to explore. This is the reason that several weeks after I received it, I’m finally getting around to reviewing the NOW TV Box from SKY TV. Full disclosure: This was review unit supplied directly to me for purposes of review.
Why am I interested in this category of device? Because they have the potential to change our experience of TV in the same way that the internet has changed our experience of consuming news. When you pick and choose the content you want to watch, and buy or stream it over the internet, you’re no longer beholden to channels or the schedules. Even the rolling news channels start to change, when you can pick and choose the news package you want to watch.
I have two “smart TV” type devices already:
The NOW TV is cheap – about a tenth of the price of an Apple TV at a staggeringly low £9.99. It’s also small – smaller, in fact, than the AppleTV. There’s a cost to this – it’s a WiFi-only device, with no Ethernet option, for example. That won’t bother most people, but I’ve gone out of the way to wire out house for best performance, and there are days when we don’t have the WiFi on at all. Still, it makes it almost ludicrously easy to set-up: connect an HDMI cable, connect the power, and you’re off:
The interface is snappy and responsive, nearly on a par with the Apple TV, and certainly streets ahead of the often sluggish BT box. On my connection HD movies start streaming almost instantly – but that’s probably as much a function of my 70Mbs down Infinity connection than it is the service. The HD video quality is excellent, and it’s a pretty enjoyable experience.
It’s also easy to navigate around:
Some apps clearly work better on this device. Using inlayer, for example, is much better on NOW TV than on BT Vision, despite having the sam,e interface on both devices. The NOW TV is just simply more responsive.
The interesting thing is that, despite all the SKY branding, this appears to be a Roku box in disguise – and that means Roku apps are in there as well. You can dive into the Roku Channels store and add all sorts of other channels to your main menu:
I added Vimeo and TED Talks to mine, and they both work well. In many ways, this looks like a version of the Roku LT – but rather than paying £49.99 for the device, you’re paying £9.99 – but you need a NOW TV subscription for it to be any use. You can get all the NOW TV functions on the Roku box itself, once you pay a subscription, but it’s perfectly functional without one. So – one fifth the cost, but dependent on a subscription. Not a bad bargain.
For £9.99 this is a pretty incredible box. It’s clearly priced to move – and at that price you can afford to experiment. I suspect that it’s priced that way because all the revenue is in the monthly subscription. Movies start from £8.99 for a month’s subscription, and sports for £9.99 for a day pass. It’s great for regular movie watchers and occasional sports fans, rather oddly.
If you already have a streaming TV system, this isn’t really a compelling purchase. It doesn’t do anything unique – unless you really want SKY Sports on an occasional basis. However, if you’re just taking your first step into the world of connected TVs, then this is a fantastic and inexpensive way of experimenting. Certainly, I have family members I’d recommend this to over the Apple TV as a cheap and easy way of streaming movies on demand.
Most of all, it’s very interesting to see one of the biggest players in TV in the UK so actively targeting the connected TV market. This feels like an opening shot in what could become a very interesting battle to bring this technology mainstream.
Will I Use It?
Possibly – it depends on how it develops. It’s not going to displace my Apple TV. That carries my library of iTunes content, the ability to stream media from my computer and the ability to have subscription TV through Netflix. The device it directly threatens is the BT Vision box. That basically performs three functions:
- Catch-up streaming
- TV and film rental
The NOW TV does the first two option better, and more smoothly. It doesn’t do the latter at all. Does that matter to me? Probably not. In this time-challenged life I’m living, a PVR is becoming something that watches TV for me. I never go in and catch-up on those shows. Those I do care about, I either stream in HD from iPlayer or another catch-up service, or I forget about. I could easily swap out a big, clunk, noisy and hard-drive based device for a silent, tiny, solid state device, and get a better experience.
Still, until the NOW TV box gets catch-up from ITV and Channel 4, the BT box stays in place.