Now TV Smart Box

FOR Cheap alternative to a Sky sub; easy to use; fault­less pic­ture AGAINST No op­tion to record Free­view chan­nels; ba­sic re­mote

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

Those for whom the word 'com­mit­ment' is syn­ony­mous with 'panic at­tack' should be thank­ful there are ser­vices such as Now TV. Essentially, you’re able to choose from Sky’s packages for Movies (£10 per month), En­ter­tain­ment (£7 per month), Kids (£3 per month) and Sport (£7 per day, £11 per week or £34 per month), or any com­bi­na­tion of the four, with no fixed-term con­tract and re­tain ac­cess to the on-de­mand con­tent from each.

For that, and for its Smart TV func­tions and gen­eral ease of use, it was a dod­dle award­ing Sky’s pre­vi­ous Now TV box five stars. So how does the new Now TV Smart Box up the ante? Cue dra­matic

pause for ef­fect: Free­view.

Faster and bet­ter con­nected

That’s right: as well as a new look – some­thing akin to a ro­bot ash­tray – a re­designed in­ter­face and a faster quad-core pro­ces­sor, the new box has a Free­view tuner built in, re­mov­ing the need for any other such set-top box on your telly stand.

Ob­vi­ously there’s a dig­i­tal ae­rial socket and HDMI, so you can con­nect the device to your TV and the out­side world, and an eth­er­net port. There's also built-in wi-fi, and USB and mi­crosd card slots for play­ing me­dia from ex­ter­nal de­vices.

There’s ca­pa­bil­ity for 5.1 and 7.1 sound pass­ing through HDMI, but pic­ture out­put is still limited to 1080p Full HD, as it was with the box’s pre­de­ces­sor.

Now for the bad news…

Our main gripe isn’t the ab­sence of an in­ter­nal hard drive – the ex­tra cost would un­doubt­edly put off many po­ten­tial cus­tomers – but that there isn’t the op­tion even to at­tach one ex­ter­nally. Now, we un­der­stand why Sky wouldn’t want you to record a month’s worth of movies and never pay for its ser­vices again, and there is a grow­ing cat­a­logue avail­able on de­mand.

How­ever, it means that if you want to record an episode of some­thing not cov­ered by catch-up ser­vices, you’ll need a sep­a­rate Free­view tuner to link with any record­ing fa­cil­ity. To many, that will leave the tuner en­cased in the Now TV box pretty well re­dun­dant. That’s what you’re buy­ing into, though, and you should be sure you know this when you pur­chase the box.

Gen­er­ally, in terms of do­ing what it says on the tin, the Now TV set-up is with­out fault. The new in­ter­face is ex­cep­tion­ally in­tu­itive. As­pects such as be­ing able to browse catch-up high­lights from each provider, with­out nec­es­sar­ily load­ing the app, avoid those frus­trat­ing hours scour­ing the ser­vices for some­thing to watch. The speed with which each item loads (things will be a lit­tle slower with a dodgy wi-fi con­nec­tion) is im­pres­sive.

50 apps (but no Net­flix)

The same char­ac­ter­is­tics ap­ply dur­ing stream­ing as well: the pic­ture is swiftly up to op­ti­mum qual­ity and suf­fers no dip in per­for­mance. As men­tioned pre­vi­ously, you won’t have ac­cess to stream­ing ri­vals such as Net­flix, Ama­zon Prime or MUBI, but there are in ex­cess of 50 apps, in­clud­ing Youtube and Spotify, from which you can choose to fill your li­brary.

We’d have no com­plaints if this were to be our go-to Free­view tuner, ei­ther. Pic­ture qual­ity, as with any set-top box, will of course rest on the worth of your set, but there’s plenty of de­tail here and the sound out­put is, again, as good as that of your tele­vi­sion or ex­ter­nal speak­ers.

Pity about the re­mote

What does irk us about the Free­view ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, is the re­mote con­trol. Hav­ing no num­bers was ex­cus­able when Now TV was mainly about scrolling through menus of catch-up shows, but not be­ing able to jab in the num­ber of a chan­nel soon be­comes frus­trat­ing. Many cus­tomers won’t own a smart­phone ca­pa­ble of down­load­ing a re­mote app, so it shouldn’t be too much to ask for a few dig­its on a con­troller.

In all, the new Now TV Smart Box does what we were told it would and, for the most part, with slick pre­ci­sion. How­ever, with no op­tion to record and too ba­sic a re­mote, we’d pre­fer to use the Free­view tuner built into our TV – we can’t think of a telly with­out that fea­ture plus HDMI in­put – and opt for the older, cheaper Now TV box.

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