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
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.