The Now TV Smart Box is a small, slender device that’s a bit larger than the now unavailable Now TV Box. Measuring 165mm deep and wide and 20.5mm in height, The Now TV Smart Box is can be easily tucked out of sight.
This unobtrusive device allows you to watch Now TV’s Entertainment, Movies or Sport Pass packages through your TV without the need for another device. You can also use it to watch live TV and access catch-up services. It only costs £50 for what is essentially a Freeview tuner with extra Sky channels and on-demand services built in.
Simplicity is key when it comes to set-top boxes and the Now TV Smart Box is wonderfully straightforward.
Once you’ve unboxed it and connected it to the power, you simply plug an aerial into the back of the device so it can access live TV and then attach it to your TV via a HDMI cable. You’ll need a reliable internet connection to make it all work, but there’s a USB port and microSD slot if you want to expand storage or perform non-over-the-air updates.
The interface is very similar to the original Now TV Box, making it simple and easy to navigate. You’ll need to perform a scan for Freeview channels before you can start watching, but it’s a relatively quick and easy setup.
You can use it without a Now TV subscription, although that would be largely pointless. If you do want to hook it up to Now TV, you’ll need to enter your login details via the included remote.
The Now TV Smart Box contains all the features of its predecessor and then adds a few more.
This means you’ll get access to all of Now TV’s various viewing packages alongside support for catch-up services such as iPlayer, ITV Hub and Demand 5. You can also access the Sky Store, allowing you to buy and download a huge range of movies and – in some cases – receive a copy on Blu-ray or DVD as well.
The real big addition to the Now TV Smart Box over its predecessor is the inclusion of Live TV and an overhauled interface to allow for near-seamless switching between live and on-demand viewing. Your last-watched TV channel is displayed on the device home screen with recommendations and easy access to a TV guide on the left-hand menu.
It’s not all plain-sailing though. Now TV’s interface doesn’t allow you to reorganise the list of channels or pick favourites to jump back to easily. Instead, you have to scroll through every single channel each time you want to find something in particular – which is annoying if you're after the HD channels further down the list. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a future firmware update, but right now it's a major drawback.
There’s also no dedicated TV Guide button on the Now TV Smart Box remote, which means you instead have to navigate to it from the home screen every time you want to browse through what’s on.
There is some solace to be found in the fact that you can use the TV guide to scroll through Now TV's live entertainment channels, including the Cinema channels if you’re a subscriber. This is a great addition, as it makes it very easy to see what's on right now across your entire Now TV content package. You'll also find a separate tab for radio channels on the far right.
Unfortunately, Sky has stuck with 720p streaming for Now TV – although a 1080p feed is set to land later this year – meaning picture quality doesn’t look great on bigger screens or 4K sets. It also means you’re missing out on sumptuous 4K playback opportunities offered by rivals such as Netflix and Prime Video.
Those of you looking for a way to stream your own content will also be disappointed by what the Now TV Smart Box offers. There’s no UPnP server app for streaming media from your home. There’s also no Netflix or Prime Video support which, when you’re paying £50, is a kick in the teeth.
Now TV Combo
There’s another way to get hold of the Now TV Smart Box aside from simply buying it outright, and that’s via Now TV’s broadband package, Now TV Combo.
Now TV Combo gives you a combination of TV, landline phone and broadband in a no-strings rolling contract you can opt out of or downgrade from at any time. In a similar way to the Now TV Pass packages, Now TV Combo gives you the option between one of three unlimited broadband packages: 17 Mbit/sec copper or 38 Mbit/sec and 76 Mbit/sec fibre-optic.
You must also select one of three phone packages: pay-as-you-go, free evening and weekend, or free anytime plus, and you’ll still be paying a fairly hefty £18-per month line rental on top.
There are many different permutations, but we applaud Sky for making the whole thing transparent. It's easy to see what you're paying, and you can chop and change as you like.
For instance, you could have the Entertainment Pass and 17Mbit/s broadband for only £10 a month (£28 including line rental), and then upgrade to fibre for another £10 if required (£38 all in). You could throw in the new Kids Pass for an extra £3 over the summer holidays and cancel it thereafter. There's a £40 (£50 for fibre) setup fee unless you sign a 12-month contract, but Sky won't charge you for delivery of your hardware.
With the service blending Sky's content with access to Freeview channels and broadband, it's a direct competitor to BT's own service. For comparison, BT's similar mini set-top box with 17Mbit/s broadband costs £25 per month including line rental (going up to £29 after the first year). With that, you're getting BT Sport included instead of Now TV's Entertainment Pass. BT's upfront fees vary based on deals, but at present you'd have to pay £56 up front.
Prices for fibre-optic packages are a little more complex to compare, but Now TV wants £38 a month for its 38Mbit/s service. BT will charge you only £31 for the first year rising to £39 after that, but it's promising 52Mbit/s. However, there's £67 to pay upfront.
Boiling it all down, Now TV is a strong alternative to BT's package, with no setup fees if you have a contract and smaller setup fees if you choose not to. BT, on the other hand, will insist on a contract and charge you as well. Phone call packages work out around the same. If sport isn't your thing then Now TV provides a tempting entertainment alternative.
The Now TV Smart Box certainly isn’t perfect. If you’re the sort who wants to stream all kinds of content from all sorts of places, you’ll definitely be better off with a fully-fledged Roku device over Now TV’s hardware.
Seeing as you can no longer easily pick up the standard Now TV box, the Smart Box is really the only way to get a set-top-box style streamer for Now TV. You can opt for the cheaper Now TV Stick, but that lacks many features and doesn’t offer the Freeview channels. If you’re not really sold on the live TV features, however, you’re probably better off picking up a streamer such as the Roku 3 or even an Android TV Box – which may well be cheaper and offer a richer set of features.
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