Sky Now TV Box full review
The Sky Now TV player is a rebranded Roku device, which may have you wondering whether you can get all the features of the Roku 3 for a tenth of the price? The answer, alas, is no. (For more on that device, see Roku 3 review: media stream offers handy features at a price.)
This is a stripped-down experience compared to the Roku 3. There's a remote control, but it doesn't have the motion controls nor the headphone socket. The video will only output at a maximum size of 720p, compared to the 1080p resolution of the Roku 3 and most other devices here, and there's no memory-card slot or USB port for expansion or external media. (See all set-top boxes and on-demand TV reviews.)
Sky Now TV box review: missing from this box
The Roku Channel Store is available, but Sky appears to have put the kybosh on some commercial rivals. The most notable absentee is Netflix, and there's no Plex channel for streaming content from other PCs (although a quick YouTube search will reveal that it's possible to add Plex by delving into the Now TV's developer mode). However, it's a not a complete lock-out for Sky's rivals: BBC iPlayer, ITV, 4oD and Demand 5 are all available.
Sky obviously subsidises this hardware in the hope of getting people to pay for its sports, movie and entertainment channels, which are of course heavily promoted on the device. The remote control has a shortcut button for the Now TV channel, and the Now TV, Sky Store and Sky News icons are irremovable fixtures at the top of the channel list.
24-hour passes for all six Sky Sports channels now cost £6.99 a go, which is designed to attract the fan who wants to watch the occasional match without committing to an expensive satellite subscription. Week passes are also offered for £10.99. The entertainment and movie channels are more keenly priced at £4.99 and £8.99 per month respectively, whilst the Sky Store offers single movies on demand, costing up to £4.99 per film. See also: Sky Now TV Box vs Apple TV comparison review: What's the best streaming box?
Sky Now TV box review: streaming quality
Streaming quality is not in full-HD, and like the Roku 3 device that this device is based on, we noticed the occasional lag between audio and pictures. Frame rates aren't as fast as watching satellite television, but it's sufficient for fast-flowing matches. Most worringly though, when watching football the stream stopped entirely every five or ten minutes, suggesting that Sky may have a major problem with its server capacity.
Sky's Now TV has accumulated a rather worrying reputation for failing to cope with demand on the big occasion. Sky compensated customers after the service went down during last season's Premier League title decider, and Sky's forums are full of complaints about Now TV struggling every time a new episode of Game of Thrones is aired. We've now witnessed this poor reliability first hand. (See also: Google Chromecast review: £30 dongle to rival Apple TV.)
Sky will need to invest more in its server infrastructure if it wants Sky Now to succeed in the long term. (For comparison, see also: Apple TV review.)
Sky Now TV Box: Specs
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, HDMI, AV output (mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA), Up to 720p video output, Remote control, 84x84x23mm, 85g