A media streamer for just £10 has to be utter rubbish, surely? Not if it's actually a Roku LT underneath and subsidised by Sky. The Now TV box gives you BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Spotify, Now TV, and a couple of other streaming services on your TV for the price of one cinema ticket. Heck, less than a cinema ticket, in some (Leicester Square) cases.
It's a Sky-branded Roku streaming media box that costs just a tenner.
Anyone who wants to watch BBC iPlayer or Now TV on their goggle box and doesn't already have a console or media streamer.
It's basically a white Roku LT box with a Now TV logo emblazoned across the top of it, and a deep blue base. The box itself covers a footprint of about the same size as a traditional beer mat, and it's about the height of two marker pens or three iPhone 5s.
It's not an ugly box, but it'd be a buttload more discreet and fit in better with most people's TV set-ups if it was black, or even dark purple like a Roku LT. The white remote is also going to get grubby damn quick too, if your house is anything like mine. Still, the shiny white casing at least exudes a higher quality than you'd expect for just £10 of your hard-earned cash.
Setup is straightforward. Plug your bundled (!) HDMI cable into your TV, hook-up the power, and up pops the blue and white interface, which you should be familiar with if you've ever used Now TV. You'll need a Now TV account, but you can get one free on the Now TV site before you fire the box up.
The Now TV box is Wi-Fi-only, which might be a bit of a pain in the arse for those with crappy signal, but at least it's not the other way around, forcing you into running a cable to it.
The remote is nice and simple, albeit slightly kiddylike, but at least it matches the interface, allowing you to navigate around using nice large icons. The on-screen UI itself is simple and rudimentary, but it's fast and gets the job done just fine. Three shortcut buttons ping you back to the homescreen, fire you into the Now TV stuff, or take you directly to the Roku app store. Dedicated playback buttons and a D-pad polish off the controls.
BBC iPlayer, BBC News, Demand 5, Sky News, Spotify, Vimeo, Facebook (photos), Flickr, and, of course, Now TV on your goggle box for just £10. I know I've said that before, but really, just ten measly pounds. That's less than a Raspberry Pi for goodness' sake.
Sky's promising to bring more services to the Now TV box like ITV Player and 4oD, but you can probably forget Netflix and LoveFilm given those two directly compete with Sky's Now TV movie service, which means it'll never be the one-box-to-stream-them-all affair you had in mind.
For some reason, there's a moment where the audio starts but the video doesn't appear for a second or two when you start playing something in BBC iPlayer. I can't work out why, but it happens every time. It all plays just fine afterwards, so it's not like the audio and video are out of sync or anything.
- The streaming quality at 720p was very good on my fast connection, for both iPlayer and Now TV, which is more than can be said for my PS3 on the same broadband line sometimes. In fact, it was impressively crisp.
- The remote was fast enough in general, but I often found it (or the box) missing button presses when trying to type things out on the on-screen keyboard.
- Playback control (play, pause and seeking) was very responsive in all the streaming apps I tried.
- The Spotify app is equally responsive, and sounded good over HDMI through my home cinema setup.
- Switching between "channels" or apps doesn't save your place (there's no multitasking here), but it's surprisingly quick for a smart TV or set-top box.
- The buttons on the remote are rubberised but not squidgy under the finger, which makes them quite satisfying to use.
- The Now TV service itself is pricy at £15 a month (check out our review to see how it compares with Netflix, LoveFilm and Blinkbox), but you don't need to actually pay a thing to use the box for just streaming BBC iPlayer and similar services.
It's £10, and probably the cheapest dedicated media streamer you can get right now. Because it's a Roku LT underneath, it's limited to 720p streaming, but that's OK for the most part given the services it supports generally output in 720p anyway.
It's certainly not the be-all and end-all of media streaming, though, and marginally less capable, given the content restrictions being subsidised by Sky brings, than either the Roku LT or the better-specced Roku 3 XS.
However, it works well and simply enough where it needs to, once you've got yourself a free Now TV account. While you probably already have a myriad of devices either sitting under your TV or built into it that'll stream most of what the Now TV box does, if you don't, you can't go far wrong for just ten quid -- unless you've got a Netflix or LoveFilm account, that is.